This chapter examines the important role of primary prevention strategies in reducing the incidence of family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV). Primary prevention approaches and programs aim to encourage change in social attitudes in the community, combatting ideas about the use of violent and abusive behaviour in human relationships.
Primary prevention is targeted at the societal and cultural drivers that produce FDSV or, in other words, the basic factors that induce people to act in a violent or abusive way to their intimate partners, family members or others in their domestic situation.
The chapter discusses:
the features of primary prevention as a strategy aimed at changing the long-term drivers of FDSV;
the nature of the drivers of FDSV;
primary prevention initiatives currently under way in Australia;
the importance of tailoring primary prevention to the needs of diverse communities; and
data and evaluation on primary prevention.
What is primary prevention?
Primary prevention was described for the Committee in the submission from the Australian Government as follows:
Primary prevention refers to preventing violence by working across the whole population to address the underlying factors or causes of violence. In the case of violence against women, Australian and international research has demonstrated that these underlying factors include gender inequality, attitudes that condone violence and disrespect towards women, and beliefs about adhering to rigid or stereotypical gender roles.
Several submitters mentioned that practitioners in the field usually distinguish between primary, secondary and tertiary approaches. Our Watch described the three complementary approaches in the following terms:
primary prevention: whole-of-population initiatives that address primary (‘first’ or underlying) drivers of violence;
secondary prevention or early intervention: aims to ‘change the trajectory’ for individuals at higher-than-average risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence;
tertiary prevention or response: supports survivors and holds perpetrators to account (and aims to prevent the recurrence of violence).
The Australian Government submission pointed out that:
Primary prevention is a relatively new approach to addressing the issue of violence against women, and although such work requires a long-term perspective on outcomes, there is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate its effectiveness.
The submission from Interrelate described the movement towards primary prevention initiatives in recent times. The submission noted that, historically, most responses to family and domestic violence focused on crisis-management and support services, beginning from the 1960s and 1970s when women’s groups organised initiatives such as women’s refuges. In recent years, however, more attention has been given to ways to reduce or prevent violence, in addition to dealing with its effects.
As the Tangentyere Council Aboriginal Corporation expressed it: ‘we were talking about family violence before we started talking about primary prevention’.
The Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan continued the increasing emphasis on preventative strategies and declared that ‘primary prevention is key’. The basic premise of the approach is that ‘gender equality is the key to ending violence against women and their children, and that women will never be safe if they are not equal’.
Primary prevention derives from the view that attitudes held by individuals are socially constructed and emerge out of the great variety of experiences and influences to which people are exposed over their lifetimes. Dr Emma Partridge from Our Watch described this perspective in the following terms:
… the drivers of violence against women are located at multiple different levels. People can have very problematic attitudes towards women—disrespectful, aggressive, violent attitudes—yes, but those attitudes don't arise in a vacuum. People don't just suddenly develop those attitudes. They develop them in a society where they are exposed to different ideas about men and women; women's place in society; respect for women; and relationships in the home, in families, in schools, in their workplaces and in their sporting clubs right across communities.
The ultimate objective of primary prevention is to stop family and domestic violence before it occurs, rather than dealing with the problem through the criminal justice system and trying to ameliorate the effects of violent abuse on individual victim-survivors.
This was the view put to the Committee by Our Watch:
… a primary prevention approach is necessary to stop violence against women from occurring in the first place and reduce the prevalence of violence in the long-term.
The objective of prevention before occurrence was also described by Interrelate, a not-for-profit relationships service provider:
It is well recognised that prevention is the most effective way to eliminate violence against women and their children... The Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria identified primary prevention as key, recommending that substantial funding be directed towards educating young people with the goal of preventing DFV from occurring in the first place … There is also growing evidence and a voice for earlier intervention to address issues at a pre-crisis stage before criminal and justice services become involved.
In a similar vein, Respect Victoria elaborated that primary prevention:
… works by identifying the underlying causes or drivers of violence. Critically, these include the social norms, practices and structures that influence individual attitudes and behaviours. Rather than focusing solely on the behaviour of perpetrators, primary prevention goes deeper. It focuses on the whole community and the systemic, structural and social conditions that allow violence to happen in the first place.
Evidence to the Committee made it clear that primary prevention needs to be a long-term commitment because it aims to bring about societal change. Dr Heather Nancarrow from Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS) said that:
Australia is leading in regard to recognising the need for a long-term prevention plan. We absolutely need to have early intervention and response at tertiary level and to stop perpetrators of violence who are already perpetrating violence, but we need to keep going with a long-term commitment to primary prevention. Other jurisdictions internationally look to Australia as an example of good practice in terms of primary prevention with a clear framework for doing that.
As part of a broad and long-term commitment to change which coordinates the various levels of response to family and domestic violence, Respect Victoria recommended:
The scope of the next National Plan should both:
elevate the importance of primary prevention in Australia’s family violence reform agenda as complementary to early intervention to response, and
broaden the focus to include the primary prevention of all forms of family violence and violence against women.
Primary prevention is not seen as a replacement for other responses to family and domestic violence, but rather as a complement to other approaches that should be combined with the aim of producing immediate and more long-term results. For example, Respect Victoria said
… an effective and coordinated primary prevention approach supports and complements early intervention and crisis response, reducing pressure on these parts of the system in the medium-long term.
