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Victorians must speak out to tackle culture of violence against women and children

Date

Natasha Stott Despoja

Glossy magazines featuring bashed and bloodied models in couture and rappers singing abuse feed into violence against women.

Illustration: John Spooner.

Illustration: John Spooner.

Kelly Thompson, Luke Batty, Fiona Warzywoda, Indiana and Savannah – these are names that have dominated the news in recent weeks and months. They are the names of just some of those whose lives have been violently cut short in circumstances we struggle to comprehend.

The confronting nature of their deaths has generated outrage and highlighted the prevalence and severity of violence against women and their children.

A woman is killed nearly every week in Australia by a male partner or ex-partner – often while she is trying to leave the relationship.  

These incidents have triggered an outcry and what the chief executive of Domestic Violence Victoria, Fiona McCormack, has described as "fury" among those working in the sector.

These cases represent the tip of the iceberg.

A woman is killed nearly every week in Australia by a male partner or ex-partner – often while she is trying to leave the relationship. Most of these murders are the ultimate act in a longer history of domestic violence.

The "retaliatory" murders of children – where the intention is to cause maximum possible pain and harm to the other parent – again usually occur in the context of a history of domestic violence, and are most often perpetrated by fathers or stepfathers.

Most men are not violent. But the vast majority of acts of domestic violence are perpetrated by men against women. Men have to take responsibility.

Figures from the 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics show that women are more than three times more likely than men to have experienced violence by an intimate partner since 15 years of age.

The same research highlights that there is significant under-reporting of violence against women, with an estimated 67 per cent of women not contacting police after recent incidents of physical assault by a male.

Other research has shown that more than a third of women who experienced violence by a previous partner said their children had witnessed the violence.

We need to ask what it is – in the messages our society sends to men about masculinity, relationships, and how they should treat women – that makes some feel they can not only be violent towards women and their children, but kill them. Men, above all, need to ask these questions.

These are uncomfortable questions – we do not want to think that in 2014 our society continues to treat women and men differently. But the research tells us that it is attitudes toward gender roles, and power differentials between men and women, that are the most significant factors determining levels of violence against women and their children.

This sickening violence has to stop. But where to start? Or start again, since women have been wrestling with these problems forever, and most particularly since the shelter movement of the end of the last century.

In recent weeks we have seen first the victims blamed, then police, the legal system and governments. Perpetrators, and an examination of what drives their behaviour, are surprisingly absent from the debate.

Violence against women and their children will not stop if we cannot move people beyond the current understanding about what it is and why it happens. We know it exists but often it is thought about as something that happens to other people, in poorer areas or people from other countries.

Jill Meagher's widowed husband Tom recently published an essay which acknowledged the difficulty in mobilising community outrage in a sustained way.

However, there are many things we can do in addition to the powerful 30,000 plus strong walk along a main street of a capital city.

These include daily acts of courage in addressing the culture that allows violence to occur, and confronting and naming the attitudes, beliefs and distorted values that justify, excuse, minimise or hide violence against women and their children.

We must recognise the links between the views, beliefs and attitudes, which demean, degrade and diminish women, and the existence of violence against women and their children.

We can talk to the woman at work who seems to be distressed by the constant calls and text messages from her husband or boyfriend.

We can quietly tell the teenager at the barbecue that the way he talks about girls is inappropriate and disrespectful.

We can refuse to be silent, even at the risk of being considered, or called, “soft”, “man-hating”, “wrong”, (the kind of comments directed at me recently online), a “wowser”, someone who “cannot take a joke”, “politically correct” or “no fun to be around”.

We can speak out against ill-thought campaigns that ignore the suffering and devastation of domestic violence, such as the one launched by Avalon Airport in Victoria last month, which said “Fly domestic without having one”.

We must question magazines and fashion designers that choose to use violence against women to sell. The April edition of Italian Vogue features bashed and bloodied models in couture thus, glamorising injured and even dead women.

Recently, the New Zealand Immigration department barred rap collective Odd Future from entry based on evidence of incitement to violence against a young Australian woman activist.

At a concert in Sydney last year, Tyler the Creator of Odd Future unleashed a tirade of verbal abuse against 24-year-old Talitha Stone, an activist with grassroots organisation Collective Shout which targets corporations, advertisers, marketers and media that objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services.

And what message do songs like Break A Bitch ‘Til I Die, Can You Control Yo Hoe? and Kim (“Don’t you get it bitch, no one can hear you? Now shut the f--- up and get what’s comin to you”), which condone and even celebrate violence against women in a way that is deeply disturbing, send to impressionable boys and girls?

We should consider our own behaviours and attitudes, and be strong role models for our children, families and friends. Especially our boy children.

We are all responsible for shifting the social norms that blame, excuse, minimise and justify violence against women and their children.

It is early days for the organisation I chair, the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children. We have been established to spur on the community, businesses, and governments in the area of primary prevention: preventing violence before it occurs.

Across our nation, we need to have a mature and assured conversation about men and women, our roles, rights and responsibilities if we are going to make a real and lasting difference in reducing the experience and impact of violence against women and their children in our country.

Natasha Stott Despoja is the Chair of the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children.

14 comments so far

  • Natasha - this conversation should have occurred many years ago.
    In Melbourne's northern suburbs a few years ago, a man murdered his three children and then himself whilst another murdered his two year old daughter.
    Although your article started with five recent names - I would guess there would be more than a hundred names for similar situations over the last few years.
    In addition, these conversations must include any links in the rise of gratuitous violence via violence saturation within popular culture - i.e. Games such as COD & GTA, and the highly popular Game of Thrones.
    It would help your call for a discussion if we knew just how much these 'pastimes' contributed to desensitising people against wanton violence.

