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Natasha Stott Despoja: You may think it'll never happen to you, but it could.

By NATASHA STOTT DESPOJA

Many readers would have seen the disturbing image of actor Keira Knightley being kicked brutally by her ‘partner’ in a UK public service announcement designed to raise awareness about violence against women.

This video, criticised by some for its confrontational nature, is a depiction of what some women experience every day.

It made me want to recreate this ad for the Australian screen, perhaps featuring one of our best loved actors, to highlight this everyday reality for many Australian women.

Some may question whether we need to resort to such tactics in 21st century Australia, but the statistics about violence against women and children in our country are chilling.

Natasha Stott Despoja
Natasha Stott Despoja

Eighty nine Australian women were killed by their partners between 2008 and 2010. 1 in 3 women experience physical violence and almost 1 in 5 women experience sexual violence.

Women usually experience violence at the hands of men they know, often, in their own homes, and often, repeatedly, sometimes, over many years, if not a lifetime.

The biggest risk factor for becoming a victim of sexual assault, domestic or family violence is simply being a woman.

Fortunately, there is growing evidence that violence against women and children is preventable.

That is why the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments have joined forces to create a new national foundation to tackle this issue.

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The Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children is tasked with changing community attitudes towards violence against women, and ultimately with encouraging all Australians to reject violence.

It is an honour to have been asked to Chair this national effort to address violence against women.

We must unite across party lines and State borders to prevent such violence, and the bipartisan and cross-jurisdictional nature of the Foundation does that.

Violence against women and children is preventable.
Violence against women and children is preventable.

The Foundation’s work will focus on “primary prevention”, or stopping violence before it happens.

It will address the culture that allows violence to occur and continue — including through challenging the social norms that support male authority and control over women and tackling the attitudes and beliefs that justify, excuse, minimise or hide physical or sexual violence against women.

While there have been positive changes in attitudes on violence against women in Australia in recent decades, there is much work to be done.

A 2009 survey found 53% of Australians believed that slapping and pushing a partner to cause harm or fear was a ‘very serious’ form of violence; 34% believed that ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’; and 22% believed domestic violence could be excused if the perpetrator regretted what they had done.

Our attitudes and beliefs are fundamental to the community’s understanding and response to violence.

The Foundation’s work will traverse geographic, demographic and cultural borders in order to reach a cross-section of the population, including communities in which women and their children can be especially vulnerable to violence.

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Over the next 4 weeks, we embark on a series of consultations around the country: covering the country from Kalgoorlie to Cairns and all capital cities, to speak with and listen to the community about their ideas for preventing violence against women and their children and what the Foundation can do about it.

Help protect women and children.
Help protect women and children.

If you would like to be involved, please visit www.preventviolence.org.au or follow us on facebook or twitter for the latest on the consultations and the work of the Foundation.

The Foundation will bring together work that is being done around the country from the not for profit and government spheres, and we are keen to involve all Governments, State and Territory, in our work.

We will work with the broader community — including the business sector — to drive a united national effort to prevent violence against women and children.

The media also play a critical role: to develop public understanding about the nature and causes of violence against women, and how they can help prevent it.

I acknowledge White Ribbon’s work with men to end violence against women, and will work closely with them too.

To quote the powerful public service announcement starring Keira Knightley, isn’t it time for us as a country to call “cut” on this issue?

Natasha Stott Despoja is a former Senator and leader of the Australian Democrats.

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