Horrifying domestic violence statistics in Australia show that one in six women have experienced violence from a current or former partner, sixty three women have been killed by family violence this year and childhood exposure to partner violence increases the likelihood of intergenerational violence.

With the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently pledging $100 million to tackle domestic violence, including $5 million for school education programs, and with White Ribbon Day happening on 25th November, we talk to three inspiring high schools that are rewriting the script and helping students to develop respectful relationships using theatre-based education.

Lithgow High School, Duval High School and St Patricks’ Boys College in Strathfield are all taking to the stage to help educate their students about respectful and healthy relationships. All three high schools have recently experienced the program ‘Sticks & Stones’ which seeks to empower students to break the generational cycle of domestic and gender-based violence. 

As Duval High School’s Welfare Co-ordinator, Jennifer Squires explains, the key element that sets theatre apart is its power to reach students on an emotional level. “Theatre often evokes an emotional response from the audience, and this helps students to then express these feelings to their peers and teachers. It puts into words what they are feeling. Domestic violence and sexual harassment are often seen as taboo subjects, but encouraging kids to talk about it will help them to know what is right, and when things are not.” 

St Patricks’ Boys College Michael Ilott, Director of Pastoral Care said that theatre and the Sticks & Stones program offers an “alternative voice for students related to issues surrounding their wellbeing and development.”

“Having to listen is one thing, but having to engage in dialogue is where the student’s assumptions are really challenged. The young ages of the actors create an immediate credibility and they are on the boy’s level. It certainly opens their eyes to an important issue for young men.” Mr Ilott says. 

In May, Our Watch, a national non-profit organisation that aims to change attitudes relating to domestic violence, surveyed 2,000 people aged 12 to 24 years old about what healthy, respectful relationships look like. One in four young people don’t think it’s serious when guys insult or verbally harass girls in the street, think it’s pretty normal for guys to pressure girls into sex, don’t think it’s serious if a guy, who’s normally gentle, sometimes slaps his girlfriend when he’s drunk and that it’s important for men to be tough and strong.  

Leanne Walding, Student Support Officer at Lithgow High School, agrees that theatre is a great educational tool to help change these disturbing attitudes.

“Theatre speaks much louder than the written word. The students were enthralled with Sticks & Stones and the responses received indicated that they could use the protective strategies when facing violent situations and also consider their own behaviour towards others. The discussion at the end of the performance allowed the students to explore what is sexual harassment – from the obvious physical touches to the not so obvious verbal derogative comments and non-verbal cues.” 

Leanne Walding lauded Sticks & Stones ability to assist with violence prevention Sticks & Stones provided students with strategies when faced with aggression that can prevent escalation and protective measures that can be utilised to minimise physical or verbal harm. The program helps students understand that they are never alone when facing adversity and that it is OK to speak up.”

The Sticks & Stones program uses theatre and role-playing to offer students an unique look at violence against women and girls, including verbal, emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuses. The violence prevention program has been seen by over 1.7 million students, is a winner of an Australian Violence Prevention award and is “sowing the seeds of change”; explains Brainstorm Productions co-founder Jenny Johnson. 

“By using theatre, students get to see, and more importantly feel, how violent behaviour is affecting the victim. The characters experiences are taken in, challenged and tested by the students and they start to think about their own attitudes. To help curb violence against women, we believe in changing students beliefs no matter what students see at home, in the media, on social media, in video games or in the playground.” said Jenny, adding;

“Our program also provides students with strategies to help them seek assistance if other students are being violent or if they are feeling violent themselves. We help students understand that violence has devastating long lasting consequences and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.”

With an anti-violence social movement currently sweeping the country, violence prevention programs such as Sticks & Stones is empowering students to take up the challenge and speak up against violence! 

In Sydney on White Ribbon Day (25th Nov 2015) we will be  donating 20% of proceeds to White Ribbon to help break the silence on violence. 

Book now to have Sticks & Stones performed at your school in 2016 in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland. To find out more about Sticks & Stones, click here or to book freecall – 1800 676 224.