Targeting influencers for long-term change

RELATED: Advertising aims to interrupt our thinking

HEURISTICS: They’re the mental shortcuts our brains take.

The automatic thoughts we have, when presented with an issue –regardless oflogic or accuracy.

They take us to a place where we have pre-conceived beliefs or ideas, and block us from looking beyond them.

And, they get in the way. They’re the tricky mindsets difficult to navigate around – often, wrong and sometimes damaging.

It’s no easy feat to shift ourmindset.

But an advertisingcampaign rolled out across the nation in recent weeks, aims to do just that.

It aims to interrupt ourthinking –and those behind it make no apology for wanting to get inside our heads.

Because to do so, could just lead to social change.

A change that saves lives.

The researchBy now, most have seen the graphic and confronting advertisement on our television screens.

There’s a little boy, who slams a door on a little girl at a birthday party. Her mother excuses the boy,saying he only did that ‘because he likes you’. That sets the scene for what happens at the end of the 60-second ad,where the father is yelling at the mother untilshe trips andfalls over. He hovers her, he is threatening. She is fearful. Then he reverts back to being the little boy.

Julie Oberin, chief executive of Annie North Women’s Refuge and member of the Council of Australian Governments advisory panelto reduce violence against women, says that’s“what will happen if we don’t nip it in the bud, if we don’t stop it with the attitudes in younger children, that’s what it ends up’’.

The Council of Australian Governments agreed in2015 to take ‘urgent collective action’ to reduce violence against women and their children and the panel was appointed to assist with this work.

Chaired by former Victoria Police chief commissioner, Ken Lay, and includingFounder of the Luke Batty Foundation and 2015 Australian of the Year,Rosie Batty, and the chief executiveof Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, Heather Nancarrow,the group was asked to assess current approaches by all governmentsto addressing violence and put forward recommendations for theNational Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022.

The panelprovided its third and final report to COAG in April, this year.

Julie saysthe group found that‘despite a lot of good work, rates of violence against women in Australia were unacceptably high’.

Among a list of agreed outcomes was an advertising campaign, based on COAG commissioned research.

The research shows disturbing and shockingattitudes amongchildren and that from avery young age, many of us learn to condone or excuse disrespectful or aggressive behaviour towards girls and women.

Some of the research findings include:

young people begin to believe there are reasons and situations that can make disrespectful behaviour acceptable;girls blame themselves, questioning whether the trigger for the behaviour is potentially their fault, rather than questioning the behaviour of the male;boys blame others, particularly the female, and deflect personal responsibility telling each other it was a bit of a joke – it didn’t mean anything;adults accept the behaviour when they say ‘it takes two to tango’ or ‘boys will be boys’The research included data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey, which found thereare clear differences in the way violence is experienced by gender, andtheThe 2013 National Community Attitudes Survey.

The community attitudes survey found many believethere are circumstances in which violence can be excused, with two in five people agreeing rape results from men not being able to control their need for sex, one in five believingdomestic violence can be excused if people get so angry they lose control. and one in five sayingdomestic violence can be excused if the violent person regrets it.

Italso found half agree most women could leave a violent relationship if they really wanted to,one in six agree domestic violence is a private matter to be handled in the family and one in 10agree it’s a woman’s duty to stay in a violent relationship to keep the family together.

Of particular concern, were the findings among young people –which showed:

Half (47%) of youth males and one third (34%) of youth females do not agree that ‘trying to control by denying your partner money’ is a form of partner violence / violence against women. One quarter (24%) of youth males and one in eight (13%) youth females do not agree that ‘controlling social life by preventing your partner seeing family and friends’ is a form of partner violence / violence against women. One in five (21%) youth males and one in seven (14%) youth females do not agree that ‘repeatedly criticising to make partner feel bad / useless’ is a form of partner violence / violence against women. Three in five (60%) youth agree that ‘violence against women is common’.The authors of the COAG researchnoted that while thereis ‘strong community support for the cessation of extreme violence against women’ thebarrier to achieving such change was ‘low recognition of the heart of the issue and where it begins.

WRONG MESSAGE: The girl’s mother tells her, “He just did it ’cause he likes you.”

The issue:The heart of the issue is the linkbetween violence towards women, and attitudes of disrespect and gender inequality.

The report states:These attitudes are unconscious, yet firmly entrenched, among many Australian adults and children. And as adults we are allowing young people to develop these attitudes from an early age. Often unknowingly, we are perpetuating the problem. Before community change can be achieved, therefore, people will first need to recognise the problem, and our personal role.