    Commenter
    Jump
    Date and time
    April 30, 2014, 3:26AM
    • this has been going on for ever. What I don't understand is why women still take a risk and get into relationships with men in the first place. Women have their own incomes now and therefore can be totally independent of men.

      Commenter
      Saint Matthew
      Date and time
      April 30, 2014, 11:32AM
    • Very accurate article compared to most, in fact last week I witnessed whilst my facebook account was partially hijacked, that in regards to this article suggesting take action and stop using excuses. It seemed many were angry for making those excuses so defended their excuses. This undermines all that the more assertive affirmative action women's work to advance the policing of violence. However, these women were right, they had a good point even if clouded by a bias. because recent events evidence they may be in more danger if they take action, therefore we are going backwards as it seems now, that maybe 60% are deciding to stay as they cant trust the AVO process which is the real problem, to which I shall post solutions in a following post.

      Commenter
      Brian Woods
      Date and time
      April 30, 2014, 11:56AM
    • The article would have been much more profound and useful if it was titled "Victorians must speak out to tackle the culture of violence" Full stop. Omit the references to specific targets, that just diminishes the argument.

      Commenter
      maria
      Date and time
      April 30, 2014, 4:18PM
  • Thank you.We need consistent exploration of gender roles and how identity in the media shapes us. Women are subjects not objects. Highly recommend Miss Representation a documentary available on youtube.

    Commenter
    cnk
    Date and time
    April 30, 2014, 5:21AM
    • Yes it is all true but why do middle class feminists think that running around spreading disapproval will change what is a deep seated social issue?? "Give a disapproving look today", wear a ribbon that says you are a good person who disapproves of domestic violence?? Feminists keep expressing their outrage and I agree wholeheartedly with the outrage but the proposed solutions are utterly utterly flimsy and even a tad pathetic.

      Domestic violence begins in the home, what are we doing to prevent boys and girls from being exposed to domestic violence? Mothers and well as fathers, who are emotionally and psychologically violent, give rise to violent men as well as women who accept violence as the norm and so are drawn to violent men. Programs that support men who are violent to become self aware, programs that support women to recognise what it is and seek help. Beyond Blue is not a good organisation we need emergency services for men to seek help when they realise they are a perpetrator but don't want to be and who need medication and psychological support to get out of the spiral of despair. You cannot change men with stern looks, they are often suffering for overwhelming rage and need help to stop their behaviour.

      A middle class disapproval squad will get nowhere ever. Solutions people, we need solutions.

      Commenter
      Belle
      Date and time
      April 30, 2014, 7:11AM
      • I agree with all you have said here Natasha. I am male and have a child I rarely get to see. I am not violent and would not hit or threaten a woman in million years. Yet I have suffered truamatic domestic violence at the hands of a woman. Not physical; women don't generally don't/can't do that. They have other ways, particularly when a child is involved. I think we also need a conversation about what leads otherwise non violent men to such terrible acts. If I I could explain what I have been put through over the years, you might have a better idea of why a man's most basic instincts can run amuck if they don't possess the self control in these situations. Through a process of family law, the courts, and expensive barristers, I have been abused, lied about and had my emotions torn to shreds. Men grow up in a far more violent world than women and it's always been the way - but women are not silly and they know how to commit family violence the quiet way, psychological violence. Comparatively, men's pain is invisible to the outside world. Many women have much to answer for in the process of "violence". It might come a s shock, but women can be violent and it happens every day. Our social system does not seem to recognise what a woman can drive a man to do - It's unacceptable, invisible and ignored. I'm not talking about random murders, such as the one that took the life of the beautiful Jill Meagher. My point is simply that we should be looking at what women are actually doing to contribute to this problem. No excuses here for violent men, but I have found it takes two to tango.

        Commenter
        Two Sides
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        April 30, 2014, 7:11AM
        • If you are only concerned about violence against one gender and not the other, you are a sexist hypocrite.

          Adrian Smyth

          Commenter
          Adrian Smyth
          Date and time
          April 30, 2014, 7:19AM
          • But women commit the vast majority of violence against children, including child murders.

            But I guess that's "different".

            Commenter
            zzz
            Date and time
            April 30, 2014, 7:40AM
            • Great article Natasha.

              For my two cents worth there is a critical step missing from your detail, although I completely agree with everything you suggest we need to do. Most critically I think, the responsibility for exacting change lies with the parents of young boys today. They need to instill in these boys today the values that underpin their behaviour tomorrow. Ergo, if they learn to treat women with equity and respect, they will grow into men who will carry those values forward and hopefully transmit those same values to the next generation. In this way we get tackle the problem of violence against women before it has a chance to start.

              Equally, the parents of young girls today, should be teaching their girls that it's not ok for them to be treated like objects, not to settle for men who treat them badly. We need to nourish and build their sense of self worth and position in our society.

              By creating a critical mass of people who don't share values of violence against women, the buy in to media, "entertainment" and other social cultural transmissions that perpetuate the acceptability of violence against women will lose traction in the mainstream.

              It's a huge responsibility, and big job to be sure, but thats where I believe we can exact real change over time.

              Commenter
              Cyndy100
              Date and time
              April 30, 2014, 7:46AM

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