Preventing sexual and other forms of gender-based violence is possible – it is up to each and every one of us to take a stand on this issue every day of our lives. How we respond to this issue determines the kind of society in which all of us live and how we can make it better. Many men and boys are ethical and respectful of women and children – but we need more men and boys to commit to challenging attitudes towards gender-based violence and unacceptable behaviours by other men. Women need to stand beside other women to provide support and courage on their journey of recovery.
Professor Moira Carmody (PhD) from the Western Sydney University is a national expert on sexual assault prevention, and an interdisciplinary scholar in the areas of gender, sexuality and sexual ethics education. Her books, Sex & Ethics: young people and ethical sex, also Sex & Ethics: the sexual ethics education program for young people (both published in 2009), examine sexual assault prevention in a wide range of young people negotiating sexual intimacy in casual and ongoing relationships. She argues that sex can be dangerous at the same time as being pleasurable. This means young people can benefit from understanding the impact of their desires on potential sexual partners – and from learning how to take care of themselves. Mutual negotiation is central to avoiding pressured or coerced sex, or sexual assault.
Moira’s six-week Sex & Ethics Program assists young women and men to build skills in using ethical negotiation in relation to sex. The program is taught in football clubs such as the NRL (as part of their Respectful Relationships initiative), in youth and community groups, via youth services, and at university and residential colleges across Australia and New Zealand. The program also discusses young people’s responsibilities as ‘bystanders’ when witnessing gender-based violence or potentially risky sexual situations, and teaches them skills and safe strategies to intervene if necessary. Follow-up research with young people six months after completing the program found that 80-90% were still using ideas or skills they had learned. Young women were better at saying what they did or didn’t want from a sexual encounter and young men showed greater consideration of their partners’ needs including paying more attention to body language and other forms of non-verbal communication. These outcomes are evidence of the positive impact of skills-based approaches to sexuality education, also indicating how this can lead to safer and mutually pleasurable sexual practices, at the same time reducing the risk of pressured or coerced sex.
Moira Carmody was educated in schools in northern Sydney. She earned a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of NSW (1976), a Graduate Diploma of Adult Education from the University of Technology (1992), and a PhD in the area of social policy and sexual assault from UNSW (1995). She first worked in the health system with children and adults with an intellectual disability, then later as a sexual assault counsellor. Moira said that her commitment to the prevention of sexual assault was consolidated at late-night encounters with young women who ‘had been raped, were frightened for their lives, and felt confused and betrayed by the men’s violation of their bodies and their souls’.
Moira became the first sexual assault policy advisor in the central office of NSW Health (1985 -1989). She believes some of her greatest achievements were the setting up of 22 new sexual assault services in outer metropolitan Sydney and in rural areas, and the development of the first standards for sexual assault services for adult and child victims.
For over 30 years Moira has advised state and federal governments dedicated to reducing violence against women. She was a recipient of the University of Western Sydney Vice-Chancellor’s Highly Commended Award for Social Justice in 2003, and in 2006 she was awarded the Taylor and Francis Distinguished International Research Award for Women’s Health for her work on sexual violence policy and practice. She has contributed extensively to books and international journals and, in addition to her Sex & Ethics publications, she co-edited Crimes of Violence: Australian Responses to Rape and Child Sexual Assault (1992). A new version of Sex & Ethics will be published in the USA in 2015.
Professor Carmody believes that a greater and more sustained commitment to policies and practices that genuinely support the primary prevention of sexual and other forms of gendered violence is required from communities and all levels of government. She believes there is still a sense in many parts of the community that gender-based violence is not a big issue, and that there are still many men who fail to respect the needs of women and children. Nonetheless she is convinced that there have been positive changes over the 30 years she has been involved in this area in that sexual and other forms of gendered violence are more widely acknowledged and discussed – and there are many more support services available. Moira Carmody’s commitment to developing sexual assault services, to researching, teaching and disseminating information, and to identifying possible solutions are some of the reasons why changes for the better are occurring.