Respect Victoria elaborated on the importance of integrating primary prevention into other responses, in the context of lessons that were learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic but which could be generalised. In ongoing consultations with non-government organisations in the field, Respect Victoria concluded that the pandemic showed that:
COVID-19, like other disasters, exacerbates the drivers and risk factors for family violence;
good linkages between primary prevention, early intervention and response work are vital;
social marketing campaigns that combine broader messaging about underlying drivers of violence with practical advice are most effective;
mainstream campaigns and messaging do not always reach multicultural and other communities; and
support organisations need staff specialised in primary prevention and need to uphold and enforce the value of primary prevention.
No to Violence argued that primary prevention was essential so that interventions were not only ‘patching up the issues and responding when the house falls apart’ when a ‘rebuild’ was required which ‘eradicates the patriarchal power imbalances that cause and contribute to family violence’.
Examples of primary prevention programs were provided by the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia (YACSA), a peak body of organisations in the non-government youth sector in South Australia:
school-based programs to challenge traditional notions of gender and promote respectful relationships
campaigns to challenge and reduce the negative, inequitable, and exploitative portrayal of women in the media
bystander training to empower individuals to challenge gender inequality, the acceptance of violence against women and to intervene when girls or women are at risk.
YACSA added that, to be most effective, primary prevention responses should:
challenge the acceptance of violence against women
challenge the structures, norms and values that support and promote inequality and violence
promote women’s independence and decision-making in their personal relationships and in their communities
challenge gendered power, gender stereotypes and gender roles
strengthen positive, equal, and respectful relationships
have an intersectional focus that acknowledges that the experience of gender inequality can be greater for some women based on other identities such as race, sexual and gender identity, and disability
promote and normalise gender equality in relationships, families, communities, institutions, workplaces, and wider society.
A similar set of principles to guide primary prevention was presented by Respect Victoria:
Strengthen primary prevention focus across whole of family violence reform effort
Build understanding of the impact of intersecting forms of discrimination and disadvantage into all our prevention efforts
Uphold the importance of independence and decision-making in public and private life
Challenge rigid gender roles, advance gender equality and advocate for respectful gender relationships
Engage men to adopt and maintain respectful and non-aggressive behaviours and peer relations
Challenge attitudes that condone violence through association with external stressors.
The drivers of family, domestic and sexual violence
The drivers of FDSV influence the behaviour of individuals and groups, while also normalising or even endorsing such behaviour. Primary prevention aims to shift some of these drivers and thus positively influence behaviour.
This raises the question of what the drivers of FDSV are.
The Committee received extensive evidence that the principal driver of FDSV is gender inequality and stereotypical attitudes towards gender roles, characteristics and behaviour, especially about the place of women in society. For example, Dr Partridge, describing Our Watch’s research and conclusions, told the Committee that it had:
… surveyed all of the nationally and internationally available literature on the drivers of violence against women. ... What we found is that the key drivers of violence are gendered. They are about attitudes to gender. They are about structural gender relations and structural relations of power between men and women. These play out in many different ways. It can be in our organisations, in our boardrooms, in our sporting clubs and so on. But it can also be in our popular culture.
The submission from Our Watch detailed the organisation’s view in the influential Change the Story framework, which was a collaborative project with ANROWS and VicHealth, supported by the Australian and Victorian governments as part of the National Plan. The framework:
… identifies gender inequality as setting the necessary social context in which violence against women occurs. The framework demonstrates that there are particular expressions or manifestations of gender inequality that are most consistently associated with higher levels of violence against women. … A range of international evidence finds that these gendered drivers arise from unequal and discriminatory institutional, social and economic structures, social and cultural norms, and organisational, community, family and relationship practices. Together, these structures, norms and practices create environments in which women and men are not considered equal, and violence against women is both more likely to happen, and more likely to be tolerated and even condoned.
Elaborating on examples of gendered drivers of violence, Our Watch listed:
Condoning of violence against women
Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public life and relationships
Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity
Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women
A number of other organisations delivering support services to victim-survivors also endorsed the analysis of the gendered drivers of family violence in the Change the Story framework developed by Our Watch.
YWCA Australia said that it ‘valued’ the gendered drivers understanding. Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria reported that their ‘approach to prevention of violence against women is centred on the evidence base detailed’ in Change the Story. Domestic Violence NSW called for ‘comprehensive, secure and ongoing funding and institutional support for Our Watch to lead implementation of Change the Story’. Women’s Safety NSW recommended that the Australian Government ‘invest in the implementation’ of the framework. Respect Victoria informed the Committee that it is developing a theory of change and a ‘comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework for primary prevention of family violence in all its forms’ based on the gendered drivers approach in Change the Story.
The promotion of gender equality as a key to ending family violence was advocated by Domestic Violence NSW:
As a community, Australia can end SDFV by promoting gender equality and addressing the gendered drivers of violence; challenging condoning of violence against women; promoting women’s independence and decision-making in public life and relationships; challenging gender stereotypes and roles; and strengthening positive, equal and respectful relations between and among women and men, girls and boys.
