swear353

How to intervene, non-violently?

Yesterday, as part of White Ribbon Day, I flew to Melbourne and participated in a panel discussion about violence against women for the Law Institute of Victoria, and at the end of the talk, all 160-odd of us in the room stood to swear the White Ribbon oath ...

The panel consisted of Waleed Aly, a lecturer in politics at Monash University, who also works within the Global Terrorism Research Centre and will next year start hosting the breakfast show on Radio National.

The moderator was Judge Felicity Hampel SC, of the County Court of Victoria, who's also been on the Victorian Law Reform Commission, where she's made recommendations on the reform of defences to homicide, sexual offences, and access to assisted reproductive technology.

And then there was me, White Ribbon ambassador, holding a glass of red wine.

There must have been at least one hundred lawyers and barristers in the room, as well as four judges, so it was a pretty cluey crowd and, I daresay, a group well versed in the art of duplicity and seeing people lie under oath.

So as we said the words of the White Ribbon oath ...

I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women, this is my oath.

... I had to wonder how many of the men and women in that room would actually stick by the words they were uttering.

Being a shit-stirrer, I grabbed the mic after we'd finished and asked them to think how they'd react if they saw three Commanchero bikers beating up a woman in the street.

How many would actually intervene?

There was silence, I had another sip of red and sat back down.

It was, however, a pertinent question for that crowd.

In 2007, lawyer Brendan Keilar was shot dead in a central Melbourne street while trying to intervene in the assault of a woman he had never met - Kara Douglas - who was being roughed up by a Hells Angel bikie, Christopher Wayne Hudson.

Keilar, 43, as well as a 25-year old Dutch backpacker, Paul de Waard, attempted to assist Douglas. Hudson pulled a gun and shot all three.

Keilar was fatally wounded in the head. de Waard and Douglas were popped in the upper body. Douglas later had a kidney removed and de Waard returned to the Netherlands to undergo extensive rehabilitation.

It's a bad story, a worst case scenario, but a variant of this is often what keeps a lot of men silent when they do encounter violence towards women.

It's one thing to pull up your mate on a sexist joke or to offer dissent when a relative or colleague makes light of domestic violence - but when it comes to strangers, how many guys have the balls to do the same?

And more pertinently - how many have the tools?

I've read a lot of columns about violence against women this week, and heard and watched many interviews, but none has actually mapped out how a bloke should step into a heated situation, aid the woman, and not get his head punched in or do the same to the perpetrator.

The easier situation is where someone you don't know makes an off-colour comment.

Having experienced this, this is how I've reacted:

ME: "Maaaaate, seriously, what if that was your mum? Or your sister?"

THEM: "It's not."

ME: "Yeah, but that's someone's daughter. How would you feel if someone said that about your daughter?"

THEM: "My daughter wouldn't dress like a slut."

ME: "Rightio, mate. I hope she never has to hear those words spoken about her."

This can obviously go downhill fast, particularly with guys who are drunk or aggro. Such as:

THEM: "You saying my daughter's a slut?" or "What's this got to do with my mum or my sister? What the f--- you trying to say?"

ME: "I'm just saying all women are someone's daughter, and it doesn't hurt to show some respect. I certainly mean no disrespect to your family."

If he keeps getting aggro, you leave.

Dr Michael Flood, a researcher for White Ribbon, makes these suggestions:

Make your concern plain: Say "That's sexist and I don't think it's funny" or "I think those words are really hurtful," or refrain from laughing.

Personalise the violence or injustice: Bring it home. Make the harms associated with violence more real by personalising them. "What if that was your sister / daughter / mother?" Describe the experiences of people you know or people you've read about and could know.

Provide information: Highlight the facts and debunk the myths.

Question the assumption: Challenge the logic of the statement. No one deserves to be raped, beaten or stalked. No one asks for it. No one likes it. Convey your feelings and principles.

Show emotion and passion: Show that you're deeply affected by what was said or done: sad, angry, etc. Tell them that these types of statements make you uncomfortable and ask them not to say these things around you.

Use humour: Playfully question sexist and derogatory remarks.

Ask for an explanation: Ask, "What are you saying?", to invite critical reflection and change.

Remind him of his 'best self': Say, "Come on, you are better than that".

Invite group pressure: Say in front of others, "I don't feel good about this. Does anyone else feel uncomfortable too?"

However, the reality of actual violence against women is that most of the time it happens in seclusion, where there are no prying eyes.

If a guy is prepared to be violent with a woman in public, it usually means one or more of three things: he's drunk, he's high, or he's so physically imposing, he's confident of not being confronted.

Personally, I'd have to rely on instinct in a scenario like this, but that's often not the best guide. My guess is that plenty of men would charge in and punch the guy being violent towards the woman.

There's a great lesson: stand up to violence with more violence.

Dr Flood makes these suggestions: "When you encounter a violent incident, direct physical confrontation is rarely appropriate."

Instead:

Call the police.

Be a witness: Stand far enough away to be safe but close enough for the violent person to see you and be aware that they are being watched.

Ask others who are nearby to help.

Verbally intervene: Tell the violent person clearly that his actions are not okay, they are a crime, and you are calling the police. Ask the victim if she needs help.

Create a distraction: ask for directions or the time – such that the abused person has time to get away or the perpetrator slows down or ceases his violence.

Which are all great suggestions.

However, I wondering how many of you have had to deal with this in real life and how you've dealt with it?

What did you do? How did you intervene so that nobody got hurt, and hopefully, the perpetrator learned something?

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Intervene in violent incidents. Men can intervene in other men’s violence against women, that is, in incidents or situations of violence as they take place. When you encounter a violent incident, direct physical confrontation is rarely appropriate. Instead:

  • Call the police.
  • Be a witness. Stand far enough away to be safe but close enough for the violent person to see you and be aware that they are being watched.
  • Ask others who are nearby to help.
  • Verbally intervene. Tell the violent person clearly that his actions are not okay, they are a crime, and you are calling the police. Ask the victim if she needs help.
  • Create a distraction – ask for directions or the time – such that the abused person has time to get away or the perpetrator slows down or ceases his violence.

There are other strategies which you may use either during or after the incident.

  • Talk to a friend who is verbally or physically abusive to his partner. Tell him that what you witnessed was not okay, and he needs to get some help.
  • Talk to a group of the perpetrator’s or victim’s friends and, together, decide on a course of action.