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We need to teach our young men to respect women as equals

September 01 2016 By Mary Barry, CEO, Our Watch

Parents are reeling in shock from the most recent “scandal” to hit our newsfeeds: the discovery of an international porn ring circulating more than 2000 sexual images (many explicit) of school-aged girls from at least 70 schools around Australia.

Girls’ bodies are being bartered for and traded like footy cards, completely without their knowledge. What makes this incident particularly shocking is that this porn ring wasn’t run by some high-level paedophile network, but by “ordinary” teenage Australian boys — many mixing in the same circles as the girls they’re violating.

The enormous scale of this website is certainly worrying, but this is just the latest in a series of similar cases. This particular site might have been taken down, but how long before another surfaces? Parents certainly have a lot to worry about right now.

But let’s not kid ourselves. While the internet provides another forum to degrade women, the sexist attitudes behind this behaviour certainly aren’t new. What is new is young men now have the technology to share their upskirt snaps with the world.

Quite understandably, many parents feel completely powerless to prevent this tide of online exploitation.

There seems to be an assumption this type of behaviour is inevitable and unstoppable, with the discussion focusing around how young women can keep themselves safe, ie. girls are responsible for what happens to them. Sure, it’s terrible, but boys will be boys.

Yes, telling our daughters to cover up, or to be careful about who they send photos to will certainly prevent some nude snaps from being taken or circulated, but ultimately this isn’t the answer. At best, these measures are a Band-Aid for what is a much wider and deeper social issue. At worst, they’re a form of victim blaming. Not to mention unfair to the many young men who are also appalled by this.

Of course we should be worried about our girls. But it’s the parents — and particularly fathers — of boys who should be paying the most attention.

While teenagers might squirm when you even say the word “sex” to them, the fact remains that parents and carers are probably the most trusted sources of information kids have access to.

If you have a son, you’re in a unique position to prevent this behaviour, especially if your son thinks sharing non-consensual nude images of underage women is deplorable.

We need to help young men understand this type of sexism and misogyny needs to stop.

As a minimum, parents can make sure their sons realise distributing naked images of underage people is a crime, plain and simple. Jail time and life as a registered sex offender are both very real outcomes.
But the real, urgent focus must be on boys’ attitudes, behaviours and choices.

This means helping them to recognise and critique sexism and misogyny. It means supporting them to resist male peer group cultures based on disrespect and aggression towards women. And it means encouraging them to take a stand against unacceptable behaviour.

Our Watch’s youth campaign, The Line, is a great place to start (www.theline.org.au/parents). It has information on sex and relationships for parents as well as young people. It can help you understand your children’s digital world, and give you tips on how to talk to teenagers about issues like sexting (exchanging sexual text messages and photos), social media and consent.

What’s promising is most young men do agree this kind of behaviour is abhorrent. Our research tells us 92 per cent of young people think it’s not OK to share intimate photos without someone’s consent. But young people have also said they don’t feel confident in speaking out.

Parents can help support positive attitudes by talking to their sons about how to actively call out behaviour they know is wrong.

Let them know that simple statements like “Mate, not cool”, or “what if your sister was in the photo?” can make a big difference in getting their peers to think twice. Even reminding their mates that what they’re doing is a crime, and encouraging others — not just the girls involved — to report these incidents to the police and the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner.

The fact is that while disrespect towards women is entrenched and widespread, it is silence and complacency — particularly on the part of men and boys — that helps perpetuate it.

A recent Our Watch and Plan International Australia report, Don’t send me that pic!, found many of the young Australian women surveyed want better education on respectful relationships to stop men feeling entitled to perpetrate such abuse.

More than half agreed girls are often pressured to take “sexy” photos of themselves and share them, even though 82 per cent thought it unacceptable for a boy to ask their girlfriend to share naked photos of themselves.

So, if you’re a parent, please don’t feel hopeless. There are things you can do right now to help your children develop attitudes and relationships that are based on respect, consent and equality. The real change we need is for young men to respect women as equals, and not sex objects that can be caught, ranked and traded. But parents of both sexes can help instil positive, healthy and respectful attitudes about sex, consent and relationships in their kids.

Parents should also be supported by respectful relationships education in schools, which builds the skills of young Australians to reject aggressive and unhealthy behaviour, sexualisation, discrimination and gender stereotyping, and develop equal and respectful relationships.

Of course it’s up to all of us — not just parents and schools — to change this culture that supports the degradation of women, and create a new “normal”.

Let’s raise boys and young men who would find the behaviour of those involved in this latest incident completely unthinkable.

This article was originally published on Rendez View on 19 August 2016

Media contact:

Rebecca Hyde, Acting Media Manager, Our Watch: 0426 501 185 or rebecca.hyde@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.