As an example of an approach to address gender inequality, Respect Victoria—a statutory authority established in 2018 and dedicated to the primary prevention of all forms of family violence and violence against women—drew the Committee’s attention to the Victorian Gender Equality Act 2020 (the GE Act):
In addressing gender inequality as a known driver of family violence, the GE Act serves as a supportive structural platform. It complements and strengthens existing efforts to drive workplace reform, such as the Workplace Equality and Respect and [occupational health and safety] sexual harassment reforms. Critically, by supporting structurally focused, place-based and culturally appropriate responses to gender equality in local communities, the GE Act supports a broader primary prevention approach.
The Victorian Government also referred in its submission to Safe and Strong, Victoria’s gender equality strategy, which ‘sets out the founding reforms to progressively build the attitudinal and behavioural changes required to reduce violence against women and improve gender equality’. The strategy includes a series of actions to ‘drive change’ in schools, workplaces, community groups, sporting associations and the media.
The Committee also heard from Ms Genevieve Dugard from the arts and social change organisation Big hArt about the primary prevention program Project O, which seeks to address gender inequality by providing mentoring and support to young women between 11 and 16 years of age. Project O was piloted in North-West Tasmania in 2015 and now operates in four sites identified as having high rates of violence and barriers for young women.
Ms Dugard explained that the aim of the program is to assist women to build skills, speak up, and become agents of change in their communities:
… the core of the program is the desire to shift those expectations and those attitudes to promote stronger gender equality. Key to this is a rise in confidence, a rise in skills and a rise in positive visibility in their community.
Ms Dugard said the program aimed to work in each community for five years so ‘the legacy of the program begins to live on in stronger ways in the community’ and described the program’s intergenerational approach:
We've had a lot of success working with the primary school cohort in Frankston. It was the first time we officially formally tried it with such a young age group. We've done that with a view to it being a transition program between primary schools and high schools in the same area, so you kind of get a sister-to-sister model. We've found that that's really effective. Also the successful alumni who have gone through mentorship over a number of years are coming back to mentor younger participants. That has also been really strong.
The Committee heard from submitters who identified additional issues to be considered to explain the incidence of family violence, or as issues associated with family violence.
One of the examples of other drivers of abuse mentioned to the Committee was pornography.
This view was articulated by Youth Wellbeing Project, a youth-focused social enterprise, who argued that pornography is a ‘vehicle that delivers gendered drivers of violence against women’. The organisation listed a range of elements in ‘the role of pornography in contributing to harms on children and young people’:
in shaping sexual scripts, thereby influencing child and youth attitudes and behaviours and as such, their social environment.
as a “how to” manual for children engaging in sexually abusive behaviours toward other children.
as an influencer for youth sexual violence towards peers and children.
in influencing sexual harassment, gender-based norms and other harmful social norms.
as a model for technology-facilitated abuse such as image-based abuse.
as a grooming tool for use by sexual offenders and a tool in and of itself that grooms children and normalises abuses.
in motivating sexual offences such as rape, sexual harassment, strangulation and other (“consensual” and non-consensual) sex acts that cause emotional and physical harm.
Youth Wellbeing Project submitted that pornography ‘adds fuel to the fire’ for high-risk men, citing research that exposure to violent material induced a six-fold increase in sexually aggressive behaviour in this cohort of men. The organisation also cited research concluding that exposure to pornography increased the incidence of sexual violence and victimisation in young males and females. It added that ‘sexualised media and marketing’ contributes to the objectification of women, stereotyped attitudes and body image problems amongst young women.
The Committee also heard evidence about other factors interacting or correlating with family violence, including negative aspects of popular culture, problem gambling and abuse of alcohol and other drugs.
Dr Partridge from Our Watch argued that ‘structural gender relations and structural relations of power between men and women’ interact with societal trends, including popular culture. She said that ‘exposure to violence and to violent imagery, video games, pornography and so on can definitely be a reinforcing factor’ in influencing the emergence of negative attitudes amongst children and young people as they grow up.
The correlation of problem gambling with family violence was mentioned in the submission from the Department of Social Services, citing 2019 research showing that problem gamblers were at increased risk of being both victim-survivors and perpetrators of FDSV.
The Department also noted that ‘there is also some evidence on specific types of gambling’, with research showing that areas with a greater number of electronic gaming machines were associated with a greater incidence of family violence assaults.
The effects of alcohol and other drugs were mentioned by the Australian Alcohol and other Drugs Council:
Alcohol and other drugs use doesn’t cause individuals to choose to use domestic and family violence …[but] the problematic use of and, at times, symptoms associated with unplanned withdrawal from, alcohol and other drugs can contribute to more frequent and higher levels of aggression by domestic and family violence perpetrators, thus increasing harm to women and children.
The Council also advised that ‘physical harm is more likely and more severe in incidents of domestic and family violence where the perpetrator has consumed alcohol’. In addition, ‘women under the influence of or dependent on alcohol and other drugs may be more reliant on their abuser, especially in relation to coercive control and emotional violence’.
Dr Nancarrow from ANROWS argued that there can be complex interactions between alcohol and other factors:
We know that there is a correlation, more so in some communities than others, between alcohol and violence. We know that sometimes there are mental health concerns. We can't point to those as being the causes of it, but they do intersect with other notions of what it means to be a man, for example, and that men disproportionately use violence when they've consumed too much alcohol.
