What’s happening in society before and after school hours if one in five are bullied at school? The silence demands funded government policy in a community-led approach

// March 9th, 2015 // Within Australia, Within Victoria

One in five gay teenagers claim they have suffered homophobic bullying from teachers and other adults in schools in the UK, but what’s happening in Australian society and how should this be addressed?

So this is the British experience. Meanwhile in Australia we have similar programs emerging to those in the UK schools, such as Safe Schools which is being expanded to all government secondary schools in Victoria by the newly elected Andrews Labor state government. A model for the other Australian states and territories and beyond.

If one in five students experiencing homophobic abuse at the hands of students and teachers in schools translates from Britain to the Australian experience, it’s a reasonable assumption that work to address this in the school environment just scrapes the surface of the issue.

Students exist in their homes and live within their communities before and after they attend daytime education hours at school, as do their teachers. In this extra-school environment, we know homophobic harassment and prejudice motivated crime remains vastly under-reported.

Available, yet limited research shows only three out of ten victims of incidents in metropolitan areas and less than this, perhaps as low as one in ten in regional and rural areas reports violence with the vast bulk of harassed and violated individual experiences lived in silence.

Should we respond to violence in Australian and Victorian schools? Just as in the UK the answer is a resounding Yes. But should we also change the society students emerge from to attend their schools and return to at the end of each school day?

The answer here from governments of all persuasion has been less clear. Outstanding work has been started by community organisations and seeded with very time-limited yet welcome funding by governments from both sides of politics. But what has not been committed to has been longer-term, funded programs driven by a government acting as a catalyst to generate societal change addressing homophobic harassment and prejudice motivated violence, community led and directed in partnership with government policy.

What we do know is this new state government, armed with the resolve of the first ever minister for Equality, does seek to make a real and significant difference in this area. We also know the opposition party has shadowed a spokesperson into this portfolio area.

We await with concerned interest the announcement of long-term visionary government policy armed with firm budgetary commitment that all sides of politics can sign up to, which not only addresses violence in schools but even more importantly frames the work to be done within the society in which students and teachers live and return to each night, where young people currently turn into adults with the values and prejudices society has inculturated into them.


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