It found there are three dominant heuristics we make when faced with the issue of violence against women, and they need to be recognised for change to occur.

Victim blaming: When presented with a hypothetical scenario of disrespectful behaviour, there are consistently high levels of automatic victim blaming. As a result, many young males externalise the behaviour by blaming others, and many young females internalise the experience by blaming themselves.Minimisation: Many actions that signify inequality, disrespectful and aggressive behaviour are considered by adults as social misdemeanours rather than behaviours that should be corrected and modified.Empathy with male: There is a strong desire to avoid blaming males, and a sense that participating in these behaviours is a rite of passage that should be understood rather than addressed. There is little empathy towards the female experience.We are taught to make mental short cuts, Julie says.

“It’s not taught at schoolas part of every day learning, we see our parents do it, we see it on TV, we see all of these mental shortcuts and we make them ourselves.Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re not and in this case they’re not.

“What the research shows quite clearly and quite disturbingly isthat the general population when it’s faced with a situation of seeing violence against women happening, they do three things.

“They blame the victim; they minimise the behaviour and the third was they justify the abuse or excuse the perpetrator in some way.

“So,the research was groundbreaking in that it showed those three heuristics, those three mental shortcuts which are held by the majority of the population in Australia and in other countries in the world.

“That’s what they do when they see violence against women, rather than not blame the victim, hold the perpetrator to account and see the assault or the abuse for what it is.’’

Julie saysAustralia has some of the most credible research in the world in relation to violence against women, and we need to respectthat.

The research includesthe ABSpersonal safety survey, the Women’s Health Longitudinal Study, the National Community Attitudes survey, ANROWS research andOur Watch resources.

“The research is absolutely rigorous and you can’t dispute it but some peopledon’t want to listen to the evidence and they are programmed to make these mental shortcuts which colludes with the perpetrator and continues to abuse the woman in her situation and doesn’t stop this gender based violence against women from happening,’’ she says.

“So these ads were designed with that in mind, to interrupt the cognitive process, those mental shortcuts –that’s why the ad says stop it before it starts

“And it starts with young people. This is is not just about physical violence, this is about every day sexism, this is about the way women and girls are treated, this is theway we blame victims, this is the way we excuse the perpetrators.

“These attitudes are entrenched culturally through society because we still have patriarchal values which are embedded through all parts of society that men are decision makers, leaders, important, more valuable than women and girls are and that the masculinities that are held up as being good masculinities are actually quite negative masculinities for both men and for women.

“The cultural attitudes are really embedded down and have been for a very very long time and community education campaigns themselves haven’t been working because just educating or raising awareness isn’t enough, it hasn’tbeen enough to make change systematically across the whole society, it’s made some changes in some people and some families but as far as the population goes it hasn’t.’’

There is no easy solution to interruptingthose thoughts, but there are some approaches worth trying.

DON’T THROW LIKE A GIRL: The ad includes a man saying this to a young boy, which Julie Oberin says puts down girls as being inferior and that real boys, real men, don’t have any attribute of a female about them. “This is quite unfortunate because females have got good stereotypical attributes like nurturing, tenderness and kindness”. “The look on the little girl’s face says ‘’I know what you just said to that boy, I’m not as good as him and i never will be because I’m a girl’.”

What can we do?One solution? To target the influencers of young people.

The research found the major influencers in a young person’s life are those in coaching positions, followed by fathers, older brothers, older sisters, then mothers.

That makes sense, Julie says, as “women haven’t got as much status in society so they don’t have as much influence on young people as what men do, and older brothers have more influence than older sisters’’.

“The interesting thing about the research is the influence coaches have and we know that because they can be mentors and they can be change agents for young people …there’s a lot of opportunity for them to influence young people in a good way because they do have that influencing power –not just coaches of sport, but any coach-like person, so a teacher, or a ballet instructor, any type of coach person.

“The ads … try and change the beliefs and attitudes of the influencers who can then start to change the messages and the attitudes of the younger generation aged from 10 to 19.

“They decided to target 10 to 19 because after the age of19, males show up overwhelmingly in statistics around assaults, so around normal assaults and family assaults.

“The reason why the government targeted the 10-19 year olds is to get them before they get to that age, to try and interrupt the cultural transmission of beliefs and attitudes.’’

The advertisements, which also include print media, are more than a campaign –they’re designed to create social change.

“When Iobserved the focus groups Irealised how hard it was,’’ Julie says.

The first focus group includedmiddle-aged and older men, who had sons aged between 10and 19. The second group includedyounger men with brothers aged between 10and 19.

