Thirty four Australian women have lost their lives in the past five months due to gender based violence. Cath Johnsen recently met with Natasha Stott Despoja, Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, and Chair of Our Watch (the national foundation to prevent violence against women and their children) to hear her thoughts on tackling this national emergency. The solutions offered are not just about government policy and funding – but about a grass roots preventative campaign beginning with parents and educators. Here’s what you need to know…
One in four young men believe that controlling and violent behaviours are signs of male strength. One third of these are on the trajectory towards potential perpetration of violence against women and girls, and the remainder are comfortable with coercive and disrespectful behaviour.
These are some of the shocking results from a recent survey of over 3000 Australian young men and women, undertaken by Hall and Partners Open Mind.
The survey also indicates that one in six 12-24 year olds believes ‘women should know their place’, and one in three believes ‘exerting control over someone is not a form of violence’. Also, more than a quarter of young people believe ‘male verbal harassment’ and ‘pressure for sex toward females’ are ‘normal’ practices.
Violence prevention education must happen at home and at school
Clearly, young people are struggling to work out what healthy, respectful relationships look like, and according to Natasha Stott Despoja, parents and teachers are not talking to children about relationships or sex, beyond basic anatomy and STI prevention.
“Young people desperately want information and guidance from people they look up to, especially, parents and teachers. Instead, they get information from their friends, pornography, media and popular culture role models. These settings can perpetuate gender stereotypes and condone and encourage violence,” she said.
“They send strong messages about violence being heroic, an appropriate way of resolving conflict, and not necessarily having serious consequences.
“Some children are accessing pornography as young as nine years of age… We know that in the best-selling porn, 88 per cent of scenes show physical aggression towards female performers.”
Ms Stott Despoja added that research has shown that children’s values develop in early childhood, and that primary prevention strategies from parents, teachers and positive role models can help young people to develop healthy, safe, equal and respectful relationships.
“Engaging children and young people in respectful relationships education is an intervention area that been successful internationally. It has reduced violence-supportive attitudes and ones that adhere to static gender stereotypes,” Ms Stott Despoja said.
Teaching young people to not cross “the line”
Earlier this month, Ms Stott Despoja and the Our Watch team launched The Line (theline.org.au) – an online resource with useful articles for parents, teachers and young people that challenge rigid gender roles, gender inequality and sexism. It also features a social media campaign on Facebook, aimed at encouraging young people to break the cycle of violence and “call out” any behaviour that crosses the line.
“The biggest risk factor in becoming a victim of violence or sexual assault in this country is simply being a woman,” Ms Stott Despoja said.
“Children that witness or experience this violence have significant hurdles to overcome in later years.”
As a prevention strategy, The Line seeks to help young people, aged 12 to 20, to define what’s acceptable, and what’s not. Essentially, behaviour that crosses the line is anything that makes a woman feel frightened, diminished or intimidated. But sometimes that line can get blurry.
Educating my own family about violence prevention
Before reading the research findings, I felt that my children were unlikely to encounter domestic violence in their future. After all, they only see their mother and father in a loving and equal relationship. Wouldn’t that mean they would find themselves in a similar situation one day? Unfortunately, I now realise that healthy role modelling is helpful and necessary, but it is not enough.
As parents, we must take responsibility and talk openly and honestly about the issues our children and teens face when it comes to negotiating intimate relationships.
This may mean having to talk about things you feel uncomfortable about, but it is better for children to hear the facts from you, rather than misinformation from peers and other sources.
It also means encouraging our young women to strive towards any hobby, career or interest they choose – and not defining “boys jobs” and “girls jobs”. It means not demeaning girls in any way – we need to stop using phrases such as “stop crying like a girl” and we need to stop passing judgement on females according to their physical attributes.
We need to teach our young women to expect respect and equality in their relationships, in school, and in the workplace. And we need to teach our young men to deliver nothing less.
We can prevent violence against women and their children in Australia – and it starts with educating and empowering our young people.
Let’s foster a world of freedom for our girls.
Parenting Resources – The Line website and Facebook page
The Line’s website and Facebook page informs and engages young people on the issues, in an effort to challenge and change the attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence. If age appropriate, encourage your children to “like” the page.
There’s also lots of great resources on The Line’s website to help parents guide their children, and keep them on the right side of the line, including tips for Dads, suggestions for having “the talk” with your children, and discussing issues such as sexual consent, sexting and pornography.
The Our Watch Facebook page encourages parents to share their tips and experiences in talking to kids about various topics and directs parents to The Line’s web site for further guidance.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.