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Australian Research Council Linkage Grant 2005-2017
Promoting ethical non-violent relationships of young women and men

The origin of this research is based on five years of researching and critiquing anti-violence education and social policy to prevent sexual violence within relationships. I discovered a number of disturbing implications of the way anti-rape education is currently being conceptualised and developed. In summary:

  • A primary focus on secondary and tertiary prevention after an assault has occurred.
  • Focus on women managing risk or danger thus reinforcing women's responsibility for avoiding rape- most programmes targeted at women only
  • Limited hours of input in programs in both US and Australia
  • Assume awareness raising about rape will lead to a change in abusive behaviour
  • Researchers found a rebound effect i.e. ‘a perpetrator’ focused educational strategy aimed at reducing domineering masculine behaviour backfired as stereotypes were unintentionally reinforced among the cohort.
  • Programs were poorly evaluated with little long term impact assessed
  • Made assumptions that all men are potentially violent and all women at risk of violence
  • Provided no input to assist young women and men to develop skills based on care for themselves or their partner therefore ignoring the complexity of negotiating sexual intimacy.

These insights led me and my industry partner to ask how could we develop alternative frameworks for prevention education and sexual assault. My theoretical work on sexual ethics and violence prevention (Carmody 2003) and a subsequent qualitative study of 25 women and men on negotiating ethical sex suggested a new direction (Carmody 2005).

Young women between the ages of 16-25 years of age are a high-risk group for sexual assault. Young men on the other hand are most likely to commit sexual offences between 16-25. This suggests that prevention education should have a primary focus on this age group and include men as well as women. Young people’s fears, anxieties and experiences of early sex as well as asking how they negotiate this intimacy are often invisible in framing anti-violence education. This research will begin with interviewing young women and men of diverse sexualities and cultural backgrounds from 3 rural and 3 metropolitan sites.

This knowledge, existing published research and practice experience will be used to develop a training package that will be delivered by educators who will be trained and supported by the project to run the programme with young people. A key feature of the project is the capacity building of youth educators to deliver education based on increasing the skills of young people to negotiate sexual intimacy within a framework of sexual ethics and non-violence.

Ongoing evaluation of the project will occur, something that is often absent from existing programmes. In addition and most importantly, young people who participated in the programme will be interviewed 6 months after completion of the education programme to assess the impact of the input on their intimate relationships.

The findings of the research will inform policy makers, educators and community organisations working with young women and men and contribute to debates and practice about sexual assault prevention.

Associate Professor Moira Carmody, School of Social Sciences and Centre for Social Justice and Social Change

Industry Partner – NSW Rape Crisis Centre.

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