Opinion: Schools need to be front line of preventing violence against women

3 mins
Author: Patty Kinnersly
Posted: 11 Nov, 2023
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    Lilie James was murdered in a school – schools need to be the front line of preventing violence against women

    Twenty-one-year-old Lilie James was murdered at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, allegedly by her former partner of five weeks Paul Thijssen, a former student of the school.

    That same school has had a teacher and another former student convicted of violence against women offences.

    Men who use violence generally have two things in common – they don’t respect women and do not see them as their equals. These attitudes are prevalent in our society, including in our schools, and they are a key driver of violence against women.

    Schools play a powerful role in shaping how young people see the world – they can reinforce gender inequality and disrespectful attitudes, or they can be a powerful force for change.

    Respectful relationships education is currently being implemented in almost 2000 Victorian public, Catholic and independent schools and Queensland is adopting the model – but Our Watch and many other prevention of violence advocates have been calling for every school in the country to adopt the initiative, starting from early primary school.

    Respectful relationships education is a whole-school approach to help change attitudes and prevent violence against women. It educates young people about what respectful, healthy and consensual relationships look like, and gives them the skills to recognise and challenge harmful behaviours and stereotypes.

    Respectful relationships education is not a ‘one-off’ lesson, but involves everyone from the principal to parents and students in teaching and modelling respect and equality in the school community.

    There is no space for culture wars on whether or not respectful relationships education should be urgently implemented. Delay on this issue is leaving our young women experiencing violence, and in the worst cases, it is leaving them dead.

    Within days of Lilie James’s murder, the Australian Institute of Family Studies released new research showing that one in three 18 to 19-year-olds has experienced violence from a current or former partner in the previous 12 months. This is a national crisis that is sweeping-up our young people from their earliest relationships.

    Our Watch research has found that one in two boys has accessed porn online by the age of 13, and a recent study from Europe has found 90 per cent of porn showed verbal, physical or sexual violence towards women.

    Research from the Man Cave found one third of Australian teenage boys admire Andrew Tate and almost all knew who he was. This is a man who advocates for women to serve men and is on charges of human trafficking of women.  

    Our young people also look to the adults around them to understand the type of attitudes and behaviours that are either condoned or condemned. Common narratives among individuals, in our media and popular culture can condone or minimise violence – describing violent perpetrators as “good men”, or perpetuating the myth that the violence was a one-off because “he just snapped”.  

    Young men and women are having their earliest understanding and experiences of relationships, gender and sex heavily influenced by people and narratives that advocate disrespect of women or violence against them, without the tools to properly question, analyse or fully understand what they are seeing.

    Respectful relationships education gives young people these tools. It can help them understand what they are seeing or experiencing in their relationships, and it can combat other negative influences that are reaching them via friends or through social media.

    As a community we have the tools to end violence against women. We just need the commitment to implement them. Respectful relationships education is one of the most crucial initiatives to eliminate this violence and ensure young people grow up safe and can be the best versions of themselves.

    First published in the Canberra Times and Australian Community Press.

    Media contact

    Please contact media@ourwatch.org.au or call 0448 844 930.

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

    1800RESPECT is the national domestic, family, and sexual violence counselling, information and support service. If you or someone you know is experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, domestic, family or sexual violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, chat online via www.1800RESPECT.org.au, or text 0458 737 732.

    To access guides for reporting about violence against women and their children, visit media.ourwatch.org.au.

    Our Watch

    Our Watch is a national leader in Australia’s work to stop violence against women and their children before it starts. The organisation was created to drive nation-wide change in the practices, norms, and structures that lead to violence against women and children.