Statistics on family and domestic violence in Australia are nothing short of shocking with an average of one Australian woman killed each week by a current or former partner, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology.
From the age of 15 one in three Australian women experience physical violence (ABS) and one in four experience emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
A program being piloted in schools throughout Australia is attempting to reduce those statistics by giving students skills to reject violent and aggressive behaviour and form attitudes based on equality and respect.
Respectful Relationships Education is currently being piloted in 30 Western Australian primary and high schools, funded by the state government.
The program was developed by Our Watch, a peak body for preventing family and domestic violence against women and children in Australia, which recently released a report on the program.
They found that Respectful Relationships Education to Prevent Gender-Based Violence decreased stereotypical attitudes among primary school students, making them less likely to see jobs or activities as strictly for men or women.
Our Watch chief executive Patty Kinnersly said as long as girls and women were seen as less equal than men and boys, disrespect and violence against women would continue.
Ms Kinnersly said evidence showed rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity - the idea that women and men and girls and boys should act in certain ways or fulfill certain roles - were one of the drivers of violence against women.
"This new research shows some early promising signs that primary school is a critical time to engage children in age-appropriate educational content, so they have the skills to reject aggressive behaviours and discrimination and form attitudes, beliefs and behaviours based on equality and respect," she said.
Ms Kinnersly said respectful relationships education not only aimed to build the skills of young Australians, but it worked with schools to ensure workplace culture, policies and practices were equitable and based on respect.
"We need to build on the work of this pilot and embed this work in primary and secondary schools throughout the country," Ms Kinnersly said.
"We also need to ensure we are promoting gender equality and non-violence not just in our schools but all the places we spend our time, from our homes and workplaces to our sporting clubs."
The pilot in WA schools is due to finish on June 30, 2022.
Department of Communities Service Design and Support acting assistant director general Sharyn Keating said the program aims to provide schools with the skills to support students in building their future relationships, with a focus on prioritising non-violent relationships that are characterised by equality, mutual respect and trust.
"Its evidence-based approach teaches students about positive and respectful relationships from a young age, with the aim of preventing domestic violence before it starts," Ms Keating said.
"In early feedback, participants reported that the program increased their confidence to address issues of violence and abuse and gave them a better understanding of the role they, and their school, plays in fostering respectful relationships."
Ms Keating said the sate government recognised the importance of primary prevention initiatives to change the attitudes and values that drive violence against women and children.
"The state government has committed to expanding the Respectful Relationships program to an additional 12 schools and local sport and recreation clubs and organisations," she said.
The program is being delivered in WA by Starick, a domestic violence organisation based in Perth that is recognised as an expert in the field of family and domestic violence prevention education.
Starick business manager Troy Kelley said Respectful Relationships Education aimed to challenge condoning of gender-based violence, promote women's independence and decision making, challenge gender stereotypes and roles, and strengthen positive, equal and respectful relationships
"The issues of gender-based violence is serious and is driven by gender inequality," he said.
"Respectful relationships education is a form of primary prevention focused on creating generational change to break the cycle of family and domestic violence and stopping violence before it occurs.
"Young people are the key for primary prevention of gender-based violence because they are still forming their knowledge and attitude and are open to guidance and support.
"They are also beginning to form relationships and ideas about acceptable relationship behaviour.
"Respectful Relationships Education can help children act as agents for change, building skills for them to advocate for gender equality and non-violence and exercise a positive influence on their societies and future generations."
Mr Kelley said the program was currently limited to state primary and secondary schools and those schools that were interested in being involved could express their interest via the Department of Education.
"The more schools and wider school communities that get involved in Respectful Relationship messaging will help in the primary prevention of violence against women," he said.
Where to get help
If someone you know needs help with a violent partner or family member, speak out. And if you are experiencing family or domestic violence, the following services can assist:
- Waratah: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
- Crisis Care Helpline: 1800 199 008
- Women's Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 007 339
- Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
- Men's Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 000 599