Changing the culture that allows family violence to occur is at the heart of the Never Alone movement. It’s also the most important message I try to convey as I travel around the country speaking to hundreds of individuals and groups who want to learn more about the issues and what can be done.
Last week I attended the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence to give evidence on a day devoted to the issue of cultural change. I talked about the cultural change that needs to occur in workplaces and in schools, the role of the media in shaping attitudes, and the need for leaders to drive change from the top.
Real cultural change will happen when people really understand the prevalence of family violence. Even now, after there has been so much attention on this issue, whenever I talk to groups I still don’t assume that people know the statistics. People are genuinely surprised and horrified by how prevalent family violence is.
Real cultural change will happen when people start understanding family violence is a gendered issue: people want to be able to blame drug and alcohol abuse, or a childhood upbringing affected by family violence, or even the victim herself. But most family violence is perpetrated by a man against the woman. The gender inequities that exist in our society are a key driver of violence against women.
Real cultural change will happen when we start believing women. We assume women lie. We ask women to prove they are telling the truth. As soon as a woman is seen to be emotional, depressed or anxious, it works against her and she is seen to be neurotic and untrustworthy.
Real cultural change will happen when men really start to listen. I know many good men who are supportive of women and condemn violence in any form. But there are others who sit quietly in the audience when I speak, looking uncomfortable, and I am reminded that if one in three women experience violence, there must be some perpetrators in the room too.
Real cultural change will happen when schools take a leading role in shaping behaviour. Children practice their relationship skills from a very young age, as soon as they can communicate: it is very important for schools to take an active role in addressing not only the specific issue of family violence but the broader issues of gender equity and respectful relationships.
Real cultural change will happen when our country’s leaders take a stand. The former Victorian police commissioner Ken Lay, for example, knows that every police officer in the force doesn’t necessarily think in the same way he does, but he created a legacy which I believe will continue.
Real cultural change will happen when the media gets the story and gets it right. It’s imperative to raise the issue of family violence to the point where everyone knows the issues and everyone knows the statistics. If the media are reporting properly and intelligently, they have enormous influence in attitudinal change.
What role can you play in creating real cultural change this year?