Australia’s problem with violence against women is out of control. We know this. We see the headlines – it feels like every week, another woman has died at the hands of a man.
Today 27-year-old Henry Hammond was charged with the murder of 25-year-old Courtney Herron, whose body was found in a Melbourne park after what detectives called a “horrendous bashing”.
Last week, a man was charged with murder after a woman was stabbed in Randwick. In March, dentist Preethi Reddy‘s body was found in the boot of a car in Sydney. In January, a Perth accountant pleaded guilty for murdering his wife in late 2018. Impact reports that 20 Australian women have been killed since the beginning of this year. Then there’s the horrendous attitudes toward sexual violence. Last week, it was reported that 1 in 7 young Australians believed it was OK to force a women into sex, if she initiated the act and changed her mind.
We hear the stats around violent behaviour against women constantly. 1 in 5 women has experienced sexual violence. 85% of women have been sexually harassed. On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. 1 in 3 Australian women have experienced physical violence by the age of 15. We’re shocked, we’re horrified – but what are we going to do about it?
I’m writing this not as an expert, but as an Australian woman who is fucking fed up. I am tired of seeing my gender in the headlines as victims of violence, and I’m tired of seeing evidence that clearly, there are ingrained issues in this country that make violence against women a regular reality. Here’s what I think needs to change.
1. Change The Dialogue
Victoria’s Assistant Police Commissioner Luke Cornelius made a brilliant statement in the wake of Courtney Herron’s murder.
“This is about men’s behaviour, not about women’s. For me as a man, it gives me pause for reflection, about what is it about our community that makes men think its okay to attack women.”
This is how we need to talk about violence against women, and it’s a rarity.
Prior to this, I wrote about how Detective Inspector Stamper (also involved in the Courtney Herron case) warned people to be careful following the murder of Eurydice Dixon last year. I understand why people do this. They mean well – they want people to be safe.
But using language like “be careful” and “don’t do x, y, z” just reinforces the attitude that it’s up to women to protect themselves, not for men to stop harassing them, committing violent acts towards them, or murdering them. This is the attitude that fuels arguments like “why was she walking alone at night”, “why was she wearing revealing clothing”, “she shouldn’t have been so drunk”. These are toxic arguments that need to be shut down, not encouraged.
We KNOW how to protect ourselves. We’ve been doing it since we were children, we’ve been taught pretty much from the moment we could interact with adults that we have to be careful of strangers, of male strangers in particular – actually, of men in general.
Let’s commit to talking about the perpetrators actions, not about what the victim or future victims could do to stay safe.
2. Speak Up
It’s more than just changing our own dialogue though – we have to change the conversation. That means when you hear people putting the blame on women for violence inflicted against them, speak up. Don’t let that shit slide – letting people continue on thinking the way they speak about women is fine, is what keeps that toxic attitude in them alive.
Most people aren’t supportive of violence against women. But they may not even realise the way they speak about women fuels the culture in which violence against women becomes a passable offence in the mind of someone else. If you sit back while your grotty mate makes a rape joke or grabs a woman’s ass because he thinks it’s fine to sexually harass women – you’re part of the problem. Do better – shut that shit down.
3. Improve Sex Education In Schools
This one is complex – I’m not necessarily saying the Australian curriculum isn’t providing enough education when it comes to consent and violence against women. I can’t be the judge of that given I finished school over a decade ago. I can tell you when I was in school, there was very little time given to consent education and the nuances of what consent does/doesn’t look like, and I came out of school with very little understanding of where to draw the line.
I know teachers who say it’s far better now, but could be improved and modernised. Some say it’s still woeful. Like I said, I can’t be the judge of this. But what I can say is that school is the one place we can, as a country, educate the majority of a generation. We can’t rely on parents – we aren’t all lucky enough to have families who will talk transparently about this stuff. It has to come from school, in my opinion.
But this doesn’t even have to be left to a huge change in the national curriculum, necessarily. I remember having guests invited to the school to talk about everything from date rape to periods, outside of the general sex education syllabus. Maybe the answer is – start getting influential ambassadors to talk to students about what consent does/doesn’t look like, why we all need to work together to prevent violence against women, how to deal with anger without resorting to violence.
And if you’re a person of influence, someone kids would look up to – consider getting in touch with relevant foundations to become an ambassador. Use your influence for good, you know?
4. Continue The Fight
This is a no-brainer. Every time a woman is murdered – give a shit. Every time you see a factual headline featuring horrific stats about attitudes toward consent – share, comment. Keeping violence against women in the national conversation is integral to getting pressure on the governments – state and federal – to take notice. This is a national problem, and we need to keep talking about it so something is done.
I’m sure things are more complex than my solutions. But fuck it – when are we going to actually DO something to change this horrific trend? At the very least, let’s keep trying to find the solutions that might work, you know?
5. Men, Get Involved
Violence against women statistics will never change if men aren’t as passionate as we are about changing the culture. We need your voices and your support because it’s really about changing MALE attitudes toward violence. Maybe you’re not someone who would ever assault a woman. That doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the problem if you’re not getting involved – because a huge part of the problem is people’s passive acceptance which lets a toxic culture continue unchecked.
It’s a national problem – so let’s work together to address it.
If you need to speak to someone about your own experiences, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or 1800RESPECT. If you suspect someone you know may be experiencing abuse, please call CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, call 000.