Addressing sexual harassment and violence against women should take place over one’s lifespan, a new report has found.
The report, Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence and Harassment Against Women and Girls: Combining Evidence and Practice Knowledge, was put together by La Trobe University researchers.
It provides a detailed roadmap for preventing sexual violence and harassment against women and girls.
Researchers sought input from an advisory group, sector surveys and workshop consultations.
Participants said that change on this front would not happen quickly and needed to involve a range of different approaches.
“Rather than one setting or intervention type, change would happen through many settings that spanned across the life course,” the report said.
“This must include policy, education, training, and early childhood support.”
Education and early childhood support
Research from the United States found that those exposed to adverse childhood experiences, such as childhood sexual abuse, are at a greater risk of becoming victims again of sexual violence.
However, providing support for early childhood relationships with parents, caregivers and other family members can help prevent this from happening, according to the report.
“Parents and caregivers play a key role in protecting children, either directly through parental and caregiver supervision and involvement,” the report said.
“And indirectly, by promoting child self-efficacy, competence, wellbeing and self-esteem.
“These attributes help children become less likely targets for abuse and more able to respond appropriately and disclose abuse if it occurs.”
“A significant proportion of Australians [believe] that gender inequality is exaggerated and that women make up claims of abuse to suit their circumstances,” – La Trobe University report
Education should start early with parents and caregivers and primary school children and continue across the student journey.
“Education should focus on age-appropriate positive messaging, not just looking at negative outcomes such as sexual assault,” the report said.
This should not end after an individual finishes school but should continue in workplaces.
Women experience sexual harassment in the workplace and face major barriers to reporting the abuse.
Organisations can change this by providing compulsory workforce and leadership primary prevention training.
Transforming social norms
However, change is also needed at the society level and social norms need to be changed, according to the report.
“Community [sexual violence and harassment] attitudes, beliefs and behaviours are difficult to shift, with a significant proportion of Australians believing that gender inequality is exaggerated and that women make up claims of abuse to suit their circumstances,” the report said.
The report suggests whole-of-population interventions, including policy development, social marketing campaigns and community resource development and education.
“Policy development, with successful implementation, can be a cost-effective primary prevention strategy to foster the positive change in [sexual violence and harassment] attitudes and behaviours of large populations,” the report said.
However, this would need to go beyond workplace rights and sex discrimination, according to the report.
“The only way to end violence is to focus our efforts to prevent it from happening in the first place,” – Prime Minister Scott Morrison
National Summit on Women’s Safety
Earlier this week, Parliament House hosted the National Summit on Women’s Safety, bringing together advocates, experts and survivors to discuss ways to reduce violence against women and their children.
The summit was called after Brittany Higgins went public with allegations that she was raped by a colleague inside Parliament House.
Topics discussed included family and sexual violence, coercive control and early intervention.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened the summit with a keynote address where he said it is a shared goal to end violence against women and their children.
“The only way to end violence is to focus our efforts to prevent it from happening in the first place,” he said in his address.
“Primary prevention is a key plank of the current national plan and will continue to be fundamental in our long-term strategy.”
The Department of Social Services is working with the Office for Women at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to develop the next National Plan to end violence against women and children.
If you or someone you know needs support, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800respect.org.au. Head over to our Helpful Counselling and Community Services page for more support options.