Violence against women in the national spotlight

By: Bryony Green, Manager, Philanthropic Collaboration & Sub-Funds, Victorian Women's Trust

Public awareness around family violence is at an all time high. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister for Women announced a $100 million funding package to address family violence. In Victoria, the Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV) is shining a light on its pervasive and destructive nature.

Week by week the media reports on another woman being brutally murdered by a family member or their current or former partner. Just in the last three weeks we heard of a 12-year-old girl allegedly murdered by her stepfather; heavily pregnant Kirralee Dugo, 37, who was killed by her partner from fatal head injuries, chest injuries and stab wounds; Tara Brown, 24, who was allegedly bashed to death by her estranged partner; and Karina Lock, 49, who was shot dead by her former partner at McDonalds.

The Victorian Women’s Trust, through its grants, law reform, advocacy and projects (such as Be the Hero), has been tackling this issue for 30 years now. This longstanding commitment to address family violence has given us a deep understanding of community needs and responses.

With part of our mission to make Australia safe so women don’t have to live in fear of harm and discrimination, like many others, we made a submission to the RCFV. Below are some of the key reflections:
 

REFLECTION NO. 1: REFRAMING MALE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN

Research shows that it is overwhelmingly women and children who are affected by family violence, and men who are violent towards them. For this reason, family violence is described as being ‘gendered’. Although family violence is gendered, men may also be affected by it.

Our plea is for greater intellectual honesty in analyzing the problem of violence in our society. We should be asking what we are doing in our society that shapes and embeds cultural and social conditions that source male violence that harms women and children.

By all means examine the family violence services and other systems that are in place and which can be better supported, but let’s not lose sight of the need to examine the social and cultural forces at work that create and maintain the deep, sexist and misogynistic attitudes underpinning the violent behavior of many Australian men.

We should be able and mature enough to do this without becoming overly defensive. Positive manhood and non-violent models of masculinity are not under attack. What needs changing and rendered unacceptable (and indeed, abnormal) is the expression of an Australian masculinity that has normalized harm to women and children.
 

REFLECTION NO. 2: THE PASSIVE VOICE OBSCURES PUBLIC ANALYSIS AND DEFLECTS COMMUNITY DEBATE

Dr Jackson Katz is a gifted analyst, writer, communicator and anti-violence campaigner argues that one of the ways we hold ourselves back in dealing with the problem of violence in our society is that we have subconsciously developed a cultural script that at its most fundamental shies away from naming the problem in a honest fashion.

By borrowing from linguist Julia Penelope’s work, he dissects how the passive voice harms women through the following sequence of sentences:

  1. John beat Mary.
  2. Mary was beaten by John.
  3. Mary was beaten.
  4. Mary was battered.
  5. Mary is a battered woman.

The first sentence is a good, active English sentence and names what it is. However, each sentence after that, the weight shifts away from John. In the final sentence, Mary’s very identity – Mary is a battered woman – has been created by the now absent John.

Taking the cue from Penelope and Katz, let’s now go back to the simple sentence: John beat Mary.

It is crucial that we keep this focus on John. We can then ask (and research if necessary) the important  questions about John – why on earth did he beat Mary in the first place? Has he done so before? What harm did he cause her? Did he harm others in the process? What caused him to do so? What has made him think he can do this sort of thing? What kind of social license does he think he has got? What are we going to do to stop him from beating Mary? Where must we start?
 

REFLECTION NO.3: PROFOUND CULTURAL SHIFT HAS TO OCCUR – AND CAN OCCUR

More CCTV cameras on street ‘hotspots,’ more policing, tougher sentencing and alarm systems for women are necessary and will deliver some beneficial outcomes for many women and children. But even in combination, they will not lead to significant reductions in rates of sexual assault and family violence because they occur late in the process.

They do not address the attitudes and behaviours that source the violence. 

Community leadership can produce the profound cultural change that paints violence as socially unattractive and inappropriate behaviour. Australian men have a special role here. They can build and sustain a model of male leadership that accepts they have a critical role to play in actively contesting the violent attitudes and behaviours of their peers – in their families and kinship groups, at work, in their sports clubs and other social groups.
 

We think men’s leadership can make the difference in producing the profound change across Australia that reduces violence against women and children, but how can this be achieved?

For us, the breakthrough moment occurred in 2009 when our organization, the Victorian Women’s Trust, designed and launched an innovative, web-based violence prevention program for boys and young men − Be the Hero! The project drew a great deal of  its inspiration from the work of globally-respected anti violence campaigner, Dr. Jackson Katz and his “bystander” model that encourages boys and young men to build their lives to be free of violence. 

In this approach, men play the crucial leadership role in violence prevention. They challenge the beliefs and attitudes of their male peers and foster the critical self-examination that triggers changes in behaviour. In the space of only a couple of years, the experience of the Be the Hero! program shows that this shift can be quite remarkable.

To read the full copy of the submission, click here
Submission to the RCFV written by Mary Crooks AO and Georgie Proud.

Sep. 29, 2015

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