Domestic violence statistics in Australia are horrifying. In the past year one in six women has experienced violence from a current or former partner, 63 women have been killed by family violence and childhood exposure to partner violence increases the likelihood of intergenerational violence . The effect that domestic violence exposure can have on children includes negative psychological, behavioural and socioeconomic consequences.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently pledged $100 million to tackle domestic violence in Australia, including $5 million for school education programs. The importance of this funding is highlighted by research commissioned by Our Watch, a national, not-for-profit organisation established to help prevent violence against women and their children. The study revealed that one in four young people don’t think it’s serious when guys insult or verbally harass girls in the street, think it’s pretty normal for guys to pressure girls into sex and don’t think it’s serious if a guy, who’s normally gentle, sometimes slaps his girlfriend when he’s drunk .
Education policy initiatives that commenced this year include respectful relationships education in Victorian schools from Prep through to Year 10; in NSW the introduction of mandatory domestic violence prevention in the years 7-10 Personal Development and Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) syllabus. The ACT will fund $615,000 for the delivery of social and emotional learning programs to help young people learn about the importance of respectful relationships and in Tasmania the government is funding $350,000 to encourage the delivery of Respectful Relationships Education in all schools from Kindergarten to Year 12.
Creating awareness and building momentum around the issues of domestic violence has been due to the work of many advocates and groups, in particular 2015’s Australian of the Year Rosie Batty. Rosie Batty has been instrumental in strongly campaigning for compulsory domestic violence prevention lessons for all school kids. To help address the issue of domestic violence and to help students understand the importance of respectful relationships, many schools across Australia are using theatre-based education. Lithgow High School, Duval High School and St Patricks’ Boys College in Strathfield are all helping to educate their students about respectful and healthy relationships using educational theatre.
As Duval High School’s Welfare Co-ordinator, Jennifer Squires explains, “Theatre often evokes an emotional response from the audience, and this helps students to then express these feelings to their peers and teachers. It puts into words what they are feeling. Domestic violence and sexual harassment are often seen as taboo subjects, but encouraging kids to talk about it will help them to know what is right, and when things are not.”
St Patricks’ Boys College’s Director of Pastoral Care, Michael Ilott, said that theatre offers an “alternative voice for students related to issues surrounding their wellbeing and development. Having to listen is one thing, but having to engage in dialogue is where the student’s assumptions are really challenged. It certainly opens their eyes to an important issue for young men.” Mr Ilott says.
Leanne Walding, Student Support Officer at Lithgow High School, agrees that theatre is a great educational tool to help change these disturbing attitudes. “Theatre speaks much louder than the written word. The students were enthralled and the responses received indicated that they could use the protective strategies when facing violent situations and also consider their own behaviour towards others, from the obvious physical touches to the not so obvious verbal derogative comments and non-verbal cues.”
With an anti-violence social movement currently sweeping the country, the use of live theatre as a form of domestic violence prevention can help empower students to take up the challenge and be the next generation to say no to violence against women and children.
 Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Kelly Richards, ISSN 1836-2206
 The Line campaign. Summary of research findings. Prepared for Our Watch. May 2015
Written by Jenny Johnson, Brainstorm Productions. Comments provided by schools after participating in the violence prevention theatre program Sticks & Stones.
Seen by over 1.7 million students and winner of an Australian Violence Prevention Award, Sticks & Stones is a live theatre program that explores violence and aggression and its devastating consequences. The production encourages students to re-think their views about violence, abuse and controlling behaviour. Sticks & Stones is curriculum-based and has been developed in consultation with teachers, psychologists, as well as real-life student experiences. To find out more visit http://www.brainstormproductions.edu.au/