In the trenches, winning the battle to reduce violence against women is a daily, brick-by-brick process

Tracey Gaudry, CEO Respect Victoria

Tracey Gaudry is the chief executive of Respect Victoria, a new agency with a challenging but vitally important task: primary prevention of all forms of family violence, and violence against women.

As a top-level road cyclist she represented Australia at the Olympics twice and reached number three in the world. As a senior executive and non-executive director, she has over 20 years’ experience in leadership roles in a range of sectors from sport to professional services, government, education and community organisations. She is a director of Union Cycliste Internationale and president of its Women’s Commission, and spent a challenging five months as the first female CEO of an AFL club while dealing with a serious family health scare.

In her career Gaudry has tried to effect positive change in inclusion, diversity and gender equality, particularly in the cycling world. She told Mandarin Premium that changing culture for the better is about playing the long game.

Respect Victoria was established last August to fulfil a recommendation of the state’s Royal Commission into Family Violence, which called on the government to fund a body that would take a leadership role in the prevention of family violence. Its most visible work is public information campaigns; people all over Australia took notice of its recent video showing a man leering at a woman on a train — until another passenger notices, steps into his line of sight and makes it clear he is being watched.

“This campaign was developed in order to provide opportunities and considerations about how everyday people as bystanders can actually call out discriminatory behaviour, in this case sexual harassment,” she explains. “It’s the second phase of a campaign series that started last year, to build awareness around drivers of family violence and in particular violence against women.”

The series is called “Respect women: call it out” and the video set on the train follows another short scene released last year by Women Victoria under the same tagline: a man abusing his partner over the phone in front of his friends, then joking about it – but instead of laughing along, they pull him up … 

“The findings from that campaign, which was viewed by more than 70% of all Victorians, demonstrated that people are aware that violence against women takes many shapes and forms, and that they understand there is a role for them, as bystanders, to play in its prevention,” says Gaudry. “This new campaign that was just launched brings forward the role of the everyday bystander in circumventing harassment against women.”

Each campaign can take a year or more to develop. Much of that time is spent trying to go from an understanding of the attitudes at the heart of the social problem, to a simple message that might encourage Victorians to challenge them. Respect Victoria ran focus groups, held discussions with survivors and consulted organisations already working on primary prevention of family violence, healthcare providers, and other government agencies. The latest video was a collaboration with the police and Public Transport Victoria.

“The creative for this year’s campaign was then developed through our creative partners, the Shannon Company, and went through several rounds of iterations with campaign workforces to arrive at the scene — public transport — and the approach in terms of how we could articulate and depict everyday settings, everyday behaviours which are discriminatory, and demonstrate a way in which everyday people could play a role of a bystander in intervening in a safe way.”

The ultimate goal is to change behaviour on a mass scale in a way that is more challenging than trying to encourage people to be healthier, stop smoking or recycle — and the role of Respect Victoria goes a long way beyond the striking videos.

“’The challenge of a generation’ is the way in which we describe the role that Respect Victoria is playing,” she says, “ … and not unilaterally but playing alongside many other people and organisations including the government, the family violence sector, the women’s health sector and primary prevention, generally. Our ambition is a whole-of-community approach which will encompass sectors and industries outside of those industries traditionally focused on family violence and violence against women. And to that extent, to get the job done is really about changing the societal norms and structures and practices that can feed discrimination and marginalisation, and those are the root causes of violence against women and family violence.”

The agency recognises the issues it is dealing with are complex, multi-faceted, and involve challenging long-held beliefs about the way society should be organised. This means taking an intersectional approach, recognising the diversity of people involved in family violence, and considering all its forms in all settings.

“It’s where there’s a hierarchy in our society and there is a result in discrimination against people, which can take on many forms,” explains Gaudry, “so when you’re dealing with societal change and attitudinal and then behavioural change you’re looking at the long game. You know, this is not a single behavioural change program where a television campaign is going to enact the change required, it is about understanding drivers of family violence and violence against women. So we need to raise awareness about that, using the research and understanding what actually brings about awareness and changes in attitudes and behaviours.”