Alcohol as a risk factor associated with family violence was raised by the joint submission from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR), who cited research:
… showing that alcohol is associated with up to 65 per cent of family violence incidents reported to the police and up to 47 per cent of child protection cases each year across Australia.
In addition, the submission said that of the ‘121 male intimate partner violence homicide offenders who killed a woman in the years 2010-2014 in Australia, almost half (48.8%) were using alcohol at the time of the fatal episode’. The majority (87 per cent) of intimate partner homicides in Indigenous communities were ‘alcohol-related’.
A ‘growing body of evidence linking sport, alcohol and violence’ was noted in the submission from FARE and CAPR, with the incidence of assault and family violence increasing during major sporting events, both in Australia and overseas. Therefore, ‘reconsideration must be given to the emphasis on alcohol promotion and consumption during these events’.
The submission also apprised the Committee about studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) that found the following:
Alcohol use contributes to the incidence and the severity of intimate partner violence.
Heavy alcohol use may cause or exacerbate relationship stress which increases the risk of conflict.
Alcohol use affects cognitive and physical function and may result in perpetrators of intimate partner violence using a violent resolution to relationship conflicts, rather than a non-violent resolution.
Excessive drinking by at least one partner can aggravate existing relationship stressors such as financial problems, thus increasing the probability of violence.
Alcohol use is often used by perpetrators as a justification to violence, or excuse for the violence.
Experiencing intimate partner violence can result in increased alcohol consumption as a coping mechanism.
Intergenerational effects may occur, with children who witness intimate partner violence being more likely to develop heavy drinking patterns and alcohol dependence later in life often as a way of coping or self-medicating.
Ms Patricia Hepworth from FARE told the Committee of evidence from programs in the Northern Territory that changes in the price and availability of alcohol in a particular area can have a marked positive effect on the incidence of violence.
Primary prevention initiatives
A principal initiative under the National Plan was the establishment of Our Watch in 2013 as an independent not-for-profit organisation to be the ‘national centre of excellence for primary prevention’. The mandate of Our Watch is to:
… focus on the primary prevention [emphasis in original] of violence against women and their children; to stop it before it starts. We aim to provide national leadership to drive change in the social norms, structures, attitudes, practices and power imbalances that underpin, drive and support violence against women and their children.
Our Watch has been financed through a mixture of base funding and project funding under successive Action Plans of the National Plan. Our Watch submitted that greater certainty and efficiency could be obtained if funding was provided for the entire life of the next National Plan. These arrangements would enable the organisation to maintain continuity and work on areas that require sustained attention and long-term evaluation, ‘to sustain our action and intensity when we see that something is working’.
A leading activity of Our Watch was the development of Change the Story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia, as mentioned earlier this chapter, to be a ‘national, evidence-based road map to coordinate efforts to prevent violence against women and their children’.
The submission from Our Watch said that:
One of the specific strengths of Australia’s approach to date has been the development of best practice approaches in particular settings, recognising the need to engage people across the many different environments where they live, work, learn, socialise and play.
In each of the settings, a ‘whole of setting’ approach has been taken, recognising within a single setting there are ‘many different stakeholders and influencers, and therefore a need to identify actions that address the gendered drivers of violence across the whole setting’. For example, the sports setting includes ‘players, coaches, high performance staff, administrative staff, board members, governance personnel and fans’ and the school setting is ‘not just a place of education, it is also a workplace and a community hub’.
Our Watch described initiatives that have been taken as:
respectful relationships education and violence prevention in schools;
primary prevention approaches in workplaces and employment;
respect and equality in sports settings; and
social marketing campaigns.
The following section discusses each of these four types of initiatives in turn.
Respectful relationships education
Submitters and witnesses told the Committee that the deep roots of a culture that reinforces perceptions of gender inequality and violence against women in young children underscores the importance of engaging with men and boys on these issues. Ms Patricia Kinnersly and Dr Emma Partridge from Our Watch described the programs their organisation was implementing to challenge stereotypical attitudes towards gender relations, targeted at young boys and teenagers, as well as adult men.
Ms Kim Henderson from Our Watch elaborated on the organisation’s activities in primary schools:
We recently piloted a program, in primary schools in Victoria and Queensland, working with young children around their understanding of gender stereotyping but also looking at not only the curriculum but the whole school environment—teachers, leadership, parents, the community—and how this can be reinforced across that whole-of-organisation model.
Respectful relationships education is the ‘holistic approach to school-based, primary prevention of gender-based violence’, using schools’ roles as educational institutions, workplaces and community hubs. A 2015 Our Watch evidence paper concluded that there are seven core elements for good practice in respectful relationships education:
Address the drivers of gender-based violence
Have a long term vision, approach and funding
Take a whole school approach
Establish mechanisms for collaboration and coordinated effort
Ensure integrated evaluation and continual improvement
Provide resources and support for teachers
Use age-appropriate, interactive and participatory curriculum.
According to Our Watch, the best practice in respectful relationships learning is that it should be ‘integrated effectively into education system’, taking a ‘whole of school approach’ which:
… means providing students with multiple exposures to key messages across the curriculum and in different areas of the school and community... It involves engaging not just students, but school staff and the wider school community in the process of cultural change. A whole-of-school approach to respectful relationships education aims to bring about systemic, sustainable change, such that changes in student and staff attitudes and behaviour are reinforced by supportive response mechanisms, policy frameworks, and the schools’ formal and informal culture.
