Men’s Violence Against Women

By Libby Davies, CEO, White Ribbon Australia

One of the most insidious issues in our society that disadvantages women is men’s violence against women (VAW).

Libby Davies

Statistics reveal that one in three Australian women report having experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of fifteen and at least one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006 ; Virueda and Payne, 2010).

The impact of this insidious violence is widespread and long-standing, generating profound personal, social and economic costs. Intimate partner violence remains the leading contributor to death, disability and ill-health in Australian women aged 15-44, and is one of the greatest predictors of high prevalence mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety (United Nations, 2006; VicHealth, 2008).

The World Health Organisation has identified VAW  as a major public health problem. This violence can also be symptomatic of broader cultural perpetuation of abuse and impact on those that are most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Likewise, it can institutionalise disadvantage. For example, domestic and family violence are the principal cause of homelessness among women (VicHealth, 2004; AIHW, 2008).

These aforementioned risk factors correlate with poor developmental, educational and vocational outcomes for individuals affected by violence, and communities more broadly.  For example, ‘women who have lived with a violent partner are more likely to experience financial difficulty’ (VicHealth, 2012; Women’s Health Australia, 2005).  According to VicHealth (2004) ‘the sheer impact of physical and sexual violence on women and children experiencing it is profound and spans many quality of life measures.’  VAW witnessed by children is a form of child abuse.

Homelessness in young women can also be related to the experience of sexual assault and it, in turn, increases their vulnerability to further sexual assault – on the street, in hostels, refuges and squats. (VicHealth, 2012; Naeme and Heenan, 2003).

VAW costs the Australian economy $14.7 billion dollars per year (KPMG, 2013). This figure should place VAW at the forefront of our political and business landscape but progress thus far indicates that we still have a long way to go.  We as a community need to continue to progress analysis that demonstrates that it would take only a limited reduction in violence to offset the cost of prevention initiatives.

There is now international consensus that VAW can be stopped by tackling its causes (VicHealth, 2008).  One of the key strategies recognised globally and in Australia is that it will take the involvement of men, alongside the work of women, to bring about normative change.  Feminist activity associated with the development of women’s rights clearly focused attention on the issue of VAW.  What is more recent is the engagement of men. 

Men must be engaged because they are the perpetrators of the majority of this violence.   Men’s violence against women is complex, complicated, and as indicated above, wide-ranging involving a multitude of factors embedded in culture, economy, law; and most intractably our cultural constructions of masculinity. We belong to a culture that, throughout its history, has often treated women as being of less worth than men.  In the past, physical and sexual violence was condoned by religion and the law, and enshrined in literature.  Our lives continue to be shaped by this history. Accordingly men must both be addressed and involved in prevention in order to make the comprehensive social changes necessary to end this violence. 

Changing men’s attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate violence is core to normative change.

White Ribbon Australia is a unique, national, male-led primary prevention organisation that works to stop VAW.  White Ribbon’s initiatives recognise and rely on the importance of men and women working together to bring an end to men’s VAW. Through a national awareness raising campaign and primary prevention initiatives, White Ribbon works to prevent this insidious violence by changing the attitudes and behaviours that allow it to occur. 

White Ribbon delivers a range of prevention programs within schools, workplaces, universities, sporting codes and the wider community to promote cultural and behavioural change in a targeted and relevant way.  The Ambassador Program engages 2,000 men and boys across Australia to lead the Campaign and use their influence to affect change through their social and professional circles and beyond.  The organisation now supports over 450 Community events annually.  White Ribbon is also rolling-out new initiatives to drive increased awareness and expand specific program reach to a broader range of the Australian community.  A critical element of the marketing and communication approach of White Ribbon Australia is the engagement of good men to speak out , speak up and become active by-standers.  This activity is driven by researching how best to engage men and what is working best, hence the 2012 campaign: Good men have got your back which builds on the fact that  the majority of men have got your  back – good men enabled to act if need be in the real life scenario so that VAW  is connected to what is seen, or known,  or heard .

This work is driven by the support of the community. As a not-for-profit organisation, White Ribbon relies on the support and generosity of individuals, corporates and government to continue the work to prevent VAW.  Less than 25% of White Ribbon Australia’s funding comes from government.

It begs the question – how committed are we as a nation to address the causes of this violence through a primary prevention campaign that matches that spent on other major health problems such as smoking yet which incurs such enormous costs to our nation?  Over the last few years there have been pockets of action that illustrate governments’ enhanced activity in this space, including The Line Campaign, the overarching National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Children (The National Plan) and some of the individual state and territory responses to the National Plan. But the amount of money committed as a percentage of health and well-being expenditure is ridiculously small.  What we need is expenditure that enables this campaign to develop all-encompassing prevention action to effectively combat the insidious tentacles of men’s VAW.  The benefits of a well-funded, truly enabling prevention focus will be far reaching across the whole of the Australian community.

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