ALMOST 60 per cent of young people believe the responsibility of preventing unwanted sexual activity, when a ‘guy’ wants to have sex with a ‘girl’, rests with the female.
This was one of the alarming findings of research into society’s attitudes towards sex, love and gender roles.
More than 1000 young people and 500 parents were involved in research released by Our Watch, the nation’s peak agency for the prevention of violence against women and children.
Chief executive Mary Barry said the results indicated some positive attitudinal change compared with responses from September 2015, when the study began.
“Young people’s attitudes in relation to victim blaming, non-physical violence and the rejection of male control have significantly improved,” she said.
If women and men are going to live fulfilled, safe lives where they achieve health and well-being it is critical that unhelpful and damaging gender roles, gender norms and stereotypes change.Julie Oberin, chief executive officer of Annie North Women's Refuge
Three-quarters of respondents aged 12 – 20 years disagreed that a woman was partly responsible for unwanted sex if she wore revealing clothing, an increase from 71 per cent in 2015.
The percentage of young people who disagreed that a girl was at least partly responsible for unwanted sex if she was drunk or affected by drugs also rose from 67 per cent to 73 per cent in the same period.
Young people were more likely to recognise screaming at someone or saying hurtful things as a form of violence, a rise from 58 per cent to 64 per cent.
Their parents were less inclined to consider verbal threats, shouting and anger part of a ‘normal’ relationship.
Nor were they in agreement that men should be the head of household, with 65 per cent in defiance of the statement.
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While central Victorian champions for the prevention of violence against women and children said some of the findings were promising, they were disturbed to see some attitudes hadn’t changed and were still firmly entrenched.
“It is astounding that 20 per cent of young people still believe that males should be the head of the household,” Annie North Women’s refuge chief executive Julie Oberin said.
The percentage of young people who believed in a patriarchal family structure was even higher in 2015, at 24 per cent.
Though the percentage of young people who said it was hard to be respectful of a woman who was drunk had decreased, Centre for Non-Violence chief executive Margaret Augerinos said it was alarming to read almost a third of respondents still held such beliefs.
“The types of behaviours, beliefs and attitudes that underpin coercive control in relationships and that are seen as okay is concerning, and shows we still have a way to go to embed concepts of equality and respect,” she said.
One in five young people surveyed believed jealousy was a sign your partner loved you – a finding consistent with those of 2015.
There was little change in attitudes towards pushing and showing, with 14 per cent of young people of the view physical violence ‘sometimes happens’ and was okay if both people apologised afterwards.
“We often hear perpetrators minimise their physical abuse by saying it was ‘just a push and a shove’ when in reality they might have pushed the victim over or down or nearly through the wall,” Ms Oberin said.
“We hear from victims and survivors that the perpetrators almost always say they are sorry later, but that doesn’t stop it from happening again, or stop it from escalating.”
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She added that jealousy was a clear warning of a controlling relationship which could become further abusive and even dangerous.
“In the context of it not being that long ago when women had no legal or property rights and were seen as men’s property and chattels, jealousy from a male over his female partner should be seen as a risk indicator that he sees her as his property.
“That one in five young people think this is a sign of love is very disturbing.”
Researchers identified as concerning the rising popularity of the belief men who took on a more dominant role in a relationship gained more respect from their friends.
About a quarter of the young respondents agreed with the sentiment, compared with 21 per cent in 2015.
Leading Senior Constable Vanessa Bate, of the Proactive Policing Unit at Bendigo, said the research findings were generally consistent with what she was encountering in her work with the young people of the region.
“There’s definitely a generalisation from young people – girls and boys – that unwanted sexual contact or activity is initiated by the male and then it’s up to the female as to whether she wants to participate or whether she doesn’t want to participate,” she said.
She agreed with Our Watch in saying there should be more resources available to young people and their families about what makes a relationship healthy.
“Definitely from the girl’s point-of-view there’s a lot of confusion around how to indicate they’re not willing to participate,” Leading Senior Constable Bate said.
“They’re concerned about how they will be viewed… the word ‘frigid’ is coming up a lot these days.”
Scope to promote healthy relations
A NATIONAL effort to reduce violence against women and children is boosting parent confidence in discussing respectful relationships with their children.
But it’s having little effect on the frequency with which those discussions occur.
Researchers found parents aware of The Line campaign were more confident in their ability to talk with their children about what was okay, and what was not, in relation to sex, dating and relationships.
But there was little change in the number of families to have actually had those discussions in the past three months compared to 2015, when the study started.
“We know from our research that providing young people and their parents with the tools and language to be able to talk about respectful relationships can have a profound effect on changing their behaviour for the better,” Our Watch chief executive officer Mary Barry said.
She encouraged people to visit www.TheLine.org.au for resources promoting healthy and respectful relationships.
‘We need to do more’: non-violence experts
LEAVING a violent relationship is the most dangerous time for women, the leaders of central Victorian agencies have reiterated.
Their comments come after research found 45 per cent of young people believed most women could leave a violent relationship if they wanted to.
The result was broadly consistent with responses to the same question in 2015, when the study began.
But the belief was gaining popularity among young men, 50 per cent of which agreed with the statement this year, compared to 43 per cent in 2015.
“Clearly, we need to do more to educate the broader community that leaving a violent relationship is the most dangerous time for women and that risk of lethality increases significantly up to 18 months after the end of a relationship,” Centre for Non-Violence chief executive Margaret Augerinos said.
“Most women report that the violence and risk they experience is significantly higher and more dangerous when they are trying to leave.”
Annie North Women’s Refuge chief executive Julie Oberin said the belief most women could leave a violent relationship if they wished was also indicative of the prevalence of excusing and minimising perpetrators’ behaviour and victim blaming.
“We need to hold perpetrators to account for their choices to violate women and children in their families,” Ms Oberin said.
A family violence survivor highlighted the difficulties of leaving an abusive relationship while sharing her story with the Bendigo Advertiser on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
“Many people, including friends and family asked me ‘Why didn’t you leave?’, after I did leave,” she said.
“I had tried to leave many times, why would I want to stay with someone who abuses me?
“I stayed to keep myself safe and to keep my family together. I didn’t know if anyone would believe me.”
In Bendigo and central Victoria, support is available from the Centre for Non-Violence by calling 5430 3000 or free call within the Bendigo area on 1800 884 292.
Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative provides support to Aboriginal women experiencing family violence; the organisation’s phone number is 5442 4947.
Culturally sensitive and generalist counselling, with interpreters as needed, is available from Bendigo Community Health Services on 5430 0500.
Men looking to end their violent or abusive behaviour can call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.