Shifting the line on gender and sexual violence

A major new report on sexual violence, online sexual harassment and other forms of gendered violence has been released by researchers based at the University of Auckland.

Professor Nicola Gavey

The researchers created a peer group workshop model for working with boys and young men to develop resistance to rape culture and offer new ideas and new tools to prevent sexual violence in all its forms. Their findings are outlined in a just-released report, Shifting the Line.

One key element in the findings was the importance of fostering peer networks among boys and men that don’t tolerate sexism and abuse of women and girls. This is essential for preventing sexual violence and other forms of gender violence and abuse, the report found.

The researchers say we need to work against restrictive norms for boys and men that demand they fit in at any cost and which can stop young men from being able to stand up against sexism and harassment, even when it is against their own values and beliefs.

“Everyone knows that gendered forms of violence – including sexual violence, domestic violence and online abuse – are complex and deeply entrenched problems,” says one of the report’s authors Professor Nicola Gavey from the University of Auckland’s School of Psychology.

“We need to tackle this problem from lots of different angles and encouraging and supporting boys and men to play their part is a critical part of that.”

Testing their model with over fifty Auckland boys and young men, the researchers found that boys in the workshops easily noticed society’s ‘masculinity rules’ and the ways they are enforced. But they have few opportunities to talk about them and little encouragement for stepping aside from them.

“The boys we worked with often didn’t agree with the rigid expectations of them as men, such as “never show emotion”, “don’t like anything ‘feminine’”, but without the chance to talk about them and unpack them together, they hold a lot of power to restrict boys’ behaviour,” Professor Gavey says.

“Peer groups are powerful sites for shaping behaviour. As we saw in the case of Roastbusters and all the cases that keep showing up in the media of groups of boys harassing and exploiting girls, peer groups can be hot houses for sexism and gendered harassment and abuse.

“But when peer groups are open to more flexible gender norms and share values around equality and respect, they can also be a powerful site for positive change and supporting ethical behaviour.”

To access the full report on the research, go to

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