International experience suggests that respectful relationships education should begin at a very early age. Ms Katrina Marson from Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy found in her 2019 research on the implementation of relationships and sex education in Europe and North America that:
… it was confirmed by those I spoke with overseas in countries that have very successful RSE [relationships and sex education] programs that it is really important—age-appropriate, of course—to start quite young. In some places I visited they started as young as preschool and primary school.
A similar view was advocated by Our Watch, which told the Committee that:
We definitely see certain points where we have a greater opportunity to influence change in the life course of men and women, boys and girls. Young children attach to gender stereotypes quite young, in preschool and early school years.
Mr Brad Chilcott from White Ribbon Australia made the point that there needs to be a nationally ‘consistent approach to respectful relationships curriculum and teaching across the country’ so that ‘everyone, no matter what school they went to, was getting the same education on healthy relationships, respectful relationships, what gender equality is and why it's important’. Mr Chilcott also argued that there should be nationally consistent resourcing so that programs did not depend upon the individual good will and initiative of ‘a champion teacher who takes it on themselves’, but is fully resourced for all teachers.
There is also a need to ensure there are no barriers preventing any part of a school community from receiving respectful relationships education. For example, Ms Romola Hollywood from People with Disability Australia noted that many people living with disability may not receive sex and relationships education because ‘we provide sex education as part of the core curriculum in schools, but because of our segregated settings in schools, which is also a problem, many young women actually miss out’.
Initiatives targeting workplaces as part of the problem of family violence have tended to focus on secondary prevention responses, for example systems to allow female employees to lodge complaints and be protected from work-based sexual harassment. Chapter 8 discusses the evidence put to the Committee about family violence leave for victim-survivors.
In addition to such approaches, in the view of Our Watch, workplaces are also a ‘key setting for the primary prevention of violence against women, as they provide a significant opportunity to reach large populations including men’. Our Watch added that:
Activities that influence aspects of organisational culture, work environment and practices, have strong potential to shape social norms and relationships. This means employers have a key role to play.
A whole-of-organisation approach is best practice for workplace programs. The Our Watch submission told the Committee that the approach:
… requires organisations to identify and implement broad strategies to address the structural issues that are barriers to gender equity for their staff. For example: conducting a gender pay gap analysis across the organisation and considering how inequities can be addressed; reviewing working conditions, including security of work and access to leave entitlements for employees; ensuring equal opportunities for career progression for men and women; implementing flexible working policies; and providing paid parental leave. It also requires organisations to review and change workplace culture, including avoiding stereotyping language and images, seeking staff feedback on their experiences and perspectives...
An example of a ‘whole-of-organisation’ approach was provided by White Ribbon Australia’s Workplace Accreditation Program, which:
… engenders a whole of organisation commitment to stop violence against women, meeting 15 criteria under three standards to create a safer and more respectful workplace. It recognises workplaces that are taking active steps to stop violence against women, accrediting them as a White Ribbon Workplace.
Submissions from trade union organisations were of one voice in including workplace culture and norms as a part of tackling family violence as a workplace issue. For example, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) told the Committee it had ‘prioritised family, domestic and sexual violence as an industrial issue in the workplace’, endorsing the view advocated in the submission from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).
Ms Natalie Lang from the Australian Services Union highlighted the necessary connection between specific measures to respond to individual incidents of violence and long-term cultural change in workplaces and organisations, using the example of family violence leave:
If organisations have an obligation to provide paid family violence leave then they put in all the enabling policies. … and that policy means we have a discussion in the workplace, we have education, we have managers who are cognisant of the issue and able to identify when something unexpected comes up like an overnight shift to work from home.
The Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation (ASMOF) also told the Committee:
It is widely accepted that workplaces have the power to promote gender equality and prevent violence against women. ASMOF believes that reforms in [the] workplace are critical to support doctors experiencing and escaping from family and domestic violence, foster more equitable workplace cultures and increase women’s economic security.
The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) said it advocated ‘a work health and safety (WHS) approach to gendered violence’ which should be ‘adopted as a fundamental approach to addressing violence against women’. VTHC argued that:
… gendered violence is perpetrated against women workers and workers who do not adhere to dominant understandings of gender because of harmful gender norms. These norms position women as the ‘lesser’. This attitude is present in workplaces and reinforces attitudes that contribute to family and domestic violence.
In accordance with this approach, VTHC delivers:
… education and training focusing on family violence and gendered violence as workplace issues. The training packages are comprehensive, based on research and provide education and awareness raising in addition to practical guidance on how to eradicate and manage both in the workplace. VTHC considers workplaces as critical sites within which to address and eliminate both closely related forms of violence.
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) referred to its training program to:
… equip union Officials and Delegates with practical skills to recognise situations where family violence may be present, and to help drive the cultural change needed to tackle this deep-seated social problem.
The RTBU had engaged Griffith University’s MATE Bystander program, aiming to ‘educate our members about the relationship between gender inequality and family violence’. The union recommended that all federal government agencies should conduct such training for its employees, and work with employers and unions to promote such courses for private sector employees.
