Prevention is key to turning off the pipeline of men choosing to use violence

2 minutes
Author: Patty Kinnersly, CEO Our Watch
Posted: 14 May, 2024
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    Samantha Murphy went running in my hometown of Ballarat and never came home. Since then, more women have died in my community and across our country, allegedly to men’s violence. From Bondi to WA – no one has been left untouched by this national crisis.  

    It has sparked grief, anger and debate about what is driving this violence and how, or even if, it can be prevented. Questions about disrespect and gender inequality and whether they play a role in violence against women. Questions about whether changing attitudes really leads to changed behaviour.  

    They’re good questions. With 28 women killed this year alone, we should be asking why.   

    As the head of the national organisation charged with preventing violence against women, I can absolutely say that yes, this violence can be prevented, yes, we have overwhelming evidence that tells us what causes it and yes, changed attitudes do lead to changed behaviour. But we have our work cut out for us. 

    The latest Australian research shows around 23% of men aged 45 and under self-report having used physical or sexual violence towards an intimate partner. That’s the equivalent of 1.1 million men.  This violence is not perpetrated by just a few individuals who we can easily identify and target. The scale of the problem is daunting. 

    This is why there is no single solution. We need all pieces of the puzzle including effectively resourced early intervention, response and recovery initiatives, along with improvements to our policing and justice systems. It is also crucial we have a sustained focus on longer term prevention – to turn off the supply of men choosing to use violence in the first place. 

    To do that we need to know what is driving men to use violence – and we do. A wealth of national and international evidence shows that rigid gender stereotypes, gender inequality, sexism and disrespect are the underlying causes of gendered violence. 

    This is backed up by the latest Australian research showing that men who hold rigid stereotypical views of masculinity – that men should be in control, dominant and assertive – are 17 times more likely to say they have hit an intimate partner. 

    Another Australian study found that holding discriminatory attitudes was the largest predictor of whether a male worker had used technology to sexually harass a colleague. It also found rates of sexual harassment perpetration halved in more gender equal workplaces. 

    People make choices about their behaviour within a social context. If we don’t change this social context, we won’t stop the violence. We have achieved drastic change through prevention with smoking rates and road safety. We can do it with violence against women. 

    One important aspect of this is a focus on supporting young men and boys. 

    Currently, we face an overwhelming counterculture of online porn and misogynistic male influencers who advocate disrespect. We know this is shaping many young men and boys’ views of relationships, masculinity and women. This is potentially the greatest disruptor to young men’s development in history – with almost all teen boys having access to violent porn and misogynistic influencers in their pockets.   

    One prevention tool that we have available to counter this is age-appropriate respectful relationships education. When implemented consistently from primary school onwards, it gives young people the tools to identify and unpack harmful gender stereotypes before they encounter them online, to see positive male role models in the school around them and develop skills for healthy relationships.  

    Respectful relationships education has been shown to reduce rates of sexual harassment and bullying and help young boys develop healthy ways to be a man. This initiative is currently in most Victorian schools – but needs to be in every school in the country.  

    Primary prevention doesn’t stop at the gates of schools and universities.  It is crucial that healthy ideas of masculinity, and gender equality and respect are reinforced as the norm everywhere boys and men go – online, in the workplace, at sporting clubs, in the community and in media. 

    And yes, we also need a focus on addressing those factors that we know can amplify the severity and frequency of men’s violence, including harmful alcohol use, gambling and prior exposure to violence. But these factors do not drive violence against women; not all people who drink are violent, and many people who are violent do not drink. Contrary to some suggestions, action on these factors alone is not the magic answer to stop violence against women.  

    While it’s not always easy to measure, prevention is having an impact. Over the past 10 years, rates of physical violence against women by an intimate partner have gone down. Long-term intimate partner homicide rates have declined. We are seeing a decline in problematic beliefs with more than 90% of Australians now mostly rejecting attitudes that support gendered violence.  

    There are no shortcuts to ending violence against women. It is going to take every area of our community, from governments changing laws and policies and providing funding, to business, education, sporting codes, media and individuals all taking responsibility for change. The speed at which this happens depends on each of us. 

    Media contact

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    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, or text 0458 737 732.   Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491 

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

    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. Read more about Our Watch here.