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Text reads "Sound it out, sound advice, sound as." with two men chatting int he backgrouns

The importance of finding safe spaces to talk about relationships 

For #SHW23, we’re Playing It Safe. Here, Johanna Robinson, Wales’ National Adviser on Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence, highlights the approach the Welsh Government took when developing their new early intervention initiative aimed at eradicating gender-based violence. The campaign aims to equip young men with the knowledge and confidence to reflect and understand their own behaviours, while also having open and honest conversations with their friends about theirs. 

Our young men have an overwhelming desire to be decent.

They want to be well-regarded by their peers, they want to cultivate a sense of belonging, and they want to forge healthy connections and relationships throughout their lives. 

They also want to do better when it comes to women’s safety. 

This was the overwhelming conclusion following a 6-month insights project conducted for the Welsh Government, which set out to understand the key motivators and barriers that currently exist for young men when it comes to cultivating positive and healthy intimate relationships. 

We spent months listening to young men across Wales, understanding that for any campaign in this field to be truly effective, it had to centre around the voices and experiences of the intended audience.  

We know that we need to much more to reduce number of young people experiencing sexual harassment in schools. The experiences of adult survivors and perpetrators tells us that we need to do more to ensure attitudes and behaviours are addressed so harms do not grow, and we can make Wales a place where abuse is not tolerated. For this reason, during the development of the initiative we also worked directly with former perpetrators, and survivors of abuse, to ensure we had a 360 degree view of the complexities of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. 

It became clear, both from the in-person work conducted, and a nationwide survey of men aged 18-54, that in an era riddled with high-influence misogynists in the public domain, there is still a pervasive knowledge gap around the levels and impact of all forms of gender based abuse, and a worrying shift in attitudes towards equality.  

Of those surveyed: 

  • 29% said there is no inequality between women and men 
  • 37% said we have gone far enough in closing the gender equality gap 
  • 39% said efforts to achieve women’s equality have led to discrimination against men 
  • 43% said traditional masculinity is under threat today 

Men need us, perhaps more than ever.

Our research highlighted a sense of increasing pressure to conform to outdated perceptions of masculinity, a transference of guilt regarding high profile cases of male violence against women, and an absence of trustworthy, non-judgemental resources, support and guidance on how to change for the better. 

So, in July, we launched Sound, a campaign formed with the desire to infiltrate the ‘man-o-sphere’ and de-normalise violence against women and girls. We wanted to place ourselves in the spaces men currently inhabit and provide them with a positive alternative to the toxic rhetoric currently permeating society, by offering straightforward advice and education around healthy behaviours at the earliest appropriate opportunity.  

The Sound campaign has three simple calls to action, backed up by a myriad of resources, content and insights. 

  1. Sound it out. Encourage men to chat to one another, and to professionals, about their behaviours and relationships in safe spaces, without fear of judgement. 
  2. Get Sound advice. Visit the Sound channels, website, and approved partner channels to get verified advice on relationship issues, rather than falling prey to internet algorithms and misinformation.
  3. Be Sound As. Take simple steps in every-day life to improve and better your own behaviours, while supporting your friends and peers to do the same.  

We understand that men feel pressure to be ‘real’ men and the associations that mean being strong, dominant, maintaining power and not being ‘emotional.’

Our ‘sound it out’ content normalises men expressing emotions and supporting each other and being supported.  

We know that men are influenced hugely by other men, and so within our content we promote a variety of ‘sound as’ male role models who highlight the benefits of men utilising simple, constructive tactics to intervene when they witness harmful behaviours, by using our ‘sound advice.’ 

New TikTok, Instagram and YouTube channels were launched to host our resources. The campaign content streams include videos of footballers, boxers, barbers, musicians and friendship groups chatting about their understanding of terms like love bombing, gaslighting and negging. Our educational resources provide definitions of these new terms and are backed by industry approved tips and advice on how to approach certain situations.  

We’ve taken to the streets of Wales to ask men what positive masculinity looks like to them, and how they’ve approached difficult conversations with their friends and partners.  

We’ve launched a podcast looking at the impact of misogyny on women working in the male-dominated gaming industry, and we’ve worked with male influencers who have shared resources and advice on their highly subscribed channels.  

This content has been viewed, read, downloaded or engaged with over 8 million times since July, and our audience is majority male.

Our DMs and email inboxes have been flooded with questions from young men exhibiting seed behaviours in need of advice and further support, and we’ve also received comments from young men who say they now feel empowered to go and have similar conversations with their friends for the first time.  

This is only the beginning for the Sound campaign, and naturally, this whole-societal approach to behaviour change and violence prevention takes a huge amount of sustained investment and cross agency collaboration to cultivate long term results. However, it’s been truly eye-opening and optimism-inducing to witness first hand just how quickly men will respond when given the tools and guidance to hold themselves accountable for their behaviour and feed into a society that is safe and sound for all.  

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You can follow Sound on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. For professionals looking to engage with the project, please email sound@wearecowshed.co.uk 

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two young people looking at each other and smiling. One is holding a phone.
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