Men behaving badly towards women is a problem in all levels of society, not just rugby league, writes  Catharine Lumby.

Another footy season. Another alleged assault on a woman. Maybe if we got rid of the NRL or the AFL all of these allegations of violence against women would stop.

And if it was that easy I'd be joining the queue to have footy banned. As someone who has worked on education programs for league players about their off-field behaviour I have to admit I feel like punching a wall every time the front pages light up with fresh allegations.

The standard media analysis for past allegations goes this way: "Footy players are obviously thugs. They're paid too much. They can't cope with the fame. They think they can get away with anything or anyone they want."

The solution? Apparently we keep them away from money, booze and women and only let them out to entertain us - gladiator style - on the paddock. After that we lock them in their bedrooms and put bars on the windows.

It would be truly wonderful if solving violence against women and children were so simple. Unfortunately, 85 per cent of sexual assaults against women go unreported in Australia. The handful brought before the courts are committed by a disturbingly large range of men. Some make too much money in other professions: like merchant banking or medicine. Others are role models: teachers and priests.

Sexual and physical violence against women and children is genuinely epidemic. There are - and this beggars belief - still men walking around who think that women "ask for it" because of how they're dressed. There are men who think their wives and their kids "belong" to them.

The good news is that we've come a long way from the days when domestic violence was considered something that should be left for wives to sort out with their husbands. I have vivid memories of seeing that exact scenario played out in the town where I grew up, though fortunately not in my own home. In the past a lot of sexual assault and violence prevention work focused solely on assisting survivors to recover and ensuring the perpetrators were brought to justice. That work remains important. But moving things forward will involve more: it means focusing on prevention, not just on repairing the damage.

The manager of Rape Crisis NSW, Karen Willis, who also works with the NRL, exemplifies this new direction. Like many in her field, she has spent her career underpaid and overworked helping survivors of assault. She also does innovative research, with Professor Moira Carmody at the University of Western Sydney, into how to prevent this violence in the first place.

Their work points to one overwhelming conclusion: stopping violence against women means recognising that it happens across social classes and realising that we have to start young if we want to change the attitudes and behaviours that give men excuses to abuse women and children.

People like Willis continue to work with the NRL because they have a real commitment to changing the culture. She and I are under no illusions that every footy player will live up to the basic expectations that are set for them.

But we also recognise that the NRL is a male-dominated organisation that is actually working for change and that there are lots of other organisations we'd like to see following their lead.

The alternative? We could, of course, sit back and think we can spot the men who assault women by their postcode, their sporting code or how prominently the assault is featured in the media. The statistics point in the other direction: the assault of women and children is a problem we all need to take responsibility for and work to change.

Professor Catharine Lumby is the director of the journalism and media research centre at UNSW. She is on the education and welfare committee of the National Rugby League.