A meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in April agreed to “take urgent collective action in 2015 to address this unacceptable level of violence against women”, with the advertising campaign to be rolled out later this year.
While no specific details for the campaign have been outlined, COAG declared that it would be “based on extensive research, with a focus on high-risk groups, including Indigenous women.”
COAG’s advisory panel on reducing violence against women – headed by former Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay and including 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty — is helping devise the campaign.
However, some prominent figures in the campaign to end violence against women claimed the advertising push needed to focus on perceptions of gender to have a major impact. They said that gender inequality remained the basis for much of the violence.
“[People] don’t, in general, have a really strong understanding of what domestic violence is [and] the fact that it’s wrong, [or] its causes, which are principally about gender inequality.” — Vanessa Born, Domestic Violence Victoria
Advertising writer and social commentator Jane Caro said informing people about domestic violence was just one part of addressing the issue.
“Raising awareness of domestic violence is a good idea,” Ms Caro said. “But I think it would be good if we raised awareness of what people can do about it and also continue the emphasis that this behaviour is unacceptable and that it’s not a private issue.”
She said there had been a strong focus on domestic violence in the past, but agreed that there had not been enough attention paid to it in recent years.
“Women and feminists have been active in this space but they’ve not got a lot of traction. In the 90s there was a bit of energy around it, and then it all just died down,” she added.
The media projects manager for Domestic Violence Victoria, Vanessa Born, said part of the reason for the lull was a lack of understanding in the community generally about the root causes of domestic violence.
“We don’t, in general, have a really strong understanding of what domestic violence is [and] the fact that it’s wrong, [or] its causes, which are principally about gender inequality,” she said.
Ms Born said Australians needed to be given more information about “the different power that women and men have got in society” in order to change their attitudes.
“When you don’t have that, there isn’t strong enough support in the community for doing something about that at a fundamental level.”
Ms Born said that domestic violence was rooted in inherent gender inequalities in society. She stressed that changing these attitudes was important for addressing the problem.
“There are a lot of myths and devaluing of women within the issue of violence against women that I think leads to us not really thinking that this is a community issue – it’s just about a couple of women who get themselves into trouble,” Ms Born said.
Although commentators were unsure just how effective a public awareness campaign could be, they backed the notion that governments should be taking responsibility for such campaigns.
Ms Caro said the government should play a critical role in raising awareness, but she was unsure about how this might work in practice.
“They’re who we vote for, they’re who our taxes go to. Call me crazy, but that means that I think of them as the representative of the people. Therefore, I think they have to take some responsibility for enhancing the society in which we live.”
She said the lack of detail meant she couldn’t speculate on the campaign’s success.
“I’m open-minded, but – as all we have at the moment is that this amount of money is being dedicated to a campaign and no more details than that – I can only remain open-minded,” she said.
Lauren Rosewarne, who lectures in gender issues and media at the University of Melbourne, said part of the government’s role was to establish values on behalf of Australians.
“We often think of governments as sort of controlling the bank of a monopoly board – that they’re playing that role of banker in determining how to spend our tax dollars,” Dr Rosewarne said. “But government’s function also is to be able to, if you like, set a tone for the public to be able to say ‘Okay, these are our values as a nation’.”
But she conceded that not everyone would agree with that, especially because advertising was generally expensive.
“Whenever we’re told there’s a budgetary crisis, spending money on anything that’s considered to be a luxury – and a hard-to-measure-outcome luxury – then there’s often a backlash,” she said. “But certainly I don’t have any qualm with governments running campaigns along these lines.”
Ms Born added: “This is definitely a government responsibility. It’s a whole-of-community responsibility and that sits with the state in general.”
She also said it was good that other organisations working directly with domestic violence victims were involved in disseminating information about the issue.
There have been few public advertisements broadcast in Australia on the issue of domestic violence.
But other community issues have been the subject of major taxpayer-funded advertising campaigns, such as those promoting road or workplace safety, as well as health and wellbeing.
However, Dr Rosewarne said the difference between domestic violence and other public issues was that it was difficult to measure.
“With something like road safety, telling people not to drink, to wear a seatbelt et cetera, all have really measurable abilities to be able to gauge. If you wear a seatbelt, you are avoiding going through a windscreen,” she said.
“With domestic violence it’s very difficult. For example, is there any data that says that if a man sees a television commercial saying that domestic violence is a bad idea, he will be less likely to commit domestic violence? Actually, my hunch is — probably not.”
But Dr Rosewarne said advertising about the issue of domestic violence was nevertheless useful.
“It informs those around victims of domestic violence – friends, relatives, and so on – to encourage women to either report violence or leave situations,” she said.
COAG aims to have a national domestic violence order scheme in place by the end of the year. It also aims to implement unified national standards that hold perpetrators to account in 2016.
► If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.