PiP Member Spotlight: Shelley Hewson-Munro

We spoke with Shelley about her lifelong passion for justice and her work across the prevention-to-response spectrum. Shelley shares her experience and gives advice about doing prevention work with men and boys. Here is Shelley’s story.

Role: Project Manager – Working Together With Men & Momentum and Academic Teaching Scholar – Social Work
Organisation: HealthWest Partnership / Victoria University
Contact: @HealthWest / @VU
PiP member since: February 2020
PiP activities attended: Panellist – Engaging Men and Boys seminar

Shelley Hewson-Munro

My parents owned their own motorcycle business; my mum coordinated the spare parts and my dad was the mechanic. So I had an unconventional feminine upbringing – my chores were to pull apart motorbikes! Men would come in to the shop and ask to be served by a man. I couldn’t understand that.

I’ve always fundamentally hated injustice, that’s my driving passion. I really dislike that people get a raw deal based on something about themselves. I was president of the Amnesty International club back in school. I always did all the social justice stuff. I couldn’t get why others couldn’t see it, didn’t want to respond.

I was known as the instigator of trouble, known for making people uncomfortable by asking questions or calling them out. As a 15 year old girl I realised that you’re not supposed to have these thoughts, or act on them.

I started my career working with young people who had experienced or perpetrated violence. I’ve worked with 7 year old boys perpetrating violence through to 70 year old men. I’ve since gotten a social work degree, and am working on my Masters of Community Development. I’ve spent over a decade working across the spectrum from response through to primary prevention, including supporting victim/survivors.

I’m now working on Project Momentum: Working Together with Men – a primary prevention project that gathers men at the grassroots to develop and implement gender equity and PVAW initiatives. I’ve also just finished the Working Together with Men resource, which is grounded in both theory and practice. It’s something that aims to inspire people or give them the confidence to try this work, and I’ve been blown away by how well it’s been received.

People expect men’s work to be men working with men, but that’s patriarchal. Any work that’s done without the group that’s being oppressed – that’s just oppression.

I still keep hearing ‘How do we engage men?’ That question really bothers me; because I’ve been doing it for 14 years, and lots of others have too. We should instead be asking ‘How can we be doing this in safer ways? How can we create allies, rather than white knights?’

There’s a lot of risk in prevention that I don’t think the sector acknowledges, and not just about disclosure. As we know, violence isn’t just physical. A lot of men struggle to understand the control or power they have, as it is so ingrained into systems that reward and support them. Men who use violence belong to our communities, our families, our workplaces. You won’t recognise them just by looking at them. If we don’t think like that, we can miss risk.

Prevention work with men requires you to be able to bring them along with you, but also to rattle them. That takes a lot of skill, to do in a way that they still want to be an ally and join the resistance.

For me, I think it’s so important to have experience at the tertiary (response) level too. Until you sit with scary dudes and try to stop them from harming people, you might not be able to facilitate those strong emotions – shame, shutdown – in doing primary prevention with men. If you can’t get that experience, you need to be exposed to that complexity in other ways: do observation of men’s behaviour change work, or talk to practitioners who do it; listen to phone calls; observe the difference in the way men portray themselves.

We have to be very wary of awareness-raising being the only prevention work that’s done. People are so comfortable with social media tiles, morning teas and posters. With the project I’ve been working on, the participants’ project ideas have to align with national frameworks, they have to evaluate the connection to the evidence base. It’s not just about hanging out with the guys and talking about masculinity, although we do that too! We need more evidence-based, informed action.

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