Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm says male high school students being made to stand and take the White Ribbon Day oath while female classmates sit and watch is "public shaming based on gender".
The Libertarian senator said in Question Time on Wednesday that a high school student from Sydney had complained to him about the male students in her public high school being forced to stand and recite the White Ribbon Day oath in front of the female students.
The oath is part of White Ribbon's campaign to encourage men to stand up to domestic violence against women, and consists of two sentences:
I will stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women. This is my Oath.
Leyonhjelm described the schoolboys' experience as "public shaming based on gender".
The student told Leyonhjelm the girls were keen to participate but were made to sit and watch by teachers, which made them feel uncomfortable.
Special minister of state Scott Ryan said he wasn't aware of this happening in schools.
"I'm not aware of the claims you've made there, Senator Leyonhjelm," he said.
"White Ribbon Australia encourages men to highlight the role they can play alongside women to stop violence against women.
"I'm not necessarily always in favour of everything that happens in our schools, Senator Leyonhjelm, but I will say though that raising awareness and voluntary participation in such activities is I think important."
Ryan added that it was "not compulsory to participate" in the White Ribbon Day oath.
Leyonhjelm also called on the government to dedicate more funding to male victims of domestic violence.
"We can all agree that domestic violence is abhorrent, and victims deserve support," Leyonhjelm said.
"Given that the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that 1 in 3 victims of domestic violence is male, do you think male victims deserve a proportional level of support services as female victims?"
Greens senator Larissa Waters loudly answered: "No."
The statistics on the percentage of male to female victims of family and domestic violence varies from state to state, from 1 in 4 in South Australia and the Northern Territory, to 1 in 3 in Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, to 1 in 2 in New South Wales. The number of male victims of sexual assault are much lower.
Ryan said the government's plan to reduce domestic violence does recognise that men and boys make up a percentage of victims of family violence and sexual assault.
He said current evidence shows 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced sexual violence or crime from their partners.
"The Australian government funds a number of initiatives to support men and boys who experience violence," Ryan said, including MensLine Australia and 1800 Respect.
"I'm sure everyone hopes a complaint is made regardless of someone's sex or gender, that the appropriate services – whether they be police forces or other services – respond accordingly."
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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