LOVEBiTES - Hansard

Conversations I have been having with many stakeholders as the shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault have made abundantly clear the enormous role that education plays in reducing and eliminating domestic violence and sexual assault from our community. The Love Bites program is a domestic and family violence prevention program for year 9 and year 10 school students. It demonstrates the role that schools can play in achieving the goal of eradicating domestic and family violence and sexual assault. The Love Bites program has also been available to young people in other settings such as school support units, juvenile justice programs and youth holiday programs.

This highly regarded program has been rolled out across New South Wales and in other States as well. More than 100, 000 young people have completed the program, and in New South Wales more than 4,000 teachers and support workers have been trained to deliver it. Other States have New South Wales to thank for this program. It originated on the New South Wales mid North Coast about 10 years ago and was developed by NAPCAN—the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. The Love Bites program has previously been recommended by what is now known as Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety, as well as by academics in the area of violence against women.

The program runs as a one- or two-day course, delivered in schools by male and female schoolteachers or trained facilitators. Facilitators can include domestic violence workers, youth workers and police. The course generally consists of a series of interactive or creative workshops in which students explore the themes of consent, love, control, beliefs and attitudes, violence, sexual assault and bystander strategies. An important component of the program is that male and female facilitators work together to deliver it. In speaking with stakeholders in the prevention of domestic violence sector, a recurring theme that emerges is the importance of male advocates speaking to other males about this issue. As Kate Burke from Tamworth Family Support Service said this week:

        "We have quite a lot of great male presenters and they're very powerful to have both for the boys and the girls. The difference of having a male in the room with these boys is mind blowing. It's the realisation that they can do something, they can stand up and say this is not acceptable."

Following the workshops, students develop a creative work that is displayed in the community. It is an important program, changing attitudes towards violence against women and giving young people the skills and knowledge to support women experiencing domestic and family violence. As one student said after completing the program:

      "We knew about some of these issues but nobody really talks about it. By talking about domestic violence and sexual assault, we really did learn something new."

Given how important this program is, I was shocked to discover that across New South Wales the program is in trouble. From Port Macquarie to Tamworth to here in central Sydney, there are reports of the program losing funding. Speaking to facilitators on the ground, it is clear that the lack of dedicated funding for this program is the largest barrier to its ongoing success. Over the past years thousands of facilitators have been trained. Schools are calling out for programs that can support them in reducing violence in the community. Here we have a nationally well-regarded program with existing links in many communities across this State, but groups running it are spending their time chasing grants.

The uncertainty created by this ad-hoc funding is damaging to the communities who benefit so greatly from the work of Love Bites. Local communities have successfully sought short-term private grants from clubs or private donations to keep them going, but it is clear that government must step in and ensure that programs such as this continue to operate in the future. Sadly, I have been told that the Family and Community Services funding, which previously existed for this program, is no longer available under the Government's Going Home Staying Home program. The prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault can occur only when education is a key component of government response. Programs such as Love Bites, focusing on education, are essential in our goal of preventing domestic violence.