On 26th of February, I was invited to take part in a blogger forum on domestic violence. Rosie Batty (Australian of the Year), Detective Superintendent, Rod Jouning ( Head of Sexual and Family Violence Unit, Victoria Police) and Sandra Jacobs (the Nappy Collective) were on the panel. Gian Rooney expertly MCd the evening and Richenda Vermuelen (ntegrity) facilitated the blogger discussion.
Views expressed below are my own, supported, where mentioned, by the members of the panel.
This is an issue I have direct experience with and feel very strongly about. I do not expect you to agree with everything I say, but I do ask that you read and think.
On the day of the Nappy Collective’s blogger forum on domestic violence, the number of women killed by their intimate partners in 2015 stood at 14. Today it is 15. That’s 15 women in 11 weeks.
On the Q & A episode dedicated to domestic violence, Natasha Stott-Despoja called it “intimate partner terrorism”.
One of the participants in the blogger forum called it “murder”.
Men are killing their partners. Because they grow up in a society that tells them that they have a right to a woman. A society where women are “less than”.
Detective Superintendent Rod Jouning, who heads the Domestic Violence Unit at Victoria Police, commented that domestic violence happens because of “men’s inflated sense of entitlement”. He then gave an example of a woman being assaulted by her partner in a pub in front of at least 20 male witnesses and not a single one of them interfered.
You can imagine how that got my blood boiling. How is it that men think that this sort of behaviour is OK??? Please tell me. How did we evolve into a society where this happens all too often? How is it that domestic violence is the biggest cause of women’s ill health in Australia? Answer me that, men!!
Except it’s not just men. Women are part of our society, too. And, we, women have allowed men to treat us like chattel. We internalise misogyny to the point where most women are offended when questioned on accepting patriarchal traditions, such as changing their last name on marriage. I mean why is your husband’s father’s name more important than your father’s? And where do the mothers fit into all this given they do pregnancy, they do childbirth and the vast majority of child rearing? Why are our mothers’ names ignored? Why do we ignore our own names? And we don’t even realise we are supporting the patriarchy and gender inequality by doing this.
Yes, I’ve lost likers on my FB page because of my views on this. But this isn’t a popularity contest. This is about changing the world. I have a bee in my bonnet and I’m going to let that bee fly free and sting everyone on its path until its message starts getting through. WE are part of the problem.
Domestic violence is a gender inequality issue. Rosie Batty said it, Natasha Stott-Despoja said it, and I’ve been saying it for a long time.
It was a huge win for the visibility of this issue for Rosie Batty to be named Australian of the Year. It was hypocrisy on the part of our government to, at the same time, take away funding from organisations that help women to escape from domestic violence.
So what can you do?
Teach your daughters that they matter. Teach them that they are complete, unique, special, equal human beings. They don’t need to be rescued, they need to shine, just like our sons do.
Teach your sons that women matter. That they are people – equal partners in our society. That they are not just there for screwing and mothering. Because that’s how our society views women. One or the other. Never both and never more.
You have a role to play here. Every single one of you. Us. Call men out on sexism. On every single instance of it. Talk about it. Write about it. Change your behaviour – don’t look for a man to rescue you, don’t laugh at blonde jokes, don’t tell your daughters that they’re pretty. Tell them they’re smart and talented and enough.
Pay attention to the sexism in our everyday culture. Pay attention to the songs you listen to and the songs your children sing and dance along to. No, it’s not cute. It’s offensive. We need to teach our children that it’s not OK.
Every woman and every man should be committed to rooting out everyday sexism, no matter how small. Sexism leads to women’s deaths. It is never innocent, never funny, never cute. It is bloody serious.
The question that is asked most often when women talk of domestic violence is “why don’t you leave?”. There are many complex reasons why and I will write about them another time, but did you know that the most dangerous period for a woman is just before, during and after leaving her violent partner? I don’t just know this because I heard or read about it. A friend of mine is living it.
Did you know that many women living with domestic violence don’t know that it’s not OK? They’ve been brought up to believe that this is what relationships are like. It made me cry when I first realised this.
I sought Rosie out after the official part of the forum was over. I wanted to know how one picks oneself up after the kind of tragedy she suffered and keep going with one’s life. Rosie said that she’d been strong and outspoken all her life. She lost her mother when she was very young and had to mother herself. She had to become strong. Speaking out after her son’s murder was a perfectly natural thing for her to do. She has never once hesitated to call a spade a spade.
During the forum, Rosie talked about how, in domestic violence situations, the full onus of keeping safe is on the woman’s shoulders. Apprehended violence orders (AVOs) aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, unless they’re enforced immediately as the breach happens. But in the time between an abuser breaching his AVO and someone reporting it, a woman can die. It’s up to the woman to keep safe, to keep moving, to report every breach of an AVO, every incident, such as the man talking about his suicide in front of his children. And did you know that, legally, a woman and her children cannot relocate further than her existing suburb without the children’s father’s permission?
Our various government systems don’t talk to one another, not across State and Territory borders and not across functional boundaries. The Family Court doesn’t care that a man has a history of abuse and will still give that man access to his children. How many men are set free despite numerous AVO breaches and convictions and go on to murder their partners, or former partners?
Privacy rules. Family Court matters cannot be written about, nor commented on by anyone. Not even by me. I’m not allowed access to my ex’s court proceedings so that I might know for certain the extent of his predatory behaviour. I sure hope that it would be considered should he decide to fight for access to his sons.
I am grateful that when Child Protection were informed by my abuser about my suicide attempts, they did due diligence and found out about his charges of grooming a minor over a carriage service and decided that those were far more serious than his allegations about my mental health. For once, justice was served. But I never had any hope of getting an AVO against him based on his psychological abuse of me. There was no chance of laying charges, because there were no bruises.
Where are the children in all this? Do we not realise that even if THEY’RE not being physically abused, the emotional and psychological abuse that occurs when they witness their mother being abused has a permanent effect on their psyche? Do we not realise that such a man will continue to psychologically and emotionally manipulate these children every time he has access to them? Do we not even realise that such a man might kill his own son, because “his need for power and control over his ex-partner is greater than his love for his own child”?
As a single individual, I am lost as to what I can do about any of this other than continue speaking and writing about it. As a group, bloggers have been known to change the world. We now have such a group. Let’s see where it takes us.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call 1 800 RESPECT for advice and support. For further resources go to Safe Steps.
If you see someone in immediate danger, call the police.
Images courtesy of Marc Alperstein.