Attitudes to domestic violence are developed during childhood, and right now Australia has a problem.
Almost half of all young men and a third of young women don’t think someone controlling their partner’s finances is a form of abuse.
Lisa Wilkinson gave an on-air plea for Australians to tackle family violence in September (post continues after video).
But, the report says that attitudes like the tendency to blame the victim and make excuses for perpetrators, are especially common among young people.
“While 96 per cent of Australians condemn domestic violence, the automatic defences which impede our likelihood to influence, and be influenced, are powerful,” the report says.
What that means is that there are some ingrained assumptions people make about domestic violence, and those assumptions are found in both young people and their parents, teachers and other figures of influence.
“Importantly, victim blaming occurs automatically and seemingly unknowingly.”
The research the report was based on a mix of information gathering techniques, including focus groups across the country.
Ken Lay, the former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, is now the chair of the COAG domestic violence advisory committee.
The report was commissioned by the committee.
In a speech to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, Lay said changing youth attitudes was the key to ending domestic violence and other violence against women.
“When presented with some scenarios on aggression by boys, I heard with sadness about 10-year-old girls already diminishing the abuse they received from boys.
“I heard girls say about boys harassing them: “It’s not that bad, it’s not like he punched her.
“I heard boys justifying the violence by simply saying that they just want to be heard – that it was harmless,” Lay said.
“And for all the things I’ve seen in my many years at Victoria Police, this important evidence of the origins of gendered violence… and our complacency to it… brought me to tears. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed.”
He called on a conversation in the community that challenged gender assumptions, as a first step towards solving the problem.
“We need to talk about what unseen expectations we have for our children because of their gender,” he said.
“I think we ask women to define themselves relative to men. If we dismiss behavior as being boys will be boys we aren’t holding them personally accountable, we aren’t addressing the pre-conditions of sexism, abuse and family violence.”
Katie Acheson, managing director of Youth Action, an advocacy group for young people in New South Wales, said questioning the beliefs of mentors and family can be difficult for many young people.
“As we all get older, we learn to question different ideas and discard some as we keep others. For those who are younger, they’re still developing the ability to question the information they receive, and it can be hard to go against the grain, especially when it comes from those they trust or want to respect them,” she said.
Youth Action has done its own research on youth attitudes to domestic violence. It found that young people can’t always tell what is abusive behaviour, and what isn’t.
“More than three-quarters of young people feel that domestic violence is common in Australia, but they have some difficulty in understanding what behaviours are normal and what is domestic violence,” the report found.
“At this stage in their lives, young people are experiencing a lot of ‘first’, like a first relationship. It can be really hard at that point to understand what is coercive and what is normal conflict in a relationship,” Acheson said.
In his speech, Lay called for men to do more to fix community attitudes.
“It’s not enough to consider ourselves good men because we don’t bash women. As men, this sets the bar so low, that somehow we congratulate each other for not being monsters.
“That’s not useful. It’s not helpful. I’m asking you to think about yourselves, about your assumptions … about what lessons you are unwittingly passing to your children,” he said.
“We need to set the bar much higher than we are.”
If you or a loved one has experienced domestic violence, please contact 1800 respect.