“The older men didn’t get it, they did the mental short cuts –they blamed the woman, they excused or justified or said she must have done something,’’ Julie says.

“The older brotherstotally got it and they werethe same messages …they started to have a bit of an epiphany about their whole role in this and they didn’t want their younger brother to grow up with those attitudes and they didn’t realise they were complicit in helping it by not challenging it and not seeing it.

“You do have to worry because those ads do get streamed into people’s lounge rooms …and it’s goingto have adifferent impact on different members of the family and there will be some risk.

“There will be increased reporting, increased resistance from women, there might be increased control or violence from the perpetrator, there might be children feeling a bit funny about it.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen but we do know that it worked for that age cohort of those older brothers and a lot of those might be in a coaching situation as well, so if it works for some group that’s a start –if they’re a major influence of young people, it’s worth the risk of trying to get something right, to try and get the attitudes changed.’’

Our behaviourJulie says we should all reflect on our own behaviour and how we make our own mental short cuts.

Acknowledging it is sometimes difficult to know how to intervene, particularly when physical abuse is involved, Julie says it’s important not to be silent.

“Ifyou see something serious say something, because sometimes the victim needs someone else to intervene,’’ she says.

“The easiest way for the community to make change is to be reflective about their thinking when they think about violence against women and think about the mental short cuts they’re making.

“Are they blaming the victim? Are they justifying his behaviour? Are they minimising his behaviour?

“We see it all the time, so if people can start to reflect about their own responses and also to challenge the everyday sexism and the everyday misogyny and hate speech that we see and jokes that we see about women and girls.

“If you don’t get rid of that you don’t get rid of that sexist and rape culture which enables sexual assault and violence to flourish.

“It might not seemimportant and people have said ‘it’s only a bit of fun’ but it’s actually not – many people can’t see the link between sexism and violence against women.

“I think Australia has got this very matey culture of masculinity and it’s all in good fun and you shouldn’t take it seriously, but if you look at what women have to say when they wear the brunt of it, and how they have to live their lives every day and all the things they have to think about and do to keep themselves safe just in case, and how they feel when they’re objectified, people need to really think about that from their shoes.’’

Gender equalityTo achieve social change, we need both formal and substantive gender equality through transformative social and cultural change–and we haven’t achieved either, Julie says.

“Formal gender equality,which we haven’t got yet andneed to strive for,that’s where we reduce the gender pay gap, we have equal pay for equal work, which we say we have but we don’t, you have an equal number of men and women on boards and in leadership positions in parliament, you start to challenge and disrupt the gender segregated workforces.

“That’s formal equality, and we need that –but it’s not sufficient in itself and we know that by looking at the Scandinavian countries, where they have a lot higher gender equality than we do and they still have violence against women.

“What we have to get is transformative change –we’ve still got to deal with the sexism, and the misogyny, and the stereotypes, and if you don’t do that gender equality is not the solution, not enough.

“You can pass laws that say women have equal rights, you can pass laws which say non-white people, Aboriginal people or African American people have equal rights and you can pass laws against racism and so forth, but it doesn’t get rid of racism.

“You can have a black American president and still have racism –and so having the laws is important, and they need to be there, but you have got to change the attitudes otherwise you never really achieve transformative gender equality.

“It’s not ever about women being in charge, it’s just about being equal.’’

Where to from here?Our Watch chairNatashaStott Despoja saysAustralia is facinga national emergencyon family violence.

“The statistics are chilling …the death toll keeps climbing.

“In 2015, 79 women were murdered. The majority of those victims were killed by a male family member. We are in crisis and it needs to be addressed.’’

The COAG panel has recommended all commonwealth, state and territory governments commit to a long-term national primary prevention strategy.

Julie says social change takes decades, so the messages and the interruptions into the way people think, need to happen“for at least a decade, maybe two’’.

“And that needs to be entrenched through everywhere where people live their lives –workplaces, sporting clubs, schools, community clubs, everywhere and not just on TV and short term ads, that’s the challenge for government,’’ she says.

“They need to be consistent and brave enough to continue this interruption of what has become entrenched community attitudes, which enable violence against women to flourish.

“We need to keep applying pressure on the government to make sure they don’t stop that, because they lose an amazing opportunity to dosomething no one in the world has ever done.

“Acampaign like this, this is not a community awareness campaign, it’s a social change campaign around violence against women –we’ve done it with seat belts, we’ve done it with littering, no one in the world has done it regarding violence against women in such a sophisticated manner.

“But itrelies on Australian governments to fund it.’’

For more information,

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assaultor family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visitwww.1800RESPECT杭州龙凤 In an emergency, phone000