Monday, 1 February 2016

Domestic violence in Australia - how do we change the thinking?

Australia has a problem with violence against women. It's a BIG problem. Social media organisation, Destroy The Joint, started a project called Counting Dead Women in 2012 - tallying the number of women who died violently at the hands of men. Last year, that number reached 79. 79 dead women - more than one a week. Dead at the hands of a man, and all too often that man was someone they knew - a partner, an ex-partner, a family member. Since the beginning of this year, four women have been killed - the fourth was added to the tally this morning, and this artwork is new. 
Photo: Destroy the Joint
Domestic violence is a huge issue in this country. It doesn't only affect women - there are children being hurt and killed, and men too. But, overwhelmingly, it is women who are the largest group of victims of violence, and most often it is perpetrated by men. 

This is an issue that affects people at every level of society. Domestic violence makes no distinction between the well off and those who are struggling financially. It crosses cultural boundaries. It is in our cities and in our country towns. Old and young women, and those in between have all been victims. Single women and those in relationships are potentially both at risk. 

Common to all is the fear, the sense of powerlessness, the isolation, the feeling that there is no one they can talk to and nowhere safe to go. The most dangerous time for many women is after they leave and abusive relationship - and yet there is still a widely held attitude that condemns women for staying in those very relationships. "WHY didn't she leave?" is a question that is either asked or inferred in nearly every conversation that is had around an incident of domestic violence. 

Women who stand up and speak out against the violence often become targets too.  Writer Clementine Ford has spoken out vocally after fielding incomprehensible levels of attacks on social media after naming and shaming an internet troll who leveled abuse at her - one of many, and the one who was the straw that broke the camel's back. In her article from December 2015, she says that she did it because too many women are scared to stand up to the trolls, are frightened by the threats, and she was sick of women having to take responsibility for the actions of those male abusers. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, there was another backlash on social media and she had yet more abuse levelled at her. But there was also support - lots of support, such as this article by Koraly Dimitriadis, who wrote it to thank Ford for her stand, and went on to voice the fears that so many women - those in the public eye and those not - feel when they try to stand up for themselves against abuse.

Part of the problem is a deeply embedded cultural attitude of male empowerment and entitlement. Regardless of the fact that we live in the first country to give women the vote, and has legislated to ensure that there are no barriers to opportunities based on gender, there is still a prevailing attitude that a woman who is raped somehow 'asked for it', and that it's a woman's fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time - not the perpetrator's fault for committing the act of violence in the first place. 

Just last month, former MP Mark Latham, in a program on commercial radio, gave his opinion of the anti domestic violence campaign, refuting the seriousness of the issue, saying:
Blokes have lost their self-esteem, they're welfare dependent, they've got other troubles, drugs, alcohol in their life. It's that loss of self-esteem where I think they use the domestic violence as a coping mechanism to get over all the other crap they've got in their lives. So demonising men and making them feel worse about themselves is not going to solve the problem.
"They use domestic violence as a coping mechanism to get over all the other crap they've got in their lives." A coping mechanism. Taking the next logical step, I wonder what kind of lengths, based on Latham's twisted reasoning, it would be OK for a woman who's been beaten up by her partner might then be allowed to retaliate - in order to be able to cope with the 'crap' of being beaten in the first place? Because THAT'S how utterly wrong, not to mention frightening, his view of the situation appears. Unfortunately, the culture of victim blaming adds another layer to the issue, and it is all too common to see men and women looking to put the victims at fault rather than the perpetrators.

In Latham's view, as stated in her response in the Sydney Morning Herald, Kasey Edwards writes:
... Latham's comments reveal a lot more than his ignorance. His attempt to minimise the horror and prevalence of domestic violence gives us a chilling insight into the mindset that justifies domestic violence in the first place. Domestic violence is a consequence of men's feelings of entitlement; the belief that they have a right to power and control at any cost, even if it costs the lives of women and children.
Latham is far from alone in this attitude. In a horrifying development, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story yesterday about a global meetup of followers of the Return of Kings website, with meetings planned in Australia in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. The man behind Return of Kings, Daryush Valizadeh, espouses what he calls neomasculinity - if you click on the link you will see his definition. He blogs about what he sees as the breakdown of society, caused by feminism, and bemoans the loss of traditional gender roles and male power. Having gained a large online following, the idea of the meetups - at secret locations and times - is to allow those followers living in the same places to create communities of support for each other with like-minded men. That there are four meetups planned for Australian locations indicates that there are enough followers who think like Valizadeh, and feel that it is entirely valid.

Chillingly, one of his mandates, published recently online, is a call to legalise rape on private property - stating on his blog:
Without daddy government to protect her, a girl would absolutely not enter a private room with a man she doesn't know or trust unless she is absolutely sure she is ready to sleep with him.
The full blog post can be read HERE.

Valizadeh has announced on his site that he plans to come to Australia for the meetups on 6 February. In 2014, his associate, Julien Blanc, was deported in the wake of running seminars that taught men how to manipulate women into having sex. Then Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, said to Sky News at the time, "This guy wasn't pushing forward political ideas, he was putting a view that was derogatory to women and that's just something that our values abhor in this country." A petition has been started since news of the 6 February meetups asking that the Department of Immigration deny entry to Valizadeh on the same grounds. You can sign the petition by following THIS LINK.

In September 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull allocated $100M funding directly to the cause of violence against women, and the development of new strategies country-wide to begin addressing the problem. It's a start. If the money is properly directed to practical, grass-roots strategies that help women and children escape untenable situations, and find new and safe places to live and rebuild their lives, that will be a wonderful thing. But there also needs to be education from the ground up to create a shift in the way we even think about violence against women. That's not a quick fix. That will take generations of men coming to the table and helping to change attitudes as well. This is a national issue and if affects men, women and children everywhere, so everyone has to be part of fixing it.  

In the meantime, events like the planned meetup of neanderthals who think it's right and proper for men to have full dominance over women, resorting to rape and beatings if required, have no place here. People like Valizadeh have no place in this country either, if we're going to back the Prime Minister's program. Please sign the petition to have his entry to the country blocked. Please feel free to share this post to help create more awareness of just how much work there is still to do before we achieve real, long term changes, and women don't always have to be looking over their shoulders.

No comments:

Post a Comment