Our Watch also submitted that:
In addition to individual workplaces taking action to prevent violence against women, Australia’s national approach must include policy and legislation reforms to address the significant systemic and structural issues in relation to gender inequality across the Australian workforce.
In the case of sporting settings, Our Watch reported that:
There is a significant body of research examining the explicit links between sport and dominant norms of masculinity and highlighting the specific links between sport and violence against women. Sport remains a key site for maintaining divisions between men and women, and for proving and validating the dominant ideals of masculinity.
The Our Watch submission referred to its evidence paper A team effort: Preventing violence against women through sport which reported that:
Internationally and in Australia, many sporting organisations are currently undertaking work in sport settings with the aim of preventing violence against women. This work can broadly be understood to fall into the following categories:
organisational development – where sporting organisations have made changes to their policies and structures
direct participation programs to improve knowledge and resources – such as coaching programs, bystander intervention programs, and empathy-based programs
community mobilisation and strengthening – where sporting organisations work to strengthen and mobilise their local community
communications and social marketing – using communication media to raise awareness
civil society advocacy – sporting organisations’ partnerships with civil society organisations.
Two examples of primary prevention programs in the sporting context were described to the Committee.
The first is Club Respect, developed by a consultancy firm, NIRODAH, and the Victorian Women’s Trust, which:
… supports grassroots sports clubs to build cultures of equality and respect. Specifically, the program seeks to deconstruct and redevelop existing club cultures, and to foster respectful attitudes and behaviours among players, parents, coaches and other club members to help prevent disrespect and violence against women.
The program has been ‘successful at helping to increase safety and gender equality in sports organisations and clubs’.
The second program is the NRL Respectful Relationships Sex & Ethics program (RRSE), developed in Queensland in 2009. The six week program is delivered to NRL players and aims to:
… help build players’ knowledge and skills regarding ethical sexual decision making and consent, healthy communication in relationships, how to recognise abuse in relationships, ethical use of social media, and positive bystander behaviour targeted at sexual violence and gender-based abuse.
Discussing sport-based initiatives at the local level, the Local Government Association of South Australia provided some ‘good practice examples’ of programs to promote gender equality in community-based sports and noted that:
Sport can use its influence to extend the principles of equality and fairness beyond the field – into the boardroom, the coach’s box, the stands, the change rooms, and the media – to prevent violence against women.
The Committee heard the view that sports-focused initiatives need to be complementary to strategies targeting broader elements of people’s lives. Interrelate submitted that ‘sport can use its influence to extend the principles of equality and fairness beyond the field’, but that:
… without changing attitudes, it will be difficult for sports clubs to manage the underlying attitudinal shift that is required for young men to understand gender awareness that will lead to a genuine shift.
Interrelate cited the example of programs centred on men’s fathering role as very effective because ‘men stay in the fathering role for longer than they play football or other sports’.
The submission from CatholicCare NT and the University of South Australia mentioned the importance of sporting focused initiatives in Indigenous communities where ‘football clubs in particular are a part of the rich social ecology’.
Media campaigns and social marketing
Media campaigns and social marketing are important primary prevention strategies, in the view of Our Watch, where ‘awareness is translated into knowledge and skills for taking action’. These include:
… campaigns that seek to raise awareness about violence against women, support help-seeking for women experiencing violence or men perpetrating violence, and promote bystander actions, challenge gender stereotypes, support women’s rights and promote gender equality.
Such initiatives should be guided by four key principles:
They should be informed by a strong evidence base and use appropriate theoretical models of change.
They must be comprehensive and employ multiple strategies in multiple settings in order to reach more people.
Campaigns should aim to engage their target audience, by understanding what is familiar and appealing to this audience, and by employing positive messaging, role models and other influencers. The use of male role models as ambassadors and allies in these campaigns is increasingly seen as an effective way to appeal to men and boys.
Media campaigns must aim to be relevant to the contexts and communities in which they are delivered.
Examples cited by Our Watch were:
The Line campaign on sex, dating and relationships for young people aged 12-20; No Excuse for Abuse campaign aimed at raising awareness of non-physical abuse; and Doing Nothing Does Harm campaign aimed at motivating people to do something when they see or hear disrespect toward women.
A further initiative is the Stop it at the Start campaign which is a:
… national primary prevention campaign that aims to improve young people’s attitudes to respectful relationships and gender equality by motivating the adults in their lives – parents, family members, teachers, coaches, employers and other community role models – to reflect on their own attitudes and have conversations about these issues.
The campaign was launched in April 2016 and was a joint activity of the Australian Government and all state and territory governments. A second phase began in October 2018, while the third phase has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Evaluative research found that:
70 per cent of the target audience influencers recalled the campaign, with 60 per cent of those people taking action, such as:
having a conversation with a young person about respectful relationships
reconsidering the way they behave towards others
changing the way they behaved towards others.
A number of submitters saw social marketing initiatives on issues of family violence as analogous to, or even essentially the same as, the health promotion programs that governments have conducted over time on problems such as smoking, road traffic safety, drink driving, HIV/AIDS and sun protection.
Taking this view, the submission from Professor Robert Donovan and Ms Carole Kagi argued that there should be a ‘public health approach to domestic violence prevention’, noting that:
A key feature of such successful campaigns is the delivery of highly visible mass and targeted media messages that not only target the specific desired and undesired behaviours, but because of their ubiquity, also build desired social norms with respect to these behaviours. These social norms then facilitate increasing legislative and other program components that inhibit the undesired behaviours and facilitate the desired behaviours.
