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Re-thinking violence against women

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Susie is 21. She’s a daughter and sister. In five months, she’ll be an aunt. She’s just finished university exams and heads out to celebrate with friends. 

Within the first two hours at the bar, she has been groped twice. The first was explicit—a leering drunk, his breath reeking, grasps her chest. She complains to the security guard and the man is escorted from the premises.

Susie doesn’t see the second bloke. She’s wending her way through a throng of people, and feels an unwanted touch from behind. She turns, quickly studies the unfamiliar faces, but everyone acts as if nothing has happened. Susie continues to the bar—she’s unfortunately familiar with men taking advantage in crowds.

This kind of stuff happens day in, day out. Many women have come to think of it as inevitable. But what would you have done if a mate did this? Would you have said anything? And if you think it has nothing to do with the guy who gets home and stomps his pregnant partner, or the bloke who breaks his wife’s nose with his fist, I’ve got something to tell you: it’s all connected. The casual groping, the sick sense of entitlement, the disrespect—all of it slowly erodes our attitudes towards women. Bit by bit our standards are lowered until this kind of behaviour becomes a form of endorsement of violence towards women.

So I have two challenges for you. The first is for all of you: when a woman is jeered, groped, bashed or raped I want you to consider the man who did it, and the culture which encouraged it. I want you to consider why we so ardently place the emphasis on the woman—why was she there? what was she wearing?—rather than on the man’s indecent entitlement, grubbiness and criminality. This doesn’t mean we stop talking about safety. That’s common sense. But I’m tired of how we talk about violence against women.

The second challenge is to blokes: I want you to help make indecency against women deeply shameful. I want you to understand that this is not solely a feminist issue. It’s a social issue, a moral issue and a men’s issue. 

I want you to have hard conversations with your friends, your sons, your teammates, your colleagues. And I’m not just talking about standing up to the men who bash and rape women—I’m also talking about those who slander strangers on the street; the cowards who touch women on crowded trams. 

I want parents explaining to their sons that you treat women compassionately and thoughtfully. I want coaches to explain to their players that women are not trophies. And I want prominent men speaking loudly about this more often.

They’re my challenges. Now let me explain to you the urgency.  

Violence against women is rampant. In Victoria, in the year up to March 2013, there were nearly 20,000 recorded offenses of family violence. In the previous two financial years, the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service received more than 50,000 calls to its crisis hotline in Victoria alone

And it’s an international problem. Just a few weeks ago the World Health Organisation released its findings into violence against women and described it as a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.” 

Their multiple studies found that 1 in 3 women worldwide had been either physically or sexually assaulted. Linger on that statistic. It’s appalling. Violence against women everywhere is very, very common.

Now consider this: when we focus on the victim, there is an implicit suggestion that male violence is just something we should all put up with—that it’s some immovable cloud that hangs over society. Well, I don’t think so. 

We’re never going to extinguish all violence. We can’t create a utopia. And I’m not suggesting that parents don’t talk to their children about safety. What I’m saying is that the emphasis on the victim is disproportionate and that’s damaging because men aren’t having hard conversations with each other.

So, guys: take a stand. Examine your own behaviour and attitudes. Re-calibrate whatever weird sense of manhood might tell you that the casual molestation of women is okay. This is your issue just as much as anybody else’s. 

 

Ken Lay
Chief Commissioner of Police