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When it comes to violence against women, doing nothing does harm

26 July 2021 at 5:42 pm
Andrew Cairns
Every man has a role to play in changing the unequal power relations, cultural norms, and social structures that excuse violence against women, writes Andrew Cairns.

Andrew Cairns | 26 July 2021 at 5:42 pm


When it comes to violence against women, doing nothing does harm
26 July 2021 at 5:42 pm

Every man has a role to play in changing the unequal power relations, cultural norms, and social structures that excuse violence against women, writes Andrew Cairns.

If you’re not outraged by the rising violence against women in this country, then you might be part of the problem.

The headline statistics speak for themselves. On average, one woman a week is killed by her intimate partner in Australia. Approximately a quarter of women have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner. Since the age of 15, about one in five women has experienced sexual violence and one in four women has experienced emotional abuse by a partner. Across their lifetime, half of all women have experienced sexual harassment.

In Aboriginal communities, the violence is worse for many reasons, with cultural factors playing a huge role. The violence is also more severe, with Indigenous women 32 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be hospitalised due to violence. 

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk factor – greater than smoking, alcohol, and obesity – for women in their reproductive years. It is also the leading cause of homelessness, with 38 per cent of all people seeking assistance from specialist homelessness agencies escaping domestic or family violence.

There has been a growing chorus of voices calling for systemic and cultural change to stop violence against women before it happens. One of the loudest and most influential of those voices is that of Jess Hill, author of Stella Prize-winning book See What You Made Me Do. She said in a recent interview, “no amount of funding is actually going to see the change that we need. It’s a paradigm shift that is required… it affects millions upon millions of Australians both as victims and as perpetrators. We need to start addressing it like that instead of seeing it as a niche issue that happens to some people”.

We need look no further for evidence of this than the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS), led by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).  

The 2017 survey of more than 15,000 people demonstrates that while attitudes towards violence against women and gender equality are improving, a concerning number of Australians still hold outdated and harmful views about gender equality and violence against women. 

Staggeringly, 20 per cent of Australians believe that “a lot of what is called domestic violence is really a normal reaction to day-to-day stress and frustration” and 32 per cent believe that a female victim who does not leave an abusive partner is partly responsible for the abuse continuing. Half of those surveyed believe that women mistakenly interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist; 40 per cent think women exaggerate how unequally women are treated; and 36 per cent believe many women fail to appreciate all that men do for them.

The 2021 survey is currently underway, with a report due out before the end of 2022.

The national leader in the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia, Our Watch, says to stop violence against women from happening, we need to look at the bigger picture and address the four key drivers of this violence:

  • The condoning of violence against women.
  • Men’s control of decision-making and limiting women’s independence in public and private life.
  • Rigid stereotyped gender roles.
  • Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.

While we know that ending violence against women requires action from governments, every man has a role to play in changing the unequal power relations, cultural norms, and social structures that excuse it.

We also know that violence against women starts with disrespect. It is a national problem, deeply embedded in our culture and society.

The Doing Nothing Does Harm campaign targets men who want to challenge sexism and disrespect towards women but lack the ability and confidence to take action. It’s about empowering men and bystanders to do and say something, whether at work, online or in public.

The messaging is simple: if we see disrespect and do or say nothing to stop it, this epidemic of violence will continue.

What will you say next time?


If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence or sexual assault, phone 1800RESPECT or visit

For counselling, advice and support for men who have anger, relationship or parenting issues, call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or visit

Andrew Cairns  |  @ProBonoNews

Andrew Cairns is the CEO of Haven Home Safe, a homelessness organisation that specialises in social and affordable housing solutions. Prior to joining Haven, he held several senior management roles including more than 19 years with the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group and almost five years as CEO of Community Sector Banking.

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  • Menaka Iyengar Cooke says:

    Thanks, Andrew, for your insightful words. We need systemic and cultural change; we need greater change at societal level within families and communities in the way we deal with women and children. All of us need to respect one another – women, men, children, animals, environment. Alas, the pandemic has also cast a large shadow in mental health areas and domestic violence.

    • Jennifer Manison says:

      It was heartening to read this and see a prominent man in charge of an organisation that offers much-needed support in times of crisis. Domestic abuse can happen to any woman, and our police and legal systems need to protect women first, not the Patriarchal society which allows entitlement, coercive control, threats and violence to harm so many women and children. I would like to see coercive control become a criminal offence, as it has been in the UK since 2015. More change is welcome.

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