Changing minds about violence against women

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In Australia, violence against women is no longer regarded as a purely domestic problem. We now recognise it as a criminal justice problem, a social problem and importantly, a public health problem.

Statistics for the prevalence of violence against women are startling. The 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey revealed that since the age of 15:

  • 1 in 6 Australian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner[1]
  • 1 in 4 Australian women had experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner[2]
  • 1 in 3 Australian women had experienced physical violence[3].

In the past, various public awareness campaigns have addressed the problem of violence against women by focusing on victims and perpetrators of violence. More recently, research into community attitudes towards violence against women suggests that the problem may be rooted in attitudes and beliefs we form early in life.

Research from VicHealth and Our Watch shows an alarming number of young people think violence against women is acceptable in certain circumstances.

  • 1 in 4 young people don’t think it’s serious when guys insult or verbally harass girls in the street[4]
  • 1 in 4 young people don’t think it’s serious if a guy, who’s normally gentle, sometimes slaps his girlfriend when he’s drunk and they’re arguing[5]
  • 1 in 4 young men believe that girls like guys to be in charge of the relationship[6]
  • 1 in 5 young people believe there are times when women bear some responsibility for sexual assault[7].

Creating change through awareness campaigns

A look at some of the most recent campaigns around the world tackling violence against women shows just how much of our thinking and approach to the problem has changed. We are starting to move away from secondary and tertiary prevention where the focus is on victims and perpetrators of violence and moving towards primary prevention, seeking to draw attention to the deeper cultural norms and seemingly innocuous attitudes and behaviours that stem the prevalence of violence against women.

The Line campaign by Our Watch (2015–16)

This primary prevention campaign through Our Watch aims to prevent violence against women by addressing attitudes and behaviours of 12–20 year olds that are potential drivers of violence. One of the defining characteristics of the campaign is the creative approach to advertising taken to show the ‘indelible marks’ of violence, which cannot be undone. The campaign works to promote healthy and respectful relationships among young people by challenging and changing attitudes and behaviours that support violence. The campaign will continue under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (2010–2022).

Dear Daddy by CARE Norway (2015)

This powerful five-minute public service announcement by Care Norway released at the end of 2015 accrued over 10 million views on YouTube. It uses a powerful narrative on the experiences of a girl from birth to adulthood and sends a message to men, particularly would-be fathers, that casual sexist jokes and name-calling contribute to the culture of violence against women and asks them to step up and call out disrespectful behaviours in young boys and peers when they see it.

Stop it at the Start (2016)

Stop it at the Start is the current national public awareness campaign to reduce violence against women and their children. Taking a primary prevention approach, it focuses on the attitudes and behaviours of young people that have the potential to turn into more serious problems later in adulthood.

The campaign calls on parents, family members, teachers, coaches, and any adult who has an influence on young people to play a role in stopping early disrespectful and aggressive behaviours. It brings to light many of the ways adults unintentionally excuse disrespectful male behaviour when they say things like ‘boys will be boys’ or tell young girls ‘he only did it because he likes you’.

How this campaign is different

In contrast to other campaigns, Stop it at the Start focuses on preventing disrespectful attitudes and behaviours in 10–17 year olds – and it aims to do this by reaching the adults who influence them. The focus of the campaign is to encourage these adults to recognise the importance of respect between girls and boys and to challenge unacceptable behaviours that would previously be unintentionally ignored or excused.

Adults who are influencers of young people became the target of this campaign after research showed that many of us make automatic assumptions, without necessarily recognising them, when we see or hear about situations involving male disrespect towards girls by:

  • blaming the girl in the situation and automatically questioning what she did wrong
  • minimising the disrespectful or aggressive behaviour of the boy towards the girl
  • empathising with boys or accepting the behaviour as just part of what boys do.

The campaign asks adults to examine their beliefs and rethink gender stereotypes that have long convinced many of us that ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘he only did it because he likes you’ are acceptable explanations for disrespectful behaviour in children and young people.

Fenton Communications is proud to be one of a group of communication agencies behind the campaign, which has reached over 32 million views of its TVC and has acheived over 10,000 downloads of online resources from

As this campaign appeals to every adult to play a part and positively influence young people, I asked three of our team who worked on the campaign if it had changed their ideas about respect between boys and girls.

Melanie Wilkinson, Fenton CEO

I encourage everyone to read the formative research for this campaign. It is very confronting because it shows just how entrenched gender stereotypes are in our community.

I have always believed that I would never perpetuate gender stereotypes, but I found by reading the research I have done just that.

And as a mother of two teenage girls I feel the value and importance of making sure we change the way we speak to young people and that we stop accepting disrespectful behaviour.

Alan Fitzpatrick, Content Director

The research behind Stop it at the Start shows that young people’s views on male violence against women are formed from an early age in the home.

The campaign immediately challenged me, as a man and dad to a young boy. I want to see my son grow up treating others with respect, but I hadn’t realised how much my partner and I can influence his attitudes about the role of men and women through our words and actions.

Outside the home young people are influenced by what they see, hear and experience, and this is often beyond parents’ control. It’s encouraging to think that by consistently setting a good example at home we can provide a counterpoint to the many mixed messages about violence against women.

Aaron Williams, Design Director

My son is approaching 10 years old and I believe he, my wife and I are empathetic towards others. When it comes to being a dad, I’d never questioned my actions or words and always thought I was doing a pretty good job.

Last year my daughter arrived on the scene, which has made working on this project even more relevant to me. The campaign has made me think about some of the smaller throwaway comments we make in the family, most that I deemed harmless, but are engrained from the comments I heard my parents make during my childhood.

I’ve become much more aware of how my son picks up comments and actions we make, and how he says a lot of things without understanding their meaning. I am also in tune with my words and actions around my daughter as she is like a sponge, soaking up and mimicking everything. It’s fantastic seeing them both grow and important to me that they get the best start in life.

By Sorayia Noorani

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2012). Personal Safety Survey

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2012). Personal Safety Survey

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2012). Personal Safety Survey

[4] Our Watch, The Line campaign research, 2015

[5] Our Watch, The Line campaign research, 2015

[6] Our Watch, The Line campaign research, 2015

[7] VicHealth, (2013). Young Australian’s Attitudes towards Violence Against Women report (the summary Youth Report).