Prevention is better than cure

Anyone who works in the area of prevention knows how hard it is to prove the link between that small change we could make today and the gigantic impact that change could make in a month, a year, a decade or even a lifetime.

Emergency procedures seem tedious until there’s a real emergency. Wearing sunscreen seems overly cautious until we are bright red and burning. The problem with proving that prevention works is that if it works, we don’t see the disaster we avoided… and that’s the point.

Asking families, communities, workplaces and institutions to take action to prevent family violence and violence against women can be challenging. Not because it’s hard, but because it’s hard to make the links clearly enough to convince people. There is strong evidence that shows that forms of gender inequality like condoning violence against women, limiting women’s independence and decision-making in public and private life, and expecting people to conform to rigid ideas about what is masculine or feminine, consistently predicts higher rates of violence against women.

Yet, it is hard to connect the dots between everyday actions and asides, like laughing along when someone makes a sexist joke or telling a young boy that he throws like a girl, and the types of violence that continue to dominate our headlines: the murder of women and their children.

For migrant and refugee families, making the links can become even more complicated by assumptions about “culture” and race – stereotypes from both inside and outside our communities can hide attitudes to gender that condone violence. Of course, stereotypes can also contribute to the violence. We understand clearly the links between recent speeches against Muslims and migrants in parliament, and an escalation of violence against them that is increasingly becoming normalised. Unfortunately, and too often, we often only recognise the need for prevention, when we can already see the smoke on the horizon.

But it’s never too late. Preventing violence means addressing all those forms of discrimination that increase violence against women, including sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, classism and religious persecution. Preventing violence means changing our attitudes, social norms and culture to support everyone to live free from fear and free from violence. It cannot wait. It is about starting now to stop it later, so that one day there won’t be a need to make these links.

Victoria’s new family violence prevention agency, Respect Victoria, has just been written into law in Victoria, becoming one of the world’s first statutory authorities dedicated to preventing family violence. The agency was a recommendation of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence and a passion of the late Victorian minister Fiona Richardson.