Canberra’s YWCA has called on the ACT Government to fund a primary school program aimed at preventing violence against women.
The program, Respect, Communicate, Choose, was previously funded by the Commonwealth but that funding stopped in 2013.
To mark International Women’s Day, YWCA executive director Frances Crimmins said the program should again be funded by the ACT Government.
She said it would cost $200,000 a year and target children between nine and 12 years old.
“The research tells us that if we want to actually see systemic cultural change in our community, we need to start educating children before they have formed their opinions on gender and gender roles,” she said.
“If we start when they are an adolescent or in their high school years, the majority of young people have already formed their opinions.”
Ms Crimmins said early intervention was a key recommendation in the national plan to reduce violence against women.
“We want to start working with children early,” she said.
“Our challenge is that no government either at the Commonwealth level or the state and territory level is currently funding primary prevention in schools.
“Given that we have already seen 13 women killed as a result of intimate partner violence this year, it’s critical that primary violence prevention programs are implemented in all primary schools.”
Year seven student Ella Cuthbert, 12, took part in the original program two years ago.
“I learnt how to control my feelings if I was being hurt and what I should do if I saw something happen,” she said.
Friend Bec Cameron Neser, 12, said the program helped her identify different sorts of inequality.
“One time one of our friends was being bullied and we went and told the teacher and I think the program helped us know what to say,” Bec said.
“To me respect means to think of each other equally and in a relationship you should value yourself as much as you value the other person.”
Calls to crisis hotline double in past week
The call for funding for the primary prevention program came as frontline services grappled to meet a doubling in demand for help in the past week.
Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) has seen the number of calls to its 24-hour hotline double since Canberra mother Tara Costigan was found dead last week.
Marcus Rappel, 40, has been formally charged with the murder of the 28-year-old mother of three.
He is also facing charges of assault against two other people, and breach of a protection order.
“They identify with her because they may be mothers of young children themselves,” DVCS executive director Mirjana Wilson said.
“It may be that the particular extremeness of the violence is something that is really disturbing people.”
Ms Wilson said the confidential phone service staffed by expert crisis counsellors could change lives.
“It is absolutely a life and death situation,” she said.
“What our clients want is not that lip service, they actually want to know ‘but how is it that you can help me?’
“They want to be believed.”
Ms Wilson said there had been a 40 per cent rise in demand for the service over the past five years, but no increase in funding.
“The more we talk about this nationally, locally and have these conversations, people and women are going to feel more comfortable to come forward to talk,” she said.