Response to Reading, writing and numeracy the way to stop domestic violence, Michael Coulter Opinion Piece, 22 August 2015

DVRCV’s letter to the The Age newspaper on Respectful Relationships Education

The article “Once again we’re asking teachers to be parents” (Opinion, 23/8) disregards facts that demonstrate the need to include respectful relationships education programs in the curriculum. A recent survey by OurWatch found that more than a quarter of young people believe “male verbal harassment” and “pressure for sex toward females” are “normal” practices, and the VicHealth National Community Attitudes Survey found that 43 per cent of Australians believe that rape results from men not able to control their need for sex.

Michael Coulter refers to such education as a form of “moral instruction”, and that more attention should be paid to reading, writing and arithmetic. However research shows that violence against women has a direct impact on education levels and opportunities later in life; for example, victims are more likely to withdraw from education and have higher rates of absenteeism. Respectful relationships education in schools has been shown to be effective. By helping to reshape attitudes, schools can promote safe, equal and positive futures for Victoria’s children and future generations.

See DVRCV’s extended response below.

The Four R’s: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and RESPECT.

The Victorian Government’s announcement that respectful relationship education will be part of the school curriculum from 2016 is exceptionally good news for our community and those working to prevent violence against women and girls. The evidence base clearly establishes that the causes of violence against women are beliefs in rigid gender roles and gender inequality, and that schools are a key setting for preventing violence and promoting healthy and respectful relationships. Through the education system, Respectful relationship curriculum creates an opportunity to make a positive impact on children and young people’s relationships later in life.

Michael Coulter’s opinion piece (Sunday Age, 23 August 2015) ‘Reading, writing and numeracy the way to stop domestic violence’ ignores some key truths in claiming that respectful relationships education is a waste of valuable class time, given that “no one would any longer publicly say it’s [domestic violence] okay”. VicHealth’s 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS) found that 43 per cent of the Australian population believes that rape results from men not able to control their need for sex, 25 per cent believe that domestic violence can be excused if the violent person regrets it, and 22 per cent believe that domestic violence can be excused if people get so angry they lose control. According to 2015 research by The Line (the federal government’s youth website), one in six 12-24 year olds believe ‘women should know their place’, and one in three believe ‘exerting control over someone is not a form of violence’. More than 25 per cent of young people believe ‘male verbal harassment’ and ‘pressure for sex toward females’ are ‘normal’ practices. Community attitudes still condone the use of violence, power and control over women.

Australian and international research on the prevention of violence against women affirms that locating respectful relationships education in schools is essential. Many children and young people experience violence in their homes, and school is the logical central point for intervention, to support them, and to prevent intergenerational violence .

Schools are also ‘mini communities’ where respect and equality can be modelled to help shape positive attitudes and behaviours early in life. Positive interventions at school can change young people’s personal and relationship trajectories, preventing problems in adulthood and delivering long term benefits .

We know that young people experience disproportionately high rates of physical and sexual violence in intimate or dating relationships. This violence is gendered: girls and young women are the majority of victims, and young men the majority of perpetrators .
The good news is that respectful relationship education in schools works. Students demonstrate positive attitudinal and behaviour change; longitudinal studies show reductions in future violence perpetration and victimisation .
Respectful relationships education also contributes to improved educational, social, political and economic outcomes. Students who have experienced gender based violence, for example, have higher rates of absenteeism and are more likely to withdraw from education. Lower levels of academic achievement impact on a young person’s social, financial and political participation throughout their lives .

Coulter’s assertion that physical abuse is concentrated in low socioeconomic areas is unhelpful. Domestic violence is more than physical abuse: it is a pattern of coercive control that expands across economic, social, emotional, verbal, sexual, and spiritual domains. VicHealth’s ground breaking research established that economic insecurity and income pressures contribute to abuse, but that they are not the cause . The key determinants of violence against women are gender inequality and rigid gender roles.

Schools are mandated to provide an environment that is safe, supported and equal and they have a vital role to play in promoting gender equality and non-violent norms through respectful relationships education. By engaging with children and young people to help them to develop respectful and non-violent relationships creates a lasting positive impact on their relationships later in life.

Jacinta Masters
Prevention Officer
Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria

Acknowledgement of country

DVRCV and the PiP network acknowledge Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of the lands and waters throughout Australia.

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