real life

Luke Ablett: "You don’t have to be the big, tough, aggressive guy all the time."

Bravo. A former AFL star weighs in on how to change young people’s attitudes about sex and relationships, and ultimately reduce sexual and domestic violence.

A report into young peoples’ attitudes about relationships and sex, released last week, showed that 1 in 3 young people think that exerting control over someone else isn’t a form of violence. 1 in 4 don’t think it’s serious for men to insult or verbally harass women in the street, and that 16% think that women should “know their place”.

These attitudes are incredibly concerning because they contribute to a culture that perpetuates male dominance over women and normalises controlling or violent behaviours within relationships.

In addition, 1 in 4 young people think it’s normal for guys to pressure girls in to sex, and that it’s not serious if a guy, who’s normally gentle, sometimes slaps his girlfriend when he’s drunk.

This powerful advertisement raises awareness of domestic violence. [Post continues after video].

If we accept that pressuring someone into sex is rape (which it is, or is at least very close), then 25% of young people think rape is normal, and 25% also that physical violence isn’t serious. Obviously, these are incredibly concerning.

There is no single reason for the attitudes uncovered in this report. They exist in men and women, boys and girls, and cut across racial, religious, and socio economic divides. Many suggest that video games like Grand Theft Auto are to blame, while others think that we can blame wrestling, boxing or cage fighting. Others point to a moral decay brought about by the internet, social media and smart phones.

Yet, the ideas of male dominance over women and men as heads of households have been around for centuries, if not millennia, and are present in most, if not all countries across the world. They are passed down through generations, via friends, family, and the media landscape of the time.

They don’t exist purely because of the technological advancements of recent decades. With the exception of pornography’s influence on the sex lives of young people, none of the attitudes above are new. So while they are shocking and concerning, they shouldn’t necessarily be surprising.

Some point to a moral decay brought about by the internet, social media and smart phones.

In response, Our Watch has launched The Line, a social marketing campaign to engage young people in conversations about respectful relationships and dating. It has also been designed to provide information to community ‘influencers’, such as teachers, parents and sports coaches.


In recent years, many well respected organisations including the UN, VicHealth and Our Watch have identified sport as prominent context to challenge the attitudes that contribute to, or condone, men’s violence against women. Equipping key influencers within local sports clubs, such as coaches, committee members and other volunteers with the skills to do this, is vital.

As someone who has played a lot of Australian Football at an elite and local level, many people ask me if there is a specific problem with footy, and footy players. I think this research proves the issue is much bigger than just sport, but I do think sport can play a role.

As a player, I valued the hardness of players like Brett Kirk, Adam Goodes and Jude Bolton. They were as tough and uncompromising on the field as you could possibly hope for in a teammate, but they were all gentle, ethical, and compassionate off the field.

To promote the idea that you don’t have to be the big, tough, aggressive guy all the time, yet remain a good man, is a real opportunity for sport. Within this, of course, has to be the idea that sexual conquests and male dominance over women also aren’t signs of a strong man, or even a decent man.

Luke Ablett

Increasing the amount of women in and around sporting clubs – on committees, as coaches, as volunteers, or as players – also promotes the idea that men and women are equal, and that men shouldn’t fear or feel diminished by female authority.

We know that men’s violence against women, including family violence and sexual assault, is caused by gender inequality and adherence to stereotypical gender roles. So, while these steps for sporting clubs might seem small and easy, they can have serious benefits in later life for the way that men and women interact with and respect each other.

Sporting clubs can’t do this work on their own, but they do fit in to a much larger push to promote gender equity.

Only when all areas of society and pushing for gender equity can we realistically expect the attitudes of young people to become more respectful and less supportive of men’s violence against women.

Luke Ablett is a former AFL player for the Sydney Swans. To learn more about The Line click here. you can find him on Twitter @luke_ablett

For further reading on the issue of domestic violence and education:

We’re not tackling domestic violence education in the classroom. But we need to be.

This is one of the most powerful anti-domestic violence campaigns we have ever seen.

“Domestic violence occurs in every class, culture and community.”