Are our young people feeling safe and free?

Are our young people feeling safe and free?

Statistics do not lie. In Australia, one in four women experienced physical, sexual abuse and/or violence by a current or former intimate partner, and one in five women experienced sexual abuse since the age of 15.

If this is the picture, chances are that we will know, live, work and socialise with someone impacted by this.

These statistics are not surprising if we look at some of the worrying attitudes among young people. The Line Campaign, commissioned by Our Watch, found one in three young people believed "exerting control over someone is not a form of violence", one in six believed women should know their place, and one in four thought it was normal for men to pressure women into sex.

As a counsellor, I work with many girls and young women who often feel coerced into sex and intimate relationships before they are ready. Many parents I work with feel ill-equipped in talking to their children about sex and safe relationships. And we know that sex education in schools has not adequately addressed these issues.

Feeling Safe and Free is an example of a new community-led project that is working to address these issues. Feeling Safe and Free is an innovative program designed to engage young people in challenging but important conversations about sex, sexual grooming, sexual harassment, pornography, coercive control, intimate abuse, and safe relationships. These are not easy subjects to talk about. That is why we have designed a unique program that uses of a range of interactive and creative storytelling and media such as theatre, puppetry and animation to engage young people in these conversations.

These conversations with young people need to start in our families, in schools and the wider community. I think the media plays a huge part in providing the platform for these conversations and in putting the issue permanently on the agenda.

The Australian Human Rights Commission's 2020 report, Respect@Work, found one in three people experienced sexual harassment at work over a five-year period.

Our workplaces, organisations and institutions also need to have these conversations and put in place mechanisms that create a workplace culture where people feel safe and supported to call out inappropriate behaviours.

Statistics do not lie, and we all have a role to play in equipping our young people with the knowledge, tools and skills that they need to be able to navigate the world safely and freely.

Dr Marilyn Metta is from the Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University.

This story Are our young people feeling safe and free? first appeared on The Canberra Times.