New White Ribbon research reveals the importance of respectful relationships

Young child sitting with hands clasped

New research by White Ribbon indicates that just under half of men aged 18–34 do not believe that hitting or punching another person is domestic violence. A similar proportion of men said they do not consider non-consensual sexual activity, isolation, harassment, or stalking as constituting domestic violence.

The White Ribbon survey results, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, also revealed that many young women don’t consider behaviours such as non-consensual sexual activity or harassment to be domestic violence.

The research found that young people’s access to damaging online information has had a dramatic impact on the way they perceive healthy relationships. The rise of technology, and the way we communicate with one another, has also increased concerns around social media monitoring, stalking and tracking. Only 46% of men indicated that they believe spying using electronic means or sending unwanted or harassing messages is a form of abuse.

There is also a generational gap, with older men (aged 35–54) surveyed more likely to label all forms of abuse as domestic violence. White Ribbon Executive Director Brad Chilcott attributes this difference in perception to the younger generation’s lack of life experience and education around respectful relationships.

This report isn’t the first to cause alarm on shifting trends in domestic violence awareness. In the 2019 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS), one-quarter of respondents aged 16–24 agreed that women exaggerate male violence, and one in seven said women often make false allegations of abuse.

Following this report, researchers from Deakin University examined the role that school-based programs play in educating and modelling respectful relationships to children and young adults—even when they’re experiencing or have experienced disrespectful and abusive relationships, and may not know that they’re wrong. Many of these programs examine ways to challenge rigid gender roles and empower men and women to perceive themselves outside of gender stereotypes and norms. These programs support both students and teachers to rethink systems and structures to create a more equal school culture. Following their participation in the programs, students began to think about gendered violence differently, including imbalances of power and the way language can affect gender inequality.

International research compiled by Our Watch —an independent organisation working towards the prevention of violence against women and their children—identifies gender inequality as a core problem that leads to domestic and family violence.

We know that one in four children experience domestic and family violence. Many of these children attend early learning and care or outside school hours care services. There are significant gaps when supporting both these children who are attending services, and the educators who are working with families where trauma and stress occurring.

Early Signals. First Responses aims to bridge this gap with an online professional leaning program that provides educators with the resources and knowledge required to support children, make connections with community services and understand their obligations as mandatory reporters.

The professional learning program is free for educators to register and complete until 31 December 2020. To register, click here.