If only there were a simple, easy way to change social attitudes.
Whether the issue is homophobia, prejudice about mental illness or sexual violence, the truth is that it takes vigilance and persistence, not to mention innovation and an understanding of the basis of the problem, to turn shrugging acceptance into wholesale rejection.
That is why the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) pilot scheme in Scottish schools is such an important project. Pioneered by Strathclyde Police's violence reduction unit and now being rolled out across four more council areas, the project seeks to help young people develop a clear idea of where the boundary lies between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour within a relationship at the very time they are starting to negotiate that terrain for themselves.
Not only that, but it also seeks to help them understand their own responsibility to act if they witness unacceptable behaviour. Reports from schools involved show pupils are taking that message to heart and reporting incidents even early on in the project.
Such work, bringing young people into the discussion and helping them arrive at their own conclusions, can only help in the drive to change deeply ingrained attitudes about violence against women in some sections of Scottish society. One-fifth of women experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetime; more than 50,000 incidents were reported in 2008/9 alone.
These attitudes do not exist in a vacuum: a survey in 2007 found 26% of Scots surveyed thought a woman bore some responsibility for being raped if she wore revealing clothing. A study of young people's attitudes to gendered violence two years earlier, found one-fifth of young men thought women often "provoke violence". This speaks to the gulf that still exists between what the law says and many people's unspoken views.
Open discussion among boys and girls in their formative years, to challenge these attitudes, will be the engine of change. Having boys and girls sitting down together talking candidly about when it's acceptable to text pictures or post them on a social networking site, or what their responsibilities are towards fellow pupils, can help prevent problems before they arise. Well-designed violence reduction projects in schools, alongside other initiatives in wider society, have the power to change Scottish society from the inside out.
If the pilot proves successful, the scheme should be rolled out nationwide so that all secondary school pupils may benefit.
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