The comments made by Homicide squad chief Detective Inspector, Mick Hughes following the murder of Melbourne school-girl Masa Vukotic sparked debate regarding the safety messages delivered to the public. Masa was walking alone in a park, less than one kilometre from her home, when she was attacked at random.
It was reported that Hughes had stated that women ‘shouldn’t be alone in parks’. However, when questioned about this statement, Hughes denied making any such comments. Hughes went on to explain to the ABC that both men and women need to be more conscious of their surroundings, especially when travelling alone. Despite Hughes’ comments being taken out of context and whilst they do seem logical, they are somewhat bothersome. It raises the issue of whether victims need to change their behaviour, or, if other measures can be implemented.
According to the Minister for Women and Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson, emphasis should be on preventing these crimes and not the behaviour of victims.
In response to the issue, Dr. Lauren Rosewarne, an academic from the University of Melbourne, explained that ‘this is yet another example on what women need to do to avoid being victims of crime as opposed to what men can do not to commit them… we are always given information about what we need to do as women to stay safe. I’d like to see the debate shifted… The idea that we can somehow change women’s movements and somehow prevent violence against women is just patently false…There are always spikes in self-defence classes after brutal murders but it doesn’t protect women.’
Instead of merely reacting, we need to be proactive in terms of preventing these crimes.
Albert Bandura’s social learning theory suggests that children are impressionable and learn aggressive behaviours based on observances. In one such study, Bandura divided a group of 3-6 year olds into three categories to determine imitation, using toys.
One group watched an adult acting aggressively towards one of the toys, another witnessed non-aggressive behaviour and the third group was not subject to any behaviour. Each child was then required to enter the room and their behaviour was observed. Children who were subjected to the aggressive model made far more imitative, aggressive responses than those who were in the non-aggressive or control groups. Boys were more likely to imitate same-sex models than girls, and boys imitated more physically aggressive acts than girls.
If there is nobody there to correct these understandings, it is plausible that these behaviours will not be rehabilitated and crimes may be committed.
The government needs to take responsibility by introducing a programme into the school curriculum to deter children from committing crimes (specifically violent crimes and crimes of a sexual nature). This age-appropriate programme should commence in primary school, as by the time children reach high school they have a well-rounded understanding of what they believe is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, and may be difficult to alter in later years. Moreover, it is difficult to gauge whether parents are having such conversations with their children or if parents are delivering messages that indicate violence against women is acceptable.
Some may argue that school children do not have the capacity to understand such issues, to this, I ask you to consider Germany’s regular school curriculum. All pupils are required to visit Nazi concentration camps. The move was an attempt to stamp out neo-Nazism all together, following the stabbing of a senior police officer by a neo-Nazi. Students as young as 11 learn about the Holocaust and in conjunction with visiting concentration camps, they are required to visit centres that document Nazi crimes.
If 11-year-olds are old enough to be informed on matters of genocide, they are old enough to learn about sex-related and violent crimes. It is evident that instructing women to behave differently is ineffective, therefore, focus should be on prevention. We need to break away from victim-blaming culture and seek alternative methods in preventing violent crimes against women from occurring.