Speaking out to prevent violence against women

Today is White Ribbon Day, shining a light once more on the high prevalence of violence against women. Alarmingly, 61 women have been killed in Australia this year – more than one woman per week.

Experts in the field identify gender unequal attitudes as the root of the problem. This was powerfully addressed in the Australian Government’s recent “boys will be boys” campaign, encouraging people to call out gender unequal remarks, attitudes or comments.

The message, quite rightly, is that it’s not okay to talk to, or about, women in such a way. While that message is simple, the challenge for most of us is knowing how to respond. “What can I say to address the disrespectful comments or jokes?”

Having a few prepared responses can make make us feel more confident to step in. This is where we can stop violence at its foundation, and where we can start to address some statistics such as:

  • one in two women experiences sexual harassment at some point in their life1
  • violence against women continues to be the leading contributor to illness, disability and premature death for women aged between 15 and 44 years2
  • children whose mothers experience intimate partner violence have higher rates of social and emotional problems than other children.3

When it comes to stepping in, being able to anticipate challenging questions, surprise or other reactions from the person making the remarks and being ready for that, can make a big difference and give us the confidence we need to speak out.

A key point to remember is that it’s perfectly okay to acknowledge to the other person that this is not a comfortable thing for you or for them.

The sorts of ‘push back’ or comments you will hear from people may include:

  • “No one can say or do anything anymore!”
  • “I’ve had enough of the PC crap”
  • “What gives you the right to tell me how to behave?”

Be ready to turn things around with questions or statements along the lines of:

  • “What is it exactly that you are not able to do anymore?”
  • “Are you saying it’s a shame that you can no longer say things that are disrespectful to women?” or “It’s not too PC to show some basic respect for women”
  • “I’m not telling you to do anything, I just don’t agree with your comments/behaviour.”

If you overhear someone calling out a disrespectful remark you can support them by saying something such as, “Yes, I agree, that’s not on”, or “I feel the same way – I wouldn’t like it if that remark was about my sister / mother / wife.”

We know that constructive bystander intervention is the primary means of preventing violence against women, and is a strong enabler of change, so think about what you can say and support others who have the courage to call out disrespectful comments. It will make a difference.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Personal Safety Survey 2016. ABS cat. no. 4906.0. Canberra: ABS. Retrieved from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4906.0
  2. Ayre et al. (2016). Examination of the burden of disease of intimate partner violence against women in 2011. Sydney: ANROWS. Retrieved from: https://bit.ly/2K1sQvJ
  3. Shin H., Rogers H. & Law V. (2015). Domestic violence in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Canberra: Department of Social Services. Retrieved from: https://bit.ly/2CaUWFj