Sticks and Stones to break mould in theatre and homes
DOMESTIC violence is an issue that now demands attention, thanks in part to activists like Rosie Batty who have fought to raise awareness of this all too common problem.
Australian statistics show one in six women have experienced violence, more than 70 people were killed in 2015, including children, and childhood exposure to partner violence increases the likelihood of intergenerational domestic violence.
This year, many schools will focus on domestic violence prevention in their 7-10 Year syllabus with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull committing $5 million for school education programs.
One company already playing a major role in educating the next generation to say no to violence is Australia's largest in-school touring theatre company, Brainstorm Productions, a partner of the R U OK? organisation.
Run by former NSW teacher Jenny Johnson, the company has been touring its live theatre violence prevention program Sticks and Stones, a winner of the Australian Violence Prevention Award, for more than three decades.
In fact, since its inception, the program has been seen by more than 1.8 million Australian students. This year it has been rewritten to tackle the issues facing teenagers now and some disturbing attitudes about domestic violence.
According to Our Watch, a national, not-for-profit organisation established to help prevent violence against women and their children, one in four young people think it's pretty normal for guys to pressure girls into sex and don't think it's serious if a guy, who's normally gentle, sometimes slaps his girlfriend when he's drunk or when guys insult or verbally harass girls in the street.
While children's theatre is often the stuff of fairytales and magic shows, Sticks and Stones is a gritty and realistic show performed by young male actors, cast both as the perpetrator and victim of violence.
What they do is shine a spotlight on negative patterns of behaviour and examine the link between hormones, adrenaline, the "fight, flight" response and alcohol-fuelled violence.
By using theatre, rather than reading a book or taking a passive school lesson, students can see, and more importantly feel, how violent behaviour is affecting the victim, explains Johnson.
"It's powerful," she says. "The characters' experiences are taken in, challenged and tested by the students and they start to think about their own attitudes.
"At the core of our program, we're helping students to identify what constitutes violence and to take control and responsibility for their choices."
Leanne Walding, student support officer at Lithgow High School, says "Theatre speaks much louder than the written word. The open discussion at the end of the performance also allows students to explore what is sexual harassment - from the obvious physical touches to the not-so-obvious verbal derogative comments and non-verbal cues."
Duval High School's welfare co-ordinator Jennifer Squires agreed.
"Domestic violence and sexual harassment are often seen as taboo subjects, but encouraging kids to talk about it helps them to know what is right, and when things are not," she said.
"It puts into words what they are feeling."
Director of Pastoral Care at St Patrick's College for boys, Michael Ilott, said: "Having to listen is one thing, but having to engage in dialogue is where the students' assumptions are really challenged. The young age of the actors creates an immediate credibility."
Ms Johnson said there was much violence and disharmony in society.
"I believe the only way to truly effect change is to engage children and educate them properly," she said.
"People often worry that the issues are too big and scary to address with kids, but our big message for the kids - and for all of us - is that there is hope. Yes, these are big issues, and it will take work, but we can beat these problems."
Sticks and Stones will be touring:
Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba from April to September.
Some regions in NSW and ACT in February March and May.
Melbourne and regional Victoria from February to September.
Tasmania in June.
Adelaide from February to April.
All details available at http://www.brainstormproductions.edu.au or call 1800 676 224.
Among 12-24 year olds:
1 in 3 don't think that exerting control over someone else is a form of violence.
1 in 4 don't think it's serious when guys insult or verbally harass girls in the street.
1 in 4 think it's pretty normal for guys to pressure girls into sex.
15% think it's okay for a guy to pressure a girl for sex if they're both drunk.
1 in 4 don't think it's serious if a guy, who's normally gentle, sometimes slaps his girlfriend when he's drunk and they're arguing.
16% think that women should "know their place".