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Men are key to preventing violence

Nov 21, 2022

Ahead of the 16 Days in WA Campaign, our Men’s Services Coordinator and Justice Manager Stephen Morrison share his views on how and why we need to shift our focus to men if we are to succeed in preventing violence against women.

When you think about the face of family and domestic violence, do you see a tragic bruised woman? A terrified child?

In this urgent conversation on the family and domestic violence crisis in Western Australia, these are the two faces that we see the most. We are rightly focused on the victims and survivors, enabling them to leave, enabling them to find safety, enabling them to heal.

But helping survivors to pick up the pieces doesn’t address the causes behind the plague of domestic violence against women and children.

This year’s theme for the 16 Days in WA to Stop Violence Against Women is a straightforward one. Ending violence against women – it’s everybody’s business. Its power is its simplicity.

Everyone is responsible, but it’s men who must play a greater role in changing their behaviour to make society safer and more equal.

Devastating statistics

It is an inescapable and deeply uncomfortable fact that men are the primary perpetrators of family and domestic violence. In Australia right now, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. One in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a man they know.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the number of victims of assault in WA went up last year, and 63 per cent of all assaults recorded were related to family and domestic violence. Of the 22,000 victims, 73 per cent were female.

The victimisation rate for assault (number of victims per 100,000 people) is now at the highest level since we started collecting data nearly 30 years ago, and it is devastatingly clear this is being driven by men perpetrating violence against women and children.

If we are truly to end violence against women, we need a sharp change in how society – and how men especially – discuss and deal with the issue.

The recently released National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children sets an ambitious course for the Australian and State Governments to end gender-based violence in a generation. It rightly declares prevention of family and domestic violence as a long-term national priority.

Preventing or interrupting harmful patterns of behaviour (often with roots in intergenerational behaviours, mental illness or perpetrators’ own trauma)  is possible.

It starts with modelling respect and an absolute rejection of harmful gender stereotypes. It starts with calling out sexism and unhealthy attitudes – we can no longer downplay disrespectful behaviour or accept aggressive behaviour as ‘boys being boys’.

At the same time, we need to have honest conversations about what healthy masculinity looks and feels like. Our attitudes and behaviours are shaped by our family, friends and peers and it’s important for there to be ongoing positive conversations around these issues where men live, work, learn and socialise.

Creating safe spaces for change

As the Men’s Services Coordinator and the Community and Justice Manager at Hope Community Services, these conversations are part of my job. We run Bush Trips for men in the Goldfields, working in partnership with the Mara Pirni Healing Place, WA’s first holistic, wraparound family and domestic violence services hub.

Our goal is to create that safe space for men to connect with other men and build healthy, positive relationships that in turn have a positive impact on their families and the wider community.

While out bush, we yarn with men about difficult topics such as family and domestic violence, suicide, relationship breakdown, grief and loss.

Our discussions are often based on personal experiences, both good and bad. We talk about how we love our families and how we can do better for them. We talk about creating positive opportunities for them from the choices we make.

We particularly address how men can choose to bring peace to arguments and troubled situations. We talk about how violence is a choice, and how change is possible.

Counteracting the violence

Family and domestic violence brings an unhealthy fear to families and robs them of positive opportunities. It takes away opportunities for suitable housing, stable education, ongoing employment and family bonding.

When working with our men we choose to act in the opposite way, by addressing the intersections that lead to family and domestic violence.

We want our direct choices to bring peace to our families. By applying de-escalation techniques and implementing other strategies, and by looking for support when we need it, we can counteract the violence and the fear it brings.

By changing the mindset and behaviour of men before they offend, and offering support where needed, we can start to create a safer and more promising future for our women and children.

 

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