A new study has again shown the disturbing prevalence of views that excuse violence against women.

Nearly one in five young Australians believe women are partly responsible for sexual assault and nearly half (46 per cent) agree that tracking a partner by electronic means without consent is acceptable.

These are among findings from a VicHealth, University of Melbourne and Social Research Centre report, which reveals worrying attitudes to violence against women among Australia’s young people compared to their parents’ generation.

VicHealth’s Young Australians’ Attitudes to Violence against Women surveyed 1,923 Australians aged between 16 and 24 about their views on violence against women and gender equality as part of the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women survey.

It reveals that young people show a higher level of support for violence against women than those aged 35-64 years. They also have a lower level of understanding that violence is more than physical violence and forced sex, and are less likely to support gender equality in relationships.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said she was pleased that most young people recognise that violence is against the law and understand that there are several different types of violence.

However, she said VicHealth is particularly concerned by the number of young men and women who believe that women are often partly to blame for rape and those who believe tracking by electronic means is acceptable.

The report reveals that:

  • One in five young people believe there are circumstances in which women bear part of the responsibility for sexual assault. For example, 20 per cent of 16-24 year olds believe that women often say ‘no’ when they mean ‘yes’ compared to 13 per cent of the 35-64 year age group
  • Two in five (40 per cent) young people believe that ‘rape results from men not being able to control their sexual urges’, an increase from one in three young people when the survey was last conducted in 2009
  • Although most young people (84 per cent) agree that tracking a partner by electronic means without her consent* is serious, nearly half (46 per cent) believe that it is acceptable to some degree (compared to 35 per cent of those aged 35-64). Young men are more likely to agree with this than young women (52 per cent vs. 40 per cent)
  • One in five (22 per cent) young people agree that men should take control in relationships compared to 16 per cent of 35-64 year olds

In the same way that the prevalence of racist attitudes in the past gave race-based violence a foothold - and the same with homophobic attitudes and violence against homosexuals – gender disparaging attitudes may provide a background for gender-based violence.

Ms Rechter said attitudes that excuse or justify violence or that shift responsibility to the victim contribute to a culture that tolerates violence.

Likewise, the belief that men should be in charge in relationships contributes to a culture that tolerates gender inequality, and research has shown that unequal power between women and men is a key driver of violence against women.

“If the community accepts violence against women, men who use violence are more likely to feel it’s okay to behave disrespectfully or even violently, and as a community we’re less likely to take action when we see violence and disrespect,” she said.

Ms Rechter said one of the most concerning aspects of the report was that nearly three in five young people (57 per cent) believe that violence is caused by men being unable to control their anger and a quarter are prepared to excuse violence.

“A quarter of young people (26 per cent) agree that partner violence can be excused if the perpetrator regrets it and a further 24 per cent agree that partner violence can be excused if the person is so angry they lose control. The survey also shows that people are willing to excuse violence if alcohol is involved with one in ten young people believing that violence can be excused if the victim or the offender is affected by alcohol. But we know from research that anger and alcohol themselves do not cause violence.

“This report shows how far Australia has to go before we fully understand the nature of violence and reject it. Attitudes are learned and can be unlearned.

Examples of modern technology used to control women’s movements and communications activity without consent include:

  • checking a woman’s mobile phone call register, messages and contacts
  • installing and using mobile phone and computer tracking software to enable keystroke logging or computer monitoring (e.g. spyware)
  • using technologies such as webcams to record, and subsequently digitally transmit, information about a woman’s movements and activities
  • checking a woman’s instant messaging, chat room and browser activity