A concerning number of Australians hold outdated and harmful attitudes to violence against women and gender equality.
A fifth of Australians believe that ‘a lot of what is called domestic violence is really a normal reaction to day-to-day stress and frustration’ while 32% believe that a female victim who does not leave an abusive partner is partly responsible for the abuse continuing.
A major study released today has found half of Australians believe that women mistakenly interpret ‘innocent’ remarks or acts as being sexist and 40% think women exaggerate how unequally women are treated. Over a third, 36%, believe many women fail to appreciate all that men do for them. Four in ten Australians think sexual assault accusations are a way of getting back at men.
These are among the more alarming findings in the latest National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS). It is the world’s longest running survey of community attitudes to violence against women, with a representative sample of 17,500 Australians aged 16 years and over.
It is led by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), and has tracked the changing attitudes of Australians since 1995, with the last two surveys released in 2009 and 2013.
The latest results show that while Australians’ attitudes to violence against women and gender equality are improving, too many still hold opinions that are at odds with women’s lived experiences and the evidence.
The results show a disturbing downward trend in the percentage of people who recognise that men are more likely than women to use violence in relationships (down 22% points since 1995), or that women are more likely to suffer greater physical harm from this violence (down 8% points since 2009).
Some Australians continue to shift the blame away from men, with 21% believing that ‘sometimes a woman can make a man so angry he hits her when he didn’t mean to’, and 1 in 3 believing rape results from men not being able to control their need for sex.
The survey, delivered in partnership with RMIT University, the Social Research Centre, The University of Melbourne, the University of New South Wales and VicHealth, showed that many people are denying the problem of violence with 23% of people thinking that many women exaggerate the problem of male violence, and 42% thinking it is common for sexual assault accusations to be used as a way of getting back at men.
When it comes to consent, 30% believe that if a woman sends a nude image to her partner, she is partly responsible if he shares it without her permission. Furthermore, 1 in 5 believe that ‘since women are so sexual in public, it’s not surprising that some men think they can touch women without their permission’.
The continued lack of understanding surrounding the reality of violence against women has led to 1 in 3 Australians being unaware that a woman is more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone she knows than by a stranger.
Knowledge of violence against women
● Most Australians have a good understanding of the problem of violence against women, with 72% acknowledging it as common (up from 68% in 2013).
● Many Australians (40%) say they would not know where to get help for a domestic violence issue.
● There has been a consistent decline in understanding that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know than by a stranger (64%, down from 70% in 2009 and 76% in 1995).
● More than 1 in 10 (12%) are not aware that it is against the law for a man to force his wife to have sex with him, and a further 7% said they did not know.
Attitudes to gender equality
● Most people agree men and women can play a range of roles regardless of gender, however 1 in 7 (14%) still think men are more capable in politics and in the workplace.
● A quarter (25%) of Australians think women prefer men to be in charge of a relationship, and around a third (34%) believe that it is normal for a man to want to appear in control of his partner in front of his male friends.
Results show attitudes are fairly consistent across Australia, regardless of location and socio-economic status.
ANROWS CEO Dr Heather Nancarrow describes the discrepancy between the knowledge and evidence as worrying.
“Despite an increase in the number of high profile cases of sexual violence in the media, such as those involved in the #MeToo movement, it is deeply concerning that so many Australians are still not believing women who come forward with claims of violence and sexual assault,” Dr Nancarrow says. ” We’re now more likely to understand that violence against women involves more than just physical violence, and to support gender equality – but we need to put this knowledge into action.”
Health promotion foundation VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter, which led the NCAS study in 2009 and 2013, said it was unacceptable that many in the community were quick to dismiss women’s experiences of sexism, violence and abuse.
“There has been a continued decline in the number of people who realise that women are the primary victims of domestic violence, which is ludicrous when we consider that violence against women is still the leading preventable contributor to death and disease in women aged 18-44,” Rechter says. “The physical and mental health impacts of family violence on women and their children is enormous.”
She says promoting equal relationships between women and men at every level of our community is integral to reducing the devastating rates of family violence.
“If we are to make any headway in achieving this, we have to recognise and believe women’s experiences,” Rechter says.
Despite the concerning findings, the survey shows that, overall, our attitudes towards gender equality and violence against women are improving.
“Momentum towards ending violence against women is clearly building in Australia,” Dr Nancarrow says. “We must continue our efforts and capitalise on the gains being made, so that we can build a safe and respectful future for all.”
The National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.