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Male myths hard to kill

By Rob Moodie - posted Tuesday, 31 October 2006

News last week that there was a sickening DVD circulating in some schools showing a group of males assaulting a young girl has sparked an outpouring of shock and disgust. The community's response is not surprising.

Then comes a report that a Sydney religious leader believes women are responsible for provoking sex attacks by going out and wearing make-up, or dressing "immodestly" rather than staying at home.

But what is surprising and deeply disturbing is the prevalence of myths and attitudes that breed the actions of those young thugs or the remarks of that religious leader.


VicHealth's release of a report on the community's attitudes to violence against women shows that when dealing with these myths, it's a case of two steps forward, one step back. And the group that most needs to address this challenge is not the schools, the teachers, the police or the politicians, but the men of our community.

According to the report Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, 97 per cent of Victorians now agree that domestic violence is a crime, and 93 per cent now understand that forced sex in a relationship is a crime.

So, in a generally law-abiding community like ours, why do some young males still believe they can gang up on a young woman and bully her into a degrading situation?

It also appears that the practice of boys "having sex" (whether consent is present is unclear), taking video clips and then circulating the material around schools on mobile phones is not at all uncommon. Mobile phones and the Internet have spread bullying and harassment wider than ever before.

These sorts of behaviours are linked to the attitudes revealed in the VicHealth study, which shows that many of us find excuses for violence. For example, nearly two in five Victorians still believe the myth that men who rape do so because they can't control their sexual urges. Almost one in four of us still believe women make up complaints of rape, and 15 per cent believe women often say "no" to sex when they mean "yes".

In large part, the excuses too many of us make for such actions end up silently supporting those actions, and it's more likely to be men finding those excuses.


We also underestimate the impact of social, emotional and financial abuse on the lives of women. Significant portions of the population believe acts such as yelling abuse, controlling women's social lives, contact with family and friends or denying them money, are not serious or a form of violence against women.

Trying to shift the blame, or some of it, on to the woman for forced sex or rape or any other form of violence is just searching for an excuse for actions that are inexcusable under any circumstances.

Those excuses fester because we haven't yet succeeded in killing off the myths that feed them.

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First published in the Herald Sun on October 27, 2006.

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About the Author

Rob Moodie is Professor of Global Health at the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne. Between 1998 and 2007 he was the CEO of VicHealth. He is co-editor of three books, including Hands on Health Promotion. He is currently writing a book called Recipes for a Great Life with Gabriel Gate.

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