Blaming the victim
The survey found one in three Australians believe women are partly responsible for relationship violence if they do not leave a violent partner (32%).
Another third (30%) believe if a woman sends a nude image to her partner, she is partly responsible if he shares it without her permission.
When questions are asked about the role of alcohol in relation to violence, 8% attribute responsibility and blame to women who were raped while alcohol- or drug-affected. Some 12% of Australians absolve men of blame if they are alcohol- or drug-affected at the time they perpetrate rape.
Two out of ten Australians (21%) believe because women express themselves sexually in public it’s not surprising men think they can touch them without permission.
When victim-blaming attitudes are held by a substantial proportion of people, or influential people such as police, judges and health professionals, they can present barriers to victims seeking support or reporting the abuse.
Such attitudes also shift responsibility away from the perpetrators of violence, contributing to a culture in which perpetrator behaviour is at best not clearly condemned, or at worst, is actively condoned.
Disregard for consent
One in ten Australians believe if a woman is drunk and starts having sex with a man, but then falls asleep, it is understandable if he continues to have sex with her.
The survey also asked Australians to respond to a scenario where a woman takes her husband into the bedroom, starts kissing him, then pushes him away, not wanting to continue with sex. More than one in ten (15%) believed her husband would have been justified in having sex with her anyway.
Disregarding consent for touching women, sending nude photos or persisting with sex when a woman does not, or cannot give consent, are criminal offences in Australia.
These findings are significant because they indicate a concerning proportion of Australians are unclear about what constitutes consent, and the line between consensual sex and coercion.
Mistrusting women’s reports
As well as thinking women make up claims of abuse, one quarter (23%) of Australians believe women exaggerate the problem of male violence.
Almost a third (31%) believe that a lot of times women who say they were raped had “led the man on” and then had regrets.
Attitudes that suggest women lie to “get back at men” are particularly concerning in light of the high levels of violence against women, as well as under-reporting of these crimes. The fear of not being believed or taken seriously presents a barrier for women seeking help and support.
Attitudes are a barometer of socially acceptable behaviour – and changing attitudes is often the first step toward changing behaviour. Attitudes can mean a perpetrator being held to account, instead of his behaviour being ignored. Or a bystander taking action, rather than turning a blind eye.
And now for the good news
One of the pillars of The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 has been to support attitude change as a first step to reducing prevalence of violence against women.
The NCAS survey shows there has been an increase in the understanding of violence against women, moving from an average score of 64 to 70, and improvement in support for gender equality moving from an average score of 64 to 66.