Every single Australian can influence how we respond to domestic violence. How will you use your influence? - Women's Agenda

Every single Australian can influence how we respond to domestic violence. How will you use your influence?

“Any bloke who hits women is not a man, he’s a coward.”

These words are from former rugby league Test prop Sam Backo, who played six tests for Australia in 1988-89. Backo’s comments were reported in the media last week and reflect the general views of our community in relation to the scourge of domestic violence.

Tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and also marks White Ribbon Day. The male-led White Ribbon campaign seeks to stamp out the insidious problem of domestic violence in Australia and focuses on male role models actively condemning domestic violence in an effort to change attitudes and prevent its continued occurrence. The campaign recognises that whilst most men abhor violence against women and children, the fact remains that most cases of domestic abuse are perpetrated by men.

Campaigns such as White Ribbon are vital to tackling the scourge of domestic violence. However, domestic violence is a whole of community issue and requires a whole of community response. All Australians – men and women – have a role to play in order to ensure a significant and sustained reduction of domestic violence. What we consider acceptable behaviour from our role models undoubtedly frames what society tolerates. Sporting figures, politicians and celebrities all have a critical role to play and to help set our community standards. But the actions of ordinary, everyday Australians standing up for what they believe in can also effect change.

In some families, domestic violence is a shocking backdrop to everyday life. And in recent years, there have been multiple high profile cases of unimaginable violence against women and children that have rocked our national psyche and refocused attention on an endemic problem in Australia.

In January 2009 a 37 year old man threw his four-year-old daughter off the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne on the way to her first day at school. Her brothers, aged two and six, watched as the girl was thrown to her death. The sentencing judge commented “it can only be concluded that you used your daughter in an attempt to hurt your former wife as profoundly as possible”. He sentenced Arthur Freeman to life with a minimum of 32 years.

In July 2011 media attention shifted to Sydney when a man threw his fiancée off their 15th floor balcony. The victim had endured a long-term relationship characterised by abuse, suffocating control and jealousy on the part of the perpetrator of this shocking crime, the extent of which only became evident during his trial.

In February 2014, 11 year old Luke Batty was killed by his father in shocking circumstances. It was a heart-breaking example of how children can become targets themselves in domestic disputes.

These high profile cases have prompted a long overdue public debate about domestic violence in