The royal commission’s 188th recommendation set a few criteria. Working inside or outside government, in partnership with existing groups in the space like Our Watch and ANROWS, a publicly funded initiative would develop policy and technical advice for organisations in all sectors on primary prevention. It would coordinate relevant research, and ensure the availability of related workforce development training. The government decided to create a new statutory body with its future secured through legislation. The ongoing funding is an investment in prevention, hopefully leading to social returns and reducing the costs of family violence in the future.

“Sustained investment in prevention of family violence and violence against women is a must-do in order for us to realise a safer and more respectful society. And importantly, over time, to reduce to burden on response, whether that be through health networks, through hospitals, police, the justice system — to maintain the investment in responding to issues as they arise, but to up the investment in prevention, stopping family violence before it starts.”

The authority, which has a board of eight directors, informs website visitors it “sits outside of the public service” as an independent advisor to the government. It aims to hold a mirror to the community, the government and itself but also “lead the statewide commitment to reduce family violence with an objective and empathic lens.” It does not do this alone, and its leaders have regularly made a point of acknowledging its success depends on work done by others towards the same goals for decades, and survivors of violence in particular.

“We’re working alongside other primary-prevention organisations that have worked on generational change, for example in road safety, in cancer and skin cancer, or in tobacco and health, so working and learning from organisations and sectors which have addressed major societal issues by bringing about behaviour change. The aim is to learn about the long-term approach, and then for us to invest in research in understanding the particular drivers in the issue that we’re dealing with. So the work is going to be long-running, it’s going to require Respect Victoria to work very closely with other government agencies, with all industries and organisations, to really learn and understand how to reach people within the community, relevant to the factors that are contributing to violence within their community, to generate that change.”

The agency’s first strategy, finalised this year, describes five pillars.

“The first is fundamentally, research. It’s to inform prevention activity and policy set by the government, programming — that may be undertaken by people and organisations as an actual practice — in order to then understand what’s working. For example, the last campaign which was launched last year was seen by more than five million people. What we want from this campaign is not only for it to be seen, at a whole-of-community level, but to actually raise awareness. Importantly, with everything that we do and everything that is funded across the state, we can establish a way of monitoring the effectiveness of work to evaluate its success and then to advocate for further investment in that work.”

After research, monitor and evaluate, the second pillar is to communicate. This means encouraging discussion of the attitudes and behaviours that contribute to the violence, not just with thought-provoking videos but by reaching out into community organisations, sporting codes, workplaces and the media directly.

“These conversations aren’t us talking to ourselves; they’re happening across the community. Then, we need to drive more investment in prevention. We need to invest more as a state, and as a country, in stopping societal issues before they start. And that means the work we’re doing through research and understanding is driving greater uptake and investment in primary-prevention activities. Not just communications and awareness, but workplace settings, education, to support the cultural shift that we need to create a safer society.”

So, what does success look like?

“There is at least one woman a week dying in Australia at the hands of a current or former intimate partner, so the ultimate success is we have eradicated family violence in our community and we have eradicated violence against women,”  Gaudry says. “Now, we know that’s generations-long, unfortunately, so in terms of measures of success they need to be respectful of the time it’s going to take to generate behavioural change. For example, early measures of success are about establishing an understanding of prevention networks, understanding the totality of investing in prevention. Early success is about being able to monitor what activity is happening where, then gather the data on how impactful that is, so that over time we can align trends in the incidence of family violence and violence against women with the investment in prevention.”

Another early measure of success is indicators that the information is getting through.

“We may see, in terms of early responses, an increase in calls to call centres, for example, showing more people understand, ‘This actually applies to me,’ or, ‘There’s something I can do about it,’ so measures of success will vary over time with the increase in prevention activities,” notes the RV chief. “It’s something we can’t do alone and the more of the community that are on board from the start of the journey, the better.”

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