ONE in five Australians believe a lot of what is called ‘domestic violence’ is a normal reaction to day-to-day stress and frustration, a new report has found.
Central Victorian agencies say the results of the 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey demonstrate a need for sustained investment in violence prevention.
The study, conducted by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, exposes a disconnect between the facts about violence against women and the attitudes of ‘a substantial minority’ of Australians.
According to the report, 42 per cent of Australians believe sexual assault accusations are commonly levelled at men to ‘get back’ at them – even though the evidence shows false accusations are rare, and nine out of 10 women who have been sexually assaulted do not report to the police
And 40 per cent of Australians believe many women exaggerate how unequally women are treated in Australia.
The Centre for Non-Violence’s Robyn Trainor said such attitudes prevented women from coming forward with their experiences.
“As a community, everyone needs to be listening, believing and sending out those messages there is help available and people can seek support,” she said.
“While we’re seeing progress, particularly in people’s levels of understanding [about violence against women], we’re also experiencing a level of resistance.”
Women Health Loddon Mallee’s Tricia Currie was encouraged by the survey’s finding that 98 per cent of respondents would be bothered if they were confronted by a male friend verbally abusing his female partner, and 70 per cent believed they would call it out.
She was optimistic about the work being done within the region and the state to address violence against women – progress she said might not be reflected in the results of the survey, given its national scope.
“But, at the same time, we must take into account we have still got a lot more work to do together to address the things that are of concern in this report,” she said.
About 300 people gathered in Bendigo earlier this week to demonstrate their support for violence prevention.
Maryborough also hosted a community action event, the day prior.
“In Bendigo and in the region we do have a strong consortium which leads some of the joined work and advocacy,” Ms Currie said.
Organisations such as the one she leads offer a range programs within the region addressing the drivers of gender-based violence, and equipping people with the tools to call it out.
“We really need to consolidate our efforts through resilience around those who are threatened by identifying family violence and the drivers,” Ms Currie said.
The majority of Australians have what ANROWS considers a ‘good’ understanding of violence against women, according to the findings. Most people are also supportive of gender equality, condemn violence against women, and believe they would it call out.
People’s recognition of violence against women improved in the four years between the 2017 survey and its predecessor. But ANROWS said there was still more work to do to raise awareness of violence in all its forms.
“There is still more work to do to emphasise that it can be more than just physical violence,” the organisation said.
The study found awareness of the gendered nature of violence had declined, with fewer people recognising men were more likely to be the perpetrators and women were more likely to be on the receiving end.
“Although most Australians are aware that non-consensual sex in marriage is illegal, 12 per cent mistakenly believe that it is not illegal, and a further seven per cent did not know,” ANROWS said.
Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive Kate Wright said some of the findings in relation to sexual consent were ‘extremely concerning’.
“Sexual consent is black and white there is no grey area,” she said.
“We continue to promote understanding and as part of this work LCCASA is delivering four forums next year to secondary schools across the region that will focus on consent.”
One in three Australians were unaware women were more likely to be sexually assaulted by somebody they knew then by a stranger.
“This lack of awareness can lead to undue emphasis on preventing sexual assaults by strangers, rather than the more common problem of assault by someone known to the victim,” ANROWS observed.
Ms Wright said the misconception that a woman was more likely to be assaulted by a stranger was an ongoing concern for the organisation.
“This survey result has actually gone backwards over time and is lower than the results in 1995,” she said.
“We are continually challenging the myth of stranger danger as, whilst it does occur, as we saw recently with Euridice Dixon, it is not the risk we need to be most worried about.”
She said LCCASA was promoting discussions within families and the broader community about appropriate and respectful behaviours and relationships.
“The survey results indicate we need to continue this work and expand it to a variety of settings and situations,” Ms Wright said.
Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin said the results showed how deep-seated gender inequality was in society, and that much of the community education taking place was not getting through to much of the population fast enough.
“Australia has one of the best collections of evidence in the world through this National Community Attitudes Survey and through the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey, yet the percentage of Australians who don’t believe the evidence has risen by five per cent since the previous 2013 survey,” she said.
“As someone who has provided crisis refuge support to women and children over the last 26 years I find it difficult to understand how half of the community does not understand the levels of fear men cause women they abuse to feel.”
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.