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What causes violence against women?

The majority of domestic and family violence is committed by men against women. Only some men use violence against women. Most men think that violence against women is never acceptable.

Men are also victims of violence, however most of the time men and boys are victims of violence by other men.

Research shows there is a clear link between men's violence against women and gender inequality. A 2014 report by VicHealth found 19% of Australians think men should be in control in relationships and be the head of the household. The report also says:

"Gender equity is key to ending violence against women. The strongest predictor of high levels of violence against women is unequal power between men and women."

Other factors that add to the likelihood and severity of men's violence against women include:

  • discrimination
  • experience of and exposure to violence
  • alcohol and substance use
  • some cultural and religious practices
  • lack of knowledge of Australian laws
  • loss of traditional family and community support systems.

What is gender inequality?

Men often have more power and higher status than women. We see this at home, in the workplace and in the community. For example:

  • if the husband is 'head of the family', he may make all the decisions
  • men are traditionally the 'breadwinners' while women are the 'stay at home mums'
  • only about one-third of managers in Australia are female
  • the gender pay gap means men are paid more than women, even though they do the same work

This imbalance is know as gender inequality. Violence against women is more accepted in societies where men and women are not equal.

Gender norms and gender stereotypes also contribute to gender inequality

This is when society has expectations of how males and females should behave.

For men, this means feeling pressured to be dominant, in control, strong and powerful.

For women, this means expectations to be submissive and 'pick up the pieces'.

Gender stereotyping also starts at a young age for both girls and boys. For example, T-shirts for girls that say "princess" while T-shirts for boys say "future scientist".

The cycle of violence starts with disrespect

Not all disrespect towards women results in violence. But all violence against women starts with disrespectful behaviour.

Disrespect starts with beliefs and attitudes we develop from a young age. Without realising it, we can sometimes say and do things that make young people think disrespectful and aggressive behaviours are acceptable.

As parents, extended family members, teachers, employers and as individuals we can all be positive role models for children and young people. Together as a community, we can help stop the cycle of violence against women.

WATCH: Let's change the story — Violence against women in Australia

This is the story of how gender inequality contributes to the murder of around one Australian woman almost every week.

(Video from Our Watch)

WATCH: Attitudes to gender equality and violence against women

As long as we all continue to see women as less equal to men, disrespect and violence against women will continue to happen.

(Video from VicHealth)

The facts about domestic and family violence in Australia

  • On average, 1 woman a week is killed by their current or former partner.
  • Women are more likely to experience violence from men they know, often in the home.
  • 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence, or both, perpetrated by someone they know.
  • Police deal with an average of 657 domestic violence matters every day — that's one every 2 minutes.
  • Domestic or family violence against women is the biggest reason women  — and their children — are homeless.
  • Almost all acts of rape and sexual assault are committed by men towards women.
  • 8 out of 10 women aged 18 to 24 were harassed on the street in the past year.
  • 87 percent of young women changed their behaviour to ensure their own safety in the past year.

SOURCE: The Line, NSW Police

What you can do to reject violence and promote respect

1. Be aware: Stop it at the start

As parents and role models of young people, we want the best for kids. We want them to have positive experiences, healthy relationships and opportunities to learn. We want them to understand right and wrong. We want them to respect others, and respect themselves.

Even though most Australians recognise that violence against women is a serious issue, fewer people realise that the behaviours and attitudes can start in childhood. Our beliefs about male and female relationships are learned, and can be passed onto the next generation.

Adults have the strongest influence on young people’s attitudes about disrespect towards women. But when we see it in action, we tend not to get involved. Without realising it, what we say and do is shaping young peoples’ views about more serious behaviours.

The Respect website has resources, which are printable, to help you have these difficult but important conversations with young people, including:

The Line website also has a helpful article about talking to young kids about gender stereotypes.

The following video shows how disrespectful behaviour can impact children.

(Video from Australian Government Department of Social Services)

2. Stop the excuses

Take a moment to reflect on the common ways we excuse disrespectful and aggressive behaviour, including:

  • playing down disrespectful or aggressive behaviour, such as "don't worry, it wasn't that bad" or "suck it up, princess"
  • accepting aggression as just part of being a boy, for example "boys will be boys" and "oh you know how boys are like, they're a bit rough"
  • blaming girls by saying, "it takes 2 to tango" or "what did you do to make him angry?"
  • raising girls to accept disrespect by saying things such as "it's okay, he probably did it because he likes you"

These phrases seem harmless when we say it or hear others say it, but children and young people can interpret them in ways we don't intend.

Have you ever thought or said...What a young person might think
"It's just a joke"Girl: I shouldn't get upset about this
Boy: It's okay to make sexist jokes
"It's tough being a boy"Girl: It's okay for boys to disrespect me
Boy: It's not my fault if she makes me angry
"She probably provoked him"Girl: I caused this
Boy: She asked for it
"You're so whipped"Boy: I shouldn't value what my girlfriend wants to do
"She's a feisty one"Girl: I shouldn't give my opinion, I shouldn't stand up for myself

Read more about the hidden meanings of common expressions that can excuse disrespectful behaviour towards girls and women on the Respect website.

Speak up the next time someone says or does something that excuses disrespect towards women.

3. Stand up and speak out

We all need to help end the violence against women and children. We need to stand up and speak out. Remaining silent and not doing something about it means the violence will continue. Here are some ways White Ribbon Australia suggests you can speak out:

  • If you are with friends and someone says something that makes you uncomfortable or that you feel is wrong, you can say: “I’m not sure what you mean. What did you say?”
  • Sometimes people forget they are talking about a real person. To remind them and change the conversation, you can say: “What if this was your sister, mother, daughter, son?”
  • Give your opinion to show your disapproval: “I believe abusing a woman is wrong.”
  • If you are with a group of people, you’re probably not the only one feeling uncomfortable. Let others know they are not alone and encourage them to speak up by asking: “Am I the only one uncomfortable with this?”
  • If you talk to someone you think is violent to women, they will probably tell you to mind your own business, make excuses or deny it. If you see violence and abuse, and you feel safe, talk about the behaviour you have seen: “You are my friend but I think the way you criticise and intimidate her is wrong.”

The Our Watch website lists more ways you can help prevent violence against women and their children for:

4. Safely intervene when you see violence

If you see a man being violent towards a woman, you can do something about it. Remember to always keep yourself and others safe.

  • In an emergency, call Police on 000
  • Be a witness — stand somewhere close but safe so the violent person knows they are being watched
  • Ask for help from people near you.

If a woman has told you about violence against her

If you find out that someone you know is a victim of domestic and family violence, let her know you are willing to help. Read I want to help someone for ways you can offer her help and get her the needed services and support available.

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