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Education needs to be at the forefront of a long-term solution to Australia's domestic violence epidemic.
No short-term solution for domestic violence

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No short-term solution for domestic violence

16 May 2018
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She speaks for 15 minutes. Her hair flat, her voice shaky, she looks spent. She often looks down at her hands. 

“He said to me: ‘I’m really going to hurt you tonight’. … I’m not really sure how to explain our story. I was in love with my best friend… sometimes love isn’t enough.”

Her name is Mariam Fornah, a courageous young woman, 23 years old and originally from Perth. She now lives in Townsville and wants to share her story. 

“You can’t be with someone who’s killing you inside and out.” 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), women have been the victims of domestic violence at the hands of a partner three times more often than men. 

The data also showed that one in six women have experienced at least one incidence of violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15. 

15.15. The age of a typical Australian ninth-grade. When put into this context, the statistics seem more shocking than ever.

Mariam is not alone in her struggles. She says that she "saw potential, and just like everyone that has gone through domestic violence, you feel as if you can fix them or try to help them...my biggest regret was I tried to fix someone broken that couldn't see fault in anything he did.

"I never thought I was in an abusive relationship. I didn't pay attention to the signs, I didn't look for services, because I didn't know."

The 2015 Inquiry into domestic and family violence by the Australian Federal government highlights that young people's attitudes remain a concern. The proposal in the Second Action Plan, Reccomendation 8, sugggests the the Commonwealth Government should consider incorporating "respectful relationships education into the national curriculum" at the individual level in response to preventing domestic violence.

It’s clear that to achieve equality within relationships, a cooperation of different levels in society are needed to alter attitudes and behaviours. 

This raises the question: when an individual causes harm to their intimate partner, who is at fault? 

Do we blame the individual’s upbringing, their parents or guardians for not educating their child correctly? Or Is it society’s fault? 

More specifically, is it the fault of the national government? Could it be their failure to implement a baseline priority to educate children on social issues and morals that has resulted in an “epidemic” that Australia faces today, as 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty argues? 

Much of the course of child’s life is spent at school. Education should be at the forefront of preventing domestic violence from the grassroots. 

The question of whether the Federal government has since implemented programs into the national curricula as proposed in the Inquiry will be investigated by comparing two different disposition schools in Victoria. 

Kirsty Stapleton, a public co-educational primary school teacher in Mount Waverly, emphasises that there has been no further development from the proposal of the government into implementing school based education to combat domestic violence. 

“I feel that secondary schools would have more focus and program implementation than primary schooling.”

In primary schools, “there isn’t a focus on respectful relationships education as yet”, she says. 

Stapleton did however mention current initiatives that aim to teach valuable ‘life habits’ such as ‘resilience and respect’ at Mount Waverly Primary School. Another initiative at the primary school is the “Life Education Van”, comprising of different ‘components’ taught to each grade such as mental health, drug addiction, ‘cyber bullying and relationships’. 

Life Education, established over 35 years ago, aims to “empower children and young people to make safer and healthier choices through education”. Their primary school program offers students and teachers with resources, including apps and take home material to support parents in the home. These equip parents with the relevant information to reinforce these values taught during school. 

Observing only one state primary school in Victoria, it seems that the government has not yet taken action into implementing initiatives proposed in the inquiry. However, programs like Life Education inform students, teachers and parents with valuable skills that could be applied to many different obstacles in life.

Similarly, Clare Kennedy, a pastoral teacher and librarian at De La Salle College in Malvern says there are absences or disparities between Australia’s education system and domestic violence prevention strategies. 

Kennedy claims that De La Salle College has “always taught students respect towards other religions and minority groups”, however there were not any specific programs that focused solely on respecting women. 

Kennedy says she has noticed in the last few years a ‘strong push’ from the Federal government to ensure “issues regarding relationships are covered as part of a cross-curricular focus”. 

While it may seem the government is playing catch-up in preventing domestic violence from its roots, Kennedy does note that there are State Government proposals targeting ‘relationship breakdowns’ as well as programs for those who have been the victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. 

Dr. Becky Batagol is a senior lecturer at Monash University and also works for the Victorian Royal Commission into family violence. She believes that while “government policies need to cover all angles,” the only way society can address and focus on this problem is through prevention. 

Dr. Batagol states that the “prevention-end” of domestic violence is often overlooked. She argues that it is “incredibly important” to look at changing broader problems from both the prevention and tertiary ends. 

Through educating children at primary and secondary schools to form respectful attitudes and behaviours towards each other, ideas about gender can be changed and reinforced over time. 

Kennedy discusses specific programs taught at De La Salle such as ‘BetterMan’, a series of workshops designed to ensure young men are challenged about the way women are portrayed in the media and society, which allows them to build trusting and respectful relationships with women. 

It seems that to an extent there are some programs and initiatives that were already in place to educate children on building respectful relationships. Therefore, the question should be: have these programs or initiatives taught in schools across the state made an impact? Have rates of domestic violence decreased? 

Dr. Batagol thinks that in order to see “if we’re successful with low levels of family violence, we will have to wait at least 25 years to see the fruit of that labour”. 

But she is hopeful. “The Victorian government has accepted the recommendation to introduce sexual relationships education into every primary and secondary government school”,  she adds. 

Reflecting back on her tragic experience, Mariam speaks of the services she wishes were available to her during and following the abuse. She gives advice to other women in these circumstances and hopes this may prevent further occurrences. 

“Apart from get the f*** out of there, it’s not going to change… and it won’t fix itself. 

“At the end of the day, you have to leave, get out of there before it consumes you and takes over you.”

Mariam advises that seeking out for help is ‘hard’ to do, but with the right support, it can be done. 

She believes that while children “spend a lot of time at school… ultimately it all comes down to the individual and their situation as well.” Her ex-boyfriend dealt with many issues, including substance abuse and mental health issues. 

It’s clear there is room for improvement outside of school-based education programs. 

Mariam stressed that more needs to be done, and suggested initiatives like ‘home visits’ and services that follow up victims. This might include calling back when the victims might not be able to talk, and more support services during the stressful period of court hearings. She emphasised the importance of campaigns on television or social media, to show that domestic violence can affect anyone and can occur anywhere, 

As Dr. Batagol contends, there is “no single approach” to preventing the high rates of domestic violence in Australia, but what we do know is that there is a “strong correlation between gender imbalances and violence against women”. While educating children on building respectful relationships is imperative, there should also be a focus on substance consumption, bullying and mental health issues and how these issues interact with the prevalence of domestic violence. 

A collaboration at all levels of society to change attitudes and behaviours towards domestic violence is what we need. 

For crisis support visit Lifeline Australia or call 13 11 14.

Jessica Whitty

About Jessica Whitty

Having graduated from her journalism degree and now freelancing, Jessica pursuing all avenues to secure her foot in this industry. Jessica has come to The QUO on a quest to learn a new direction of journalism and explore social justice issues, that she believes aren’t being heard loud enough in m...

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Empowered Womxn, Health Care
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16th May 2018

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