In relation to education campaigns on the role of alcohol in family violence, the submission from FARE and CAPR argued that ‘public and school-based education programs that appropriately and comprehensively integrate the role of alcohol in family violence are urgently needed’. The submission said that the two issues of violence and alcohol are not adequately linked in current programs, and that ‘all education campaigns regarding alcohol and family violence should provide advice on where people can seek help for alcohol use or family violence issues’.
Primary prevention for diverse communities
A common message from submitters was that primary prevention strategies had to be calibrated for the diverse communities in Australian society. Mr Brad Chilcott from White Ribbon Australia took the position that:
… one size doesn't fit all, when it comes to primary prevention. We need to be working community by community, with communities leading the charge, with communities designing a response to the gender inequality and gendered violence in their communities, whether that's geographic, faith based or multicultural… [W]e need to make sure that everyone's hearing that message in a way that they can resonate with, that they can understand, that is relevant to their unique circumstance and culture …recognising that the solutions will be different in a regional or remote town than in the inner city and different in a farming community than … fly-in fly-out workers, for example.
Evidence was received about communities and groups in society that need specially targeted messaging, particularly CALD communities, LGBTQI communities and Indigenous communities.
Settlement Services International contended that there is currently ‘a lack of focus’ on CALD communities in primary prevention messages, that messages ‘need to be targeted to CALD communities’ and that ‘new arrival programs must include primary prevention programs’.
Ms Esta Paschalidis-Chilas from Settlement Services Australia spoke about the importance of building trust when working with newly settled migrants:
If you get them early and are working with the sector early, together with the family and domestic violence sector, we can do that early work—the prevention work. That's when the disclosures come in; we have that high rate of disclosures because of the trust. So we really do need to invest in the multicultural sector having a greater role in family and domestic violence services.
Mrs Juliana Nkrumah AM also from Settlement Services Australia spoke about the importance of engaging faith leaders and educating them on family violence:
However, we also realise that our religious leaders tend to have an intelligence that is steeped in the old ways… We use the religious leaders as part of our engagement pool in our adaptation process so that the religious leaders themselves understand where they're coming from and are able to nuance their own support for communities via the religion.
Ms Alexandra Raphael from FECCA highlighted the difficulty of ensuring programs are accessible for men from diverse backgrounds, including culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds:
…what we see in Australia is that there are lots of programs to address this issue… amongst mainstream Australian men. But those programs are generally inaccessible for CALD men because of the lack of cultural nuance and maybe the lack of language.
With regard to LGBTQI communities, ACON put the case that:
To be effective, sexuality and gender diverse communities must lead primary prevention activities that aim to tackle violence within LGBTQ communities. Mainstream primary prevention initiatives must also integrate meaningful LGBTQ inclusion. Current prevention frameworks, such as Change the Story, do not adequately highlight and address how drivers of violence impact LGBTQ people.
ACON mentioned that it had received funding from the Department of Social Services to develop a primary prevention campaign for LGBTQI communities in 2020-2022. The campaign will be a ‘community-led multimedia campaign, utilising positive relationship role modelling, representation of healthy relationships and community members challenging gendered stereotypes’. ACON submitted that ongoing funding of this kind is necessary ‘to address drivers of violence at multiple levels in society’.
Indigenous organisations have developed primary prevention strategies targeted at the specific needs of their communities. For example, the Tangentyere Council Aboriginal Corporation in Alice Springs has created a prevention approach that ‘identifies and addresses the deeper drivers of violence within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities’ called the Grow Model of family violence primary prevention: Changing attitudes and beliefs to stop violence before it begins. The Grow Model is organised around three concurrent stages of change – community consultation to assess the readiness of communities to work with prevention activities; program development for community-led and culturally safe change approaches; and resource development and implementation to provide staff and communities with appropriate resources and to assess effectiveness.
Data and evaluation on primary prevention
The Committee received evidence about the challenges of collecting data and evaluating the effectiveness of primary prevention initiatives. Submitters argued that primary prevention needs to be a long term commitment to be effective and that therefore evaluation should be focused on long-term change.
Respect Victoria provided the Committee with information about the evaluation of its primary prevention campaigns conducted by BehaviourWorks at Monash University. The evaluations focused on measuring attitudinal and behaviour change in:
Awareness of family violence
Knowledge of what constitutes family violence
The norms and attitudes towards family violence
Perceived priority of addressing family violence amongst other issues
Bystander intervention and actions towards family violence.
Respect Victoria cited the example of the evaluation of Respect Women which found that people who had seen the campaign:
… reported attitudes more supportive of the gender equality factor, were less likely to condone control / controlling behaviours / men's control of women in relationships, and were more likely to endorse the factor relating to respect between men and women.
But the Committee received evidence to suggest that evaluation of primary prevention programs was still in its infancy, with the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) submitting that ‘evidence for the effectiveness of primary prevention strategies for domestic and family violence is limited, and current primary prevention strategies are largely theory driven’. ARACY therefore proposed that ‘it is imperative that these primary prevention strategies are evaluated for effectiveness, especially given the lack of current evidence base’.
