Jesuit Social Services’ recently released our Victorian State Election platform, A state of opportunity, which builds on 45 years of advocacy and action. The platform outlines our vision for a just society across a range of interconnected social policy areas, from a fairer justice system, to support for people experiencing multiple and complex needs such as mental illness, trauma and bereavement, and preventing violence.

In this eighth in a series of pre-Election blogs, we call on the incoming Victorian Government to prioritise violence prevention and early intervention.

For 45 years, Jesuit Social Services has worked with boys and men who perpetrate violence. We want boys and men to live respectful, accountable and fulfilling lives free from violence and other harmful behaviour. But, they are over-represented in indicators of harmful behaviours with devastating impacts for women, children, communities as well as boys and men themselves such as the perpetration of violence and other crimes, in suicide rates, expulsions in our schools, incarceration and in various measures of social and economic exclusion and disadvantage.

The reasons for this are complex and multi-faceted, although the evidence suggests rigid adherence to stereotypical masculine norms are a key risk factor. Such restrictive norms and expectations that have historically limited women’s participation in public life and the workforce are contributing to the high rates of violence against women perpetrated by men.

As a society, we have made significant progress in acknowledging and responding to violence against women. The focus has been, as it should be, on supporting victim-survivors of violence and there is more work to do in this regard. But we also need to do more to engage men and boys. There have been positive shifts such as access to helplines for men using, or concerned about using violence. More recently, we welcome the increased emphasis on engaging men and boys in The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032. However, significant gaps remain and, through The Men’s Project, Jesuit Social Services has taken steps to better understand and respond to male violence and other harmful behaviours.

Through identifying and understanding the underlying causes of violence and challenging behaviours, such as through our ‘Man Box’ research, which surveyed men and boys on their beliefs about sex, gender and violence, we are seeking to move from crisis to prevention and early intervention. This means intervening earlier to support boys and men to be their best selves, so they can lead healthier lives free from violence and foster positive relationships.

Through our work with schools and workplaces – including our Unpacking the Man Box workshops and Modelling Respect and Equality program – The Men’s Project promotes positive and healthy masculinities to reduce violence and other harmful behaviours prevalent among boys and men.

The Royal Commission into Family Violence identified a limited understanding of adolescent family violence across the youth services, family services and justice sectors. It also highlighted a lack of systemic response and interventions available to adolescents who use violence in the home. In acknowledging this need, Jesuit Social Services has developed innovative approaches to adolescent family violence by drawing on our extensive experience in delivering restorative justice programs. In order to prevent child sexual abuse, Jesuit Social Services is also working with police, organisations representing victim-survivors, researchers, practitioners and the private sector to pilot our Stop It Now! Australia helpline.

When we engage directly and support men and boys, we are contributing to safer communities and better outcomes for women and children. Following the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Victorian Government is well positioned to achieve many elements of its ambition to rebuild the family violence system. We commend the Government on its achievements and reforms under Safe and Strong 2016: Victoria’s Gender Equality Strategy. Further, the establishment of Victoria’s first primary prevention strategy – Free from violence – serves as an important foundation in aiming to break the cycle of family violence. Importantly, the second Free From Violence action plan 2022- 2025 includes an action area “Engage men and boys in prevention including work on masculinities” which is beginning to be translated into concrete programs of work as Victoria continues to lead efforts to prevent violence. Further, in response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Victorian Government committed to implementing the Rights Resilience and Respectful Relationships curriculum (RRRR). As a result, a generation of young people are being supported to develop social, emotional and positive relationship skills.

Through providing adequate core funding, The Men’s Project can engage and collaborate with existing structures and networks, such as local governments, women’s health and primary prevention of violence sectors, to engage and support men and boys to promote healthier masculinities. This will allow for the development of strong partnerships, knowledge creation and exchange, and development of evidence-informed approaches to creating healthier masculinities that go beyond awareness-raising to outcomes that prevent the use of violence.

Our recommendations:

  • Building on our Man Box research, support scale up of Jesuit Social Services’ Adolescent Man Box survey to inform the roll-out of the respectful relationships curriculum using longitudinal data on underlying attitudes related to stereotypical masculine norms and associated behaviours such as the use of violence.
  • Prioritise prevention and early intervention by providing long-term funding to programs that prevent violence, including by:
    • Drawing on our Modelling Respect and Equality program and Unpacking the Man Box workshops, scale up workforce capacity-building training for role models, working with men and boys in a range of settings such as schools, youth justice facilities, prisons and community health services to prevent the use of violence.
    • Continuing to invest in and rigorously evaluate pilot programs to engage at-risk young people with the view to developing scalable early intervention programs.
  • Resource research and program design to better understand concerning sexual behaviours among children, and the sexual abuse of children, such as through Jesuit Social Services’ pilot project in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, the Worried About Sex and Pornography.
  • Commit to recurrent funding for adolescent family violence programs aligned with restorative principles, in collaboration with the Children’s Courts and Police, including Jesuit Social Services’ RESTORE and Family Assisted Adolescent Response programs.
  • Provide core funding to support The Men’s Project to continue to build strong partnerships within the prevention of violence sector, create and share knowledge, and develop an evidence base of approaches to supporting healthier masculinities that go beyond awareness-raising to outcomes that prevent the use of violence.