By Jessica Kean and Timothy Steains
The Australian Government’s ‘Stop it at the Start’ campaign released its Phase 4 television spots in late 2022. These materials offer a very different representation of boys and young men, one that overcomes many of the limitations of other government funded domestic violence intervention strategies.
In light of this new and very different contribution to Domestic Violence primary prevention in Australia, we wanted to revisit the commentary we offered in ‘Growing Violence: the image of the boy in Australian domestic violence prevention campaigns’ (Kean & Steains, 2022). Our article explored the representation of boys in materials from earlier phases of the ‘Stop it at the Start’ campaign, alongside two videos from the Victorian Governments ‘Respect Women: For Our Children’s Future’ campaign.
While the materials offered valuable contributions to the national conversation about Domestic and Family Violence, and an admirable focus on the gendered dynamics which are known to be drivers of domestic violence, we shared some concerns about how they represented boys. In their efforts to encourage parents and carers of boys to reflection on the ways their own attitudes shape the behaviours of their sons (especially victim blaming and minimisation of bad behaviour), the campaigns presented a troublingly limited view of boys.
We argued that these earlier materials had a tendency to:
- Primarily represent boys as future perpetrators
- Depict boys’ relationship to masculinity as entirely frictionless
- Underplay the psychological harms to children (including boys) of witnessing domestic violence
- Fail to offer parents or boys a vision of positive, feminist action or education.
The Phase Four ‘Stop it at the Start’ material offers a significant departure from the representation of boys in the DV prevention campaigns we discussed in our article. These new shorts continue to address parents and other adults who have an ‘influencer’* role in the lives of children and young people. Unlike the previous campaigns, however, which offer intervention through a mechanism of fear that your boy will end up perpetrating gendered violence, these new shorts offer an entirely more hopeful approach.
Borrowing the common parenting practice of marking ‘first times’, the ‘Stop it at the Start’ campaign introduces a series of milestones related to the successful transmission of messages of respect and non-violence – ‘the first time you tell him “it’s ok to cry’’’, ‘the first time he steps in’. While all of these campaigns focus on the role parents play in shaping their children’s attitudes toward gender and relationships, where the earlier clips focus on the potential of boys to be or become violent, these new clips, with their optimistic ‘first time’ framing, focus on the potential of boys to be and become respectful and non-violent.
The new campaign materials also offer a richer representation of the social world of children and young people, with scenes where boys and girls alike intervene in violent or disrespectful behaviour that they witness. While there was one teenage character in the earlier Stop it at the Start campaign who seemed clearly uncomfortable with the disrespectful behaviour he witnessed, the bystanders in these new campaigns are active and confident, reminding us that children are participants in their social worlds, actively navigating the norms and practices they encounter.
These are significant and exciting developments in the representation of boys in relation to domestic violence. You can watch the new clip below and see the full suite of campaign materials and resources for parents here .
*The language of parents and other significant adults as ‘influencers’ comes from the research report commissioned by the Australian Government to inform this campaign.