Primary prevention and domestic violence: it will take all of us.

DVNSW talks to Acting Program Manager at AWAVA, Tina Dixson, about primary prevention, community approach and what we can do as individuals to help prevent gender-based violence.

As 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence draws to a close on International Human Rights Day, we reflect on the importance of the right that all people – including women and children – deserve to live a life free from violence. We all have a role in the prevention of gender-based violence. Ensuring all people in our communities have equal rights, equal opportunities and the freedom to reach their potential is the first step, and this means orchestrating fundamental systemic and cultural changes within our society.

Primary prevention is the term we use to describe the actions we take to prevent domestic and family violence from occurring in the first place.

“Primary prevention is an essential sexual, domestic and family violence strategy,” says Delia Donovan, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW. “It’s about creating whole-of-community structural and cultural change and stopping the violence before it starts by engaging key settings in prevention activities.”

The primary prevention approach is directed at the community as a whole, and there are already a multitude of initiatives, efforts and programs that currently exist in NSW aimed at preventing gender-based violence from happening. DVNSW co-convenes the NSW Collaboration on the Primary Prevention of Gender-Based Violence to bring together NSW government, local councils, peak bodies, researchers and community organisations to share information, share practical ideas and resources and find ways to promote primary prevention work across NSW.

But more resources, funding, and government support is crucial to moving forwards.

“Primary prevention can include a broad range of things,” says Tina Dixson, Acting Program Manager at AWAVA. “For example, education programs in school focusing on cultivating healthy and respectful relationships, as well as community awareness raising about what actually constitutes as violence.

“We do sometimes have the view that violence can only be physical, and we need to be clear about the whole other range of manifestations it can take form in.”

The need for primary prevention is evident. Survey results released by White Ribbon at the end of October this year found 42 per cent of men aged 18 to 34 did not consider “hitting, punching or restraining” another person to be a type of domestic violence. 

Fortunately, Australia is in a unique position to have evidence and a framework to underpin the work in the primary prevention space. Our Watch, the national leader in the primary prevention of violence against women and their children, released a consistent and integrated approach to preventing violence against women that is currently being used across the country. 

“Violence against women is preventable,” says Tina. “We know that it’s possible to take this out before it actually happens. In Australia, with the National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children, we’ve created conditions where we’re looking at all experiences of violence holistically and learning from them.

“We understand we can’t function in a society that only responds to violence after it happens, and that we must take action to stop it happening from the beginning. Primary prevention and response have to coincide and go hand in hand, so in the future we can see societies that are free from violence.”

As the domestic and family violence sector unifies to speak out against violence, there’s no denying we need resources, funding and collaboration to employ specialist primary prevention programs in our communities.

“We need a coordination of the efforts across the nation,” says Tina. “The primary prevention hub that is currently being designed by Our Watch is one of those ways to bring diverse stakeholders together. This way, we can share the learnings and have coordinated ways of working.”

So where does the government come into the primary prevention approach?

“The role of the government is to make sure that any support coming from them is co-designed, in consultation with specialist services including those that work with diverse communities and community controlled organizations,” says Tina. “That way, we are all doing this work together in a coordinated manner.”

So what can we do ourselves, to stop gender-based violence before it happens?

“Everybody has a role to play in preventing violence. It could be something simple – such as calling out a friend for making a sexist or homophobic joke. While people often think of things like that as innocent acts, they can escalate down the track to form a disrespect of a particular demographic, and that can escalate into violence,” says Tina.

“So it’s important that both as a community and individuals, we’re actively standing up against violence.”

And it will take all of us. When we see something sexist, or homophobic, or a violent joke – we need to call it out. We need to be active bystanders in the context of our friends, family and colleagues. We must understand it’s our role to challenge the normalisation of sexist and disrespectful behaviour – and know that even the smallest of actions can create a domino effect for positive and sustainable systemic and cultural change.

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