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Reshaping Attitudes toward Violence against Women

Flood, Michael, Bob Pease, Natalie Taylor & Kim Webster (2009). In: Evan Stark & Eve S. Buzawa (eds) Violence against Women in Families and Relationships: The Media and Cultural Attitudes, vol. 4. Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford: Praeger (177-198).

Since the early 1970s, when the grassroots women’s movement mounted its challenge to rape and domestic violence, there has been a worldwide revolution in societal responses to violence against women. Among the changes, the best known are the proliferation of community-based services for victims and reforms in public policy, law, policing, and health care. What is less well-known is whether the revolution in societal intervention is reflected in how ordinary citizens think about violence against women. However important institutional reforms are in the short term, they are unlikely to be sustained unless the normative climate changes that supports violence against women.

How widespread is the belief that women “ask to be raped”, that there are circumstances in which it is acceptable for a man to hit a woman, or that violence against women is acceptable? Do people feel empathy for women who are assaulted or raped, or do they blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator? Why do some family members, friends, and professionals respond to victims with support and sympathy, while others respond with indifference or blame? Why do some men use violence against women and others do not? Why do some victims feel self-blame, while others do not? We know that individual and community attitudes shape how women and men experience and understand violence against women. More than this, these attitudes influence the perpetration of this violence, community responses to violence against women, how victims respond to assault, and whether institutional reforms can be sustained.

This chapter provides an international perspective on attitudes toward violence against women. We begin by identifying the role attitudes play in shaping the problem. Next, we provide and international picture of existing attitudes and identify the key factors that shape them. Finally, we identify critical junctures where interventions to change violence-supportive attitudes can make a difference.

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