Stopping violence against women is about more than teaching respect, says WA expert

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Katie HampsonThe West Australian
Experts are calling for adults to have frank conversations with youngsters about violence against women and the reasons for it.
Camera IconExperts are calling for adults to have frank conversations with youngsters about violence against women and the reasons for it. Credit: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay (user Alexas_Fotos)

Damaging attitudes towards sex, gender and equality start early, according to experts.

“Young people can have problematic views about the opposite sex from a very young age and often it is because of what is being modelled at home ,“ explained Dr Jacqui Hendriks from Curtin University’s school of population health.

And, while the political system, police and courts all have a role to play in curbing violence against women, Dr Hendriks added individuals needed to do their part to stop this national crisis.

“Individuals have to start tackling violence against women,” said Dr Hendriks, a sexuality education expert.

“Community attitudes do play a part and this is how we can each do our bit to create positive change.

“We need to model appropriate behaviour and also be ethical bystanders by calling out inappropriate behaviour among our friends and family.

“It’s not strangers that tend to have the biggest impact on the way young people think and behave, it is their inner circle and if the people in it are showing disrespect and are allowed to get away with it, it will have an impact on how those young people view and relate to the opposite sex.”

She encouraged adults to have frank conversations with children about gendered violence.

Now that the issue is frequently in the news, and the subject of public protests, it provided perfect opportunities for discussion.

Recent data revealed one woman has been killed across Australia every four days, on average, this year.

The rate of intimate partner homicide is also rising.

The Australian Institute of Criminology showed there were 247 victims of homicide in the 2022-2023 financial year, up from 234 the previous year.

Of these, 75 were women and nearly half of them were killed by a current or former intimate partner, all male.

Dr Jacqui Hendriks from Curtin University’s school of population health is a sexuality education expert.
Camera IconDr Jacqui Hendriks from Curtin University’s school of population health is a sexuality education expert. Credit: Breeana Dunbar/Breeana Dunbar

Dr Hendriks said to prevent violence against women, society needed to change the underlying social drivers of gendered violence by addressing harmful attitudes.

“Adults need to do more than explicitly give lessons on being respectful,” Dr Hendriks explained.

“It’s about modelling appropriate behaviour in everyday life.”

That included supporting boys when they cry or show emotion so they learn the importance of vulnerability and empathy.

“Young men in particular also need to be having specific conversations around how to handle rejection,” she added.

“We need to be better at having frank conversations with boys about how relationships are hard, rejection is pretty common actually and about how we need to accept that and deal with it appropriately.

“They need to understand that the falling in love part is easy, but the staying together actually takes respect, communication and equality.

“Acknowledge that this is not what they are seeing on TV and in movies where relationships look so easy, where not much rejection happens, and it’s happily ever after.”

She said young boys were being exposed to many forms of harmful misogyny online, including unrealistic portrayals of sex.

“Talk to young boys about how sexual activity shouldn’t be violent or aggressive and both partners should enjoy the process equally,” said Dr Hendriks.

Boys must learn that what they saw online could be either unrealistic, harmful, or both, she explained, so that they didn’t grow up thinking they were masters of the universe who could do whatever they wanted without consequence.

Britain’s psychiatrists recently reported that abuse and violence suffered by women and girls is the main reason they are much more likely than men and boys to develop mental health problems.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists conducted a survey of its practitioners which found experiencing abuse can trigger serious mental health problems in women and girls, including suicidal thoughts and psychosis.

These kinds of difficult relationships — not loneliness, hormonal issues, money worries or work pressures — were the major drivers of poor mental health in women, the survey found.

Dr Hendriks said modelling good behaviour was key to helping youngsters develop healthy ideas about gender and relationships and, in turn, prevent violence against women.

She added gender norms and stereotypes — which create unhelpful expectations about how people are supposed to look, feel and act — were problematic for everyone, no matter a person’s gender.

  • Visit health at thewest.com.au for Dr Hendrik’s top tips for discussing gendered violence with kids.

Curtin University’s Dr Jacqui Hendriks shares eight ways to discuss gendered violence with kids and how to model good behaviour:

Model respect for others, both offline and online.

This includes respecting other people’s boundaries.

For example, you might seek permission before hugging someone, or ask people if it’s OK to share a picture of them on social media.

Discuss potentially harmful stereotypes like those depicted online and in films.

For example, boys can and should express their emotions. They don’t have to love football or want a sixpack.

Be careful of throwaway comments while watching the news because kids are always listening.

If it’s a news segment about violence against women, don’t say “But boys get beat up as well”. That is not the issue in the spotlight at that moment. Acknowledge and discuss what is actually happening.

Teach your child to stick up for themselves and others and about how to respond to sexist or inappropriate behaviour.

Talk to them about how to call out inappropriate behaviour or comments — if it is safe to do so.

Teach them to check in with their mate to see if they are OK the next day if they were on the receiving end of sexism.

Explain why they should not join in on inappropriate jokes.

Teach them phrases such as “That’s not cool”, or “I don’t think that’s funny”, and “You shouldn’t speak about people that way”.

If they don’t feel safe speaking up, body language also does wonders for shutting down inappropriate behaviour.

Suggest redirecting the conversation to another topic, not engaging with the banter or even eye-rolling when inappropriate comments are being made about the opposite sex.

Try not to have different messages for boys or girls.

Everyone deserves respect.

It is not a gendered issue.

Everyone should receive the same key information and develop the same skills.

Avoid lectures and look for everyday opportunities to chat.

Your conversations don’t need to be lengthy sermons.

Drip-feed your thoughts and little bits of information throughout your everyday activities.

Provide your child with other materials (books and websites) and ensure they have a support network of other trusted adults.

Not all young people are big talkers, so it can be helpful to provide your child with other materials. If a child will not listen to their parents, ensure they have a support network of other trusted adults they can rely on.

Parents should reflect on their own understanding of gender-based violence and gender relations, which have changed in recent years.

Perhaps there was a lack of correct information, positive attitudes, or modelling of appropriate behaviour when you were growing up.

You may have been raised to believe a father is the head of the home or that girls can’t play football but attitudes and understanding about gender relations and gender-based violence have changed a lot in recent years.

Challenge or discount anything that is unhelpful, or impacts your ability to model or speak openly about respectful relationships.

Gender stereotypes harm everybody, men and women. Celebrate individuality instead.

Seek out resources such as websites and podcasts with information and advice on how to talk to their children about these topics.

Talk soon. Talk often is a free WA government resource to help parents talk to children (from infancy to 18) about sex.

Yarning Quiet Ways is free for Aboriginal parents and carers to talk about safe and healthy relationships with their kids.

The Conversation Guide is a free Federal Government resource for parents to talk to their children about respect for women and gender inequality.

Project ARI is a free podcast by the Federal Government’s Stop It At The Start Campaign and NOVA Entertainment. It is designed to be a funny series to teach kids about respectful behaviour.

Doing “IT” is a free podcast by Sexual Health Victoria. Every episode contains different relationships and sexuality advice for parents and carers. Topics vary from gender pronouns, to pornography and taking care of your body.

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