Elliot Costello is on a mission to end violence against children around the globe. He founded The Polished Man in response to some horrifying stats and the chance meeting with a strong little girl.
Elliots’ campaign challenges men to paint one nail for the month of October. He hopes to raise awareness and funds to support the 1 in 5 children who suffer abuse before the age of 18.
We are so proud to support YGAP’s 2016 Polished Man campaign. Elliot took some time out to chat with us about his inspirational project.
My background is in accounting and finance but while I was working in the corporate sector I was also building a not-for-profit organisation with a group of friends. We had a passion for international development and a range of humanitarian issues. After five years of volunteering and working on YGAP we got to the stage where the organisation was growing rapidly enough for me take a leap of faith and leave my full time job to run YGAP full time. For the past three years I have been a full time employee of YGAP and we continue to grow with employees in Melbourne and five other countries around the world where we work.
One of our program partners is in Cambodia and in 2013 I spent a week in Phnom Penh visiting their work in the field. There, I had an experience with 21 young beneficiaries of the program that we were funding and had suffered severe human rights abuses. We had a wonderful dinner with these kids who were recovering from serious trauma, going back to school and returning to the community. That evening I sat next to a 10-year-old girl named Thea who spoke no English, and my Khmer is limited, so we communicated through simple games like naughts and crosses. At the end of the evening she picked up a texta and drew a love heart on my hand then flipped my hand over and coloured in all of my nails. The following day I learned of her story. Her mother had taken her to a shelter when her father passed away but she was given anything but a safe refuge. She suffered abuse at the hands of the orphanage owner, a westerner. I was told she had only been in Hagar’s care for six weeks and I was the first male westerner she had met since the ordeal. I was so inspired and moved by Thea’s strength I promised I would wear nail polish on one of my finger nails as a reminder of the experience, but also as a reminder for the millions of children that are effected by violence every day. That’s how the Polished Man campaign was born.
It’s important to me because when we dug deeper into the issue of violence against children we were struck by a number of things. First and foremost the level of violence that exists. 18.4% of children experience physical and/or sexual violence before the age of 18. That’s a conservative estimate of 1 in 5 children globally. When we dug even deeper we realised that men are responsible for the majority of this violence and perpetrate 90% of sexual violence. We searched globally and couldn’t find many organisations or campaigns actively engaging men in this issue. Polished Man became an attempt to get men to stand up as leaders in society and inspire them to take action. We focus on the positive aspects of masculinity – men as role models, leaders and protectors. It’s about encouraging good men to stand up, have a voice and say no to a world where children live in fear of violence. We want men to engage in conversation around the issue in their workplace, at the gym and at home with partners, family and friends. We believe the issue should be brought out into the open and that no child should live in fear.
Being a Polished Man is more than just painting your fingernail in the month of October. For me, being a Polished Man means being brave enough to stand up and start a tough conversation. Someone who is willing to accept the fact his gender causes the majority of violence against children. He may not be personally responsible for that violence but some of the attitudes he holds towards women and children and the misogyny that exists in certain male-dominated environments can lead to an environment of violence. Being a Polished Man means calling out bad actions and bad behaviour and acknowledging we have to change our attitudes and perspectives to drive change in society.
It’s important because the repercussions of violence against children are life long. We need to understand that at its core a child affected by violence, be it physical or sexual violence, has to live with the consequences of those actions for their entire life. The campaign aims to give people the opportunity to step back and say, “wow, I had no idea 1 in 5 children globally are affected by violence but now that I know I want to do something about it”. While painting a fingernail for the month of October may not end violence against children for good, it contributes towards a global movement of awareness and enables us the opportunity to go one step further in bringing this issue to light. We can do something about this now and have the power to raise our voices.
Polished Man centres on readdressing masculinity. It’s not about calling men out for being perpetrators but instead, educating men about the fact some of their attitudes can lead to conditions that enable violence against children. That being said, we want everyone engaged in the campaign, including women. We want women to engage in the conversation and inspire the men in their lives by telling the world they prefer a Polished Man. Men that are prepared to be open honest and have these types of conversations enable traditional norms around masculinity to be broken down. Men don’t typically wear nail polish but this campaign is all about breaking down societal norms and taking that one step further to raise the conversation about violence against children.
In 2014, our first year of the campaign, we searched Melbourne and Australia and looked at really inspiring companies/organisations that we’d like to partner with. Kester Black has always been an organisation that we’ve admired for its leadership and innovation in the sector. It’s also emerging and bold, and that is exactly the kind of organisation we want to partner with to help end violence against children.
I’ve been fortunate to live in other cities but I have also travelled right across the world from Africa, South East Asia, Europe and South America. What makes Melbourne so unique is its diversity. We’re surrounded by such richness, a wonderful hospitality industry, and the capacity to drive 45 minutes down the coast and have a break. Melbourne is the perfect blend of all things wonderful bundled into one city. Thanks taking the time to speak with us Elliot and keep up the amazing work!