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Respect is vital if we are to end violence against women

October 27 2016 By David Sutton, principal of Victorian regional high school.

In the past few weeks we have heard how rampant sexual assault is at Australian universities.

Our airwaves have been polluted with Donald Trump’s misogynist drivel once again.

We have also just come out of a period of vile revelations about high school students rating online pictures of girls and young women that were shared without their consent.

It can’t go on. Evidence, experts, teachers, principals and students themselves agree that Respectful Relationships education is one of the best ways to stop disrespect and violence against women from happening in the first place.

This is am I was so surprised that on 3AW recently I heard callers ring in to say that Respectful Relationships education is a waste of money. That it’s “Leftist, Marxist crap”. That talking to young people about relationships and gender stereotypes should be left to parents and parents alone.

This sentiment was echoed by Kevin Donnelly in this newspaper yesterday. He made the ludicrous claim, which is far from accurate, that Respectful Relationships education paints all men as perpetrators of violence and all women as victims.

As a principal in a school that implemented respectful relationships education last year, I too rang in to 3AW to give comment, but was not given airtime.

I would have said that teaching children and young people about respect is far from radical.

I would have said I know from experience that Respectful Relationships education works.

I would have said the evaluation of the program at our school indicated it achieved promising results. Students’ attitudes about violence and sexism improved. Teachers noticed students acting more respectfully towards themselves and each other.

I would have said that Respectful Relationships education does not place an extra burden on teachers and it doesn’t take away from any other subject. In fact, it enhances those classes because both students and teachers are treating each other without prejudice or disrespect.

I would have said that I encourage every other principal across Australia to put their hand up to have Respectful Relationships education in their school because we can no longer be complacent about violence against women.

Not being complacent means listening to what the evidence says works to end violence against women and what the evidence says is needed to ensure that future generations of students and teachers don’t have to live with the threat of violence.

And if we want to achieve that long-term goal, we need to start now, because the reality is, if we estimate by current statistics, that one in four young women at my school (or any school for that matter) will experience violence by a partner or former partner. Who knows how many young men will perpetrate violence against women?

In 2015, economic analysis done by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Our Watch and VicHealth found that if Respectful Relationships education was rolled out in all government schools in Australia, we could prevent between 7000 and 12,000 future incidents against women and save our economy up to $3.6 billion.

Think of how many futures that could change.

Children are not being sexualised through Respectful Relationships education, far from it.

Children form attitudes and behaviours related to gender, power, sex and respect well before their adolescent years, and are subject to sexualisation by popular culture, marketing and pornography.

That is just a reality. And in fact it is another reason Respectful Relationships education is so important, because it gives young people the skills to identify, critique and reject such sexualisation and foster healthy personal identities based on the principles of respect and equality.

It does it by using carefully designed age-appropriate materials and participatory activities. So it is no surprise to me that evaluations of the program found students were overall very comfortable with the concepts raised by the curriculum and they even felt that, at times, parents and teachers were being overprotective of them.

The main goal of this program is to makes our schools, homes, workplaces and communities less violent and more respectful, for everyone. I struggle to see how anyone could be against that.

So let’s work together — parents, teachers, governments and communities — to build respectful children and young people. Let’s listen to the evidence. Let’s end violence against women, men, children and young people.

David Sutton is principal of a Victorian regional high school.

This story was originally published in the Herald Sun on 28 October 2016.

Media contact:

Hannah Grant, Media and Ambassador Program Manager, Our Watch: 0448 844 930 or hannah.grant@ourwatch.org.au

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:

“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.”

Read guides for reporting about violence against women and their children.

About Our Watch

Our Watch’s purpose is to raise awareness and engage policy-makers and the Australian community in action to prevent violence against women and their children.

To do this the organisation works to increase gender equality and respect in all aspects of everyday life, such as through schools; workplaces; media; sporting organisations; social marketing, and developing and influencing public policy.

Our Watch’s work derives from the government’s commitment to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 and gives expression to many of the activities in the Second Action Plan 2013–2016 – Moving Ahead.