Australian Attitudes On Violence 'Progressing' But Not Enough: Report

A new national report has revealed nearly half of Australians believe it is common for sexual assault allegations to be used as a way of getting back at men.

The new report released by Australia's National Research Organisation For Women's Safety has shone a light on just some of these worrying community views.

According to the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey, a concerning proportion of Australians believe that gender inequality is exaggerated or no longer a problem.

Disturbingly, 21 per cent believe sometimes a woman can make a man so angry that he hits her when he didn’t mean to.

Five years ago Saxon Mullins was celebrating a friend's birthday in Sydney's iconic Kings Cross when she says she was sexually assaulted in an alleyway outside a club, by a man she had only just met.

Saxon said she reported the alleged incident to police the very next day and later became the subject of one of the most controversial sexual assault cases in the country.

The man she accused of assaulting her was ultimately acquitted.

Now, five years on, Saxon has fallen into the role of an advocate for sexual assault survivors and considers herself lucky to have received strong support from her family, friends and the public when she decided to share her story.

But she said it's disappointing that there's still groups of Australians who have "backward views" on gender equality and violence against women in the community.

Saxon said it’s heartening to see that there's been progress in understanding attitudes surrounding all kinds of violence against women, but believes there's much more that can be done.

"If we had no progress, it would be hard to continue with advocacy," she told 10 daily.

"It's kind of worth it putting a face to my story, it means it wasn’t all for nothing."

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The survey found an increase in the number of Australians in support of gender equality and an end to violence against women, when compared to previous surveys.

But alarmingly, four in ten Australians believe it's common for women to use accusations of sexual assault as a way of getting back to men.

ANROWS CEO Dr Heather Nancarrow told 10 daily these statistics showed a clear disconnect between perceptions and reality, as only one in 10 women actually reporting sexual assault.

Nancarrow said key areas that need to be targeted are negative attitudes towards gender equality, as well as the prevalence of holding onto rigid gender role stereotypes.

"Attitudes against gender equality affect attitudes of violence against women," Nancarrow explained.

"Across the whole community we need to do work to target those with negative attitudes in relation to gender equality and those who hold onto rigid gender role stereotypes, because we know there is a strong association between those and the acceptance of violence."

Nancarrow said the survey, which is run every four years, revealed important information about the perpetrated "myths" surrounding community understandings of violence against women.

While the national personal safety survey shows that the majority of victims of violence in Australia are women, people's understanding of this is going "backwards", with a 22 percentage point drop since 2009.

Nancarrow said that while it's unclear exactly what caused these perceptions, one possible indicator is that an increasing amount of people believe Australia has already achieved gender equality.

"One of the things the survey measures is the intention to act," Nancarrow said.

"Most Australians said they would act if they saw abuse or disrespect towards women, but we need all Australians to do that and we need to change the broader culture."

Saxon also believes all Australians have a role in promoting gender equality and educating people on consent, including teaching kids from a young age about respectful relationships.

"We also need our fantastic male allies to continue having these conversations," Saxon said.

"We need men to be our vocal allies not just our sideline allies."

Nancarrow agreed, saying there is a need to have education in schools across the country around respectful relationships.

"From the moment children are born there is a process of cultural development," she said.

"Everything that they see, learn and observe affects attitudes and behaviours later in life and we need to embed this from the very beginning."

Saxon said the most important thing for survivors is to find someone they can trust if they choose to share their story, and to live the life that benefits them.

"You don’t have to go to the police if you don’t want to, Saxon told 10 daily.

"You don’t owe it to anybody to share your experience and you don’t owe it to anybody to stay silent."

The NCAS survey collates data from a representative sample of more than 17,000 Australians collected in 2017.

The federal government has announced it is committing $3.8 million for the 2021 survey.

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