Broader issues about the evaluation of all types of responses to FDSV are discussed in Chapter 3.
The Committee endorses the critical importance of primary prevention as one of the strategies to eliminate FDSV. Primary prevention should complement and be implemented alongside secondary and tertiary responses to the issue.
The Committee considers that the next National Plan should continue with the core philosophy of primary prevention being key to reducing FDSV. The provision of funding for Our Watch over the entire twelve years of the Plan would enable the organisation to plan an expanded range of activities and conduct the evaluation of outcomes over the longer term.
The next National Plan should:
develop and recognise the importance of survivor informed and led primary prevention in respect to sexual violence;
develop evidence-based data to inform primary prevention; and
establish a standardised data collection methodology across all jurisdictions, to allow law makers and researchers to have a clear view of which policies are effective and where additional efforts are required.
The Committee accepts that gender inequality, stereotypical attitudes to gender and disrespect of girls and women are primary contributors to family, domestic and sexual violence. The Committee acknowledges that changing culture can be difficult and requires actions that are grass-roots driven from the community as well as leadership from government, business and civil society.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan continue with the core philosophy of primary prevention being key to reducing family, domestic and sexual violence.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, with state and territory governments, provide increased funding for developmentally appropriate primary prevention campaigns, including protective behaviour education, to inform respectful attitudes around sexual consent, with an emphasis on community education, particularly young people in schools. This should include funding for Our Watch for the entire life of the next National Plan, so as to provide the organisation with greater certainty and program continuity.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government support national research and awareness raising campaigns into sexist advertising and the negative effects of unequal gender representation.
Recognising that the principal drivers of family, domestic and sexual violence are gender inequality and stereotypical attitudes towards gender roles, characteristics and behaviour, together with disrespect of girls and women, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider establishing a gender equality strategy.
Children need to be educated about respectful relationships and the impacts of FDSV as early as possible in their development, even before primary school begins. The Committee therefore supports an emphasis on school and community education, particularly for children and young people. Schools offer the opportunity to engage children and young people in a learning environment that is familiar, and is set up to promote new thinking. By working in these settings, we can shape development of healthy attitudes—particularly amongst boys—about gender roles and violence against women. Investing in teaching the next generation about respectful relationships is vital if cultural change is to be realised. Particular attention should be given to ensure that programs are accessible for all children, including those:
from culturally and linguistically diverse communities; and
living in rural, regional and remote areas.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with the states and territories to ensure that age-appropriate respectful relationships are taught in all Australian schools and early education settings.
The Committee is concerned about the lack of acknowledgment within government departments, the education and the FDSV sectors of the dangers of easily accessible pornography and its correlation with the prevalence of FDSV, particularly with respect to children.
The next National Plan should identify that the proliferation of pornography on the internet is a significant contributing factor to the lack of respect for women by some men who are regular porn users. The next National Plan should include an emphasis on primary prevention and early intervention directed toward young people before they begin to suffer the ill-effects of porn-addiction.
The Committee awaits the Australian Government’s response to its report, Protecting the age of Innocence, Report of the Inquiry into age verification for online wagering and online pornography. The evidence given to the Committee in the inquiry would suggest that the problematic nature of pornography is exacerbated the younger the user.
The Committee notes with concern the evidence about the correlation between the abuse of alcohol and other drugs and FDSV. The next National Plan should acknowledge the detrimental impact of the misuse of drugs and alcohol and their part in elevated risks and damage caused to victim-survivors and their families in FDSV cases. Primary prevention programs should address the elevated risks and dangers of drug and alcohol misuse, including in government sponsored advertising and education measures. In order to increase the consistency and comparability of data across states and territories, the next National Plan should introduce a national standard for recording and reporting alcohol and drug use involved in FDSV incidents.
The Committee supports a public health approach to preventing and managing drug and alcohol related harms experienced by families and children, similar to those for issues such as smoking, use of sunscreen and seatbelts. The Committee expects that such an approach would involve governments of all jurisdictions working to reduce the incidence of drug and alcohol-related FDSV by:
incorporating primary, secondary and tertiary strategies to reduce drug and alcohol-related FDSV;
including people with lived experience of drug and alcohol related FDSV in design of programs;
preventing areas from becoming saturated with liquor outlets, including the restriction of late night delivery of alcohol;
reducing the excessive availability of alcohol in areas already saturated with liquor outlets, including trading hour restrictions and a minimum unit price of alcohol;
restricting the advertising of alcohol during ‘child friendly’ times; and
requiring better data collection for drug and alcohol-related FDSV and, separately, drug and alcohol-related child maltreatment incidents.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan adopt a public health approach to preventing and managing drug and alcohol related harms experienced by families and children, involving all jurisdictions, including local governments.
Noting the evidence about FDSV and people identifying as LGBTQI, there is a need to more fully include LGBTQI communities in primary prevention initiatives, through partnerships between mainstream organisations and LGBTQI communities. Increased Australian Government funding for Our Watch would enable the organisation to update their Change the Story framework to be inclusive and develop an LGBTQI specific prevention guide, highlighting how gendered violence impacts LGBTQI communities in different ways compared to the broader community.
The Committee reiterates its recommendations in Chapter 5 regarding LGBTQI communities, including Recommendation 42 in relation to Our Watch.