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Violence in our homes - an assault on our future

By Todd Harper - posted Thursday, 4 December 2008


Last week was White Ribbon Day. It came into being nearly 20 years ago in Montreal, Canada, one man purposefully picked out and massacred 14 women while at university. Two years later a few men decided to take a stand and in only six weeks, more than 100,000 men across Canada wore a white ribbon to symbolise a commitment to ending violence against women.

Today millions of white ribbons are worn around the world and hundreds of thousands by men and women across Australia. From police to politicians, truck drivers to teachers, on the sports field, in the country and the cities, people from all walks of life are saying enough is enough.

The violence has gone on for a very long time mostly behind closed doors. It is about attitudes and behaviour. It impacts profoundly on our communities, particularly women and children. These impacts go well beyond the four walls of a family home.

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Worrying figures in a new study released last week show that about 50 per cent of young people, that is over two million children, have witnessed physical or emotional violence against their mothers. And while these children may not bear the physical bruises, witnessing the abuse does significant damage to their health and wellbeing.

The new report published by the White Ribbon Foundation, paints a vivid picture of the pain. The report: An Assault on Our Future: The impact of violence on young people and their relationships shows the figures are severe, the personal pain is immeasurable and this problem is not going away.

Let us be clear. The majority of men are not violent but most violence is committed by men against other men. Women are six times as likely as men to have been assaulted by a partner or ex-partner. This is deadly serious.

Fifty-seven per cent of women reported some level of physical and/or sexual harm since the age of 16 years according to the Australian component of the 2004 International Violence Against Women Survey, reported by the Australian Institute of Criminology. The 2005 Australian Bureau of Statistics' Personal Safety Survey found that nearly 3.1 million women, or two out of five reported having experienced physical or sexual violence at least once since the age of 15.

The costs to the community are astronomical. The total cost of violence against women is at least $8.1 billion, according to Access economics. This estimate includes the costs of pain and suffering, health costs and long-term productivity costs.

We are not just talking about the medical costs, psychological trauma and pain and suffering of those abused. We know there are long-term mental health impacts like depression and anxiety as well as other physical health problems associated with diet and substance abuse.

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Just as importantly, there are solutions to what seems to be an endless cycle of violence. The evidence shows that young men who have experienced domestic violence are more likely to perpetrate violence in their own relationships. But the majority do not. The cycle can be broken. In our families, we need fathers, brothers and uncles to take responsibility for the violence with firm resolve.

On our TV screens and in the public eye the role models of our young people need to lead by example. It is critical that TV personalities, politicians, sports stars and other celebrities get it right in their own lives and speak firmly about the need to end violence. Their behaviour has a huge impact on the growing minds and attitudes of our children.

It boils down to attitudes. Evidence shows that what we think influences how we act. A National Crime Prevention study showed that one in eight boys think it is okay to force a girl to have sex with them because they are flirting. These boys are more likely to follow through with violent behaviour. And one in three boys who think most physical violence occurs because a partner provoked it are also much more likely to act on this.

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About the Author

Todd Harper began as Chief Executive Officer VicHealth, in April 2007, following many years in tobacco control. Prior to taking on his current role, Todd was Quit Victorias Executive Director from 1999 to 2007.

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