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Respectful Relationships Education

Schools are ‘mini communities’ where respect and equality can be modelled, to help shape positive attitudes and behaviours at an early stage of life. They  play a central role in teaching young people what violence against women looks like and how it can be prevented.

As part of a whole school approach – which not only provides in-class education, but addresses the school culture, policies and procedures, and promotes gender equity within the staffing body – students will grow into adults who can have relationships that are safe, respectful and equal.

How can we work with schools?

School communities, including principals, parents, community organisations, teachers and other staff, can help prevent violence by: 
  • teaching students the skills to build respectful relationships, as well as recognise and challenge gender-stereotyping and violence-supportive attitudes
  • creating a safe, equal and inclusive school culture for staff and students
  • demonstrating appropriate and respectful behaviour to students.

On the basis of current evidence, violence prevention and respectful relationships initiatives among young people can make a real difference, producing lasting change in attitudes and behaviours.

Victorian Department of Education and Training 2009

Respectful Relationships Education Toolkit

This Toolkit has been created by Our Watch to support schools in delivering Respectful Relationships Education, and was developed as part of the Respectful Relationships Education in Schools (RREiS) pilot. 

Click here for the Respectful Relationships Education Toolkit

Young people, respectful relationships and violence

Young people are, from an early age, exposed to harmful messages that can support violence and stereotype men and women. 

Whether from sources such as popular culture and advertising, or from peer groups or their own families, such messages can limit young people’s ability to see alternatives and build the skills they need to create respectful and equal relationships of their own.

Many young people already have a degree of tolerance for violence-supportive attitudes that blame victims and promote gender inequality. Young people aged 16 – 24:
  • are less likely to understand the dynamics of violence against women
  • are less likely to reject violence-supportive attitudes
  • are more likely to hold attitudes that support men having greater power than women in relationships.1

And a significant number of young people are already experiencing or living with violence: 
  • young women (18 – 24 years) experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups2
  • approximately one quarter of sexually active Australian students in years 10, 11 and 12 reported an experience of unwanted sex3
  • 61% of women who had experienced violence had children or young people in their care when the violence occurred.4

Evidence paper

Our Watch has released a summary of the latest evidence on Respectful Relationships Education, outlining how a whole school approach can reduce violence-supportive attitudes and perpetration in young people, school staff and the wider community.

The evidence paper outlines that effective Respectful Relationships Education uses the whole education system as a catalyst for generational and cultural change. The approach engages schools, as both education institutions and workplaces, to address the key drivers of gender based violence, gender inequality, rigid adherence to gender stereotypes and violence supportive attitudes.

View the Evidence paper: Respectful relationships education in schools

Want to know more?

If you’re a professional working with young people or schools, the Partners in Prevention (PiP) network is a great resource. PiP runs quarterly network meetings and sends out a monthly email bulletin.

Learn more about what you can do if you work in schools here

Parents can find information about gender equality and respectful relationships.

Young people, take a look at The Line for tips on respect, sex and equality.

Respectful Relationships Education in Schools pilot (Victoria, 2015)

In 2015, Our Watch worked with secondary schools to further develop the whole school approach to Respectful Relationships Education. Our work involved supporting school leaders and teachers to implement the curriculum, and to look at the school as a workplace and an education institution to promote gender equality and respectful relationships.
The Respectful Relationships Education in Schools (RREiS) pilot was funded by the Victorian Government and saw Our Watch partner with the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Department of Education and Training. 

Working across Victoria, the RREiS pilot supported 19 schools to embed a whole school approach to Respectful Relationships Education while also delivering  the Department of Education and Training resource, Building Respectful Relationships: Stepping Out against Gender-Based Violence  to year 8 and year 9 students. 

Our Watch undertook an evaluation of RREiS focusing on its impact on school culture, teachers and students and suggestions for wider roll-out and systematisation. 

See the evaluation report and findings here.

1. VicHealth, 2014
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2012
3. La Trobe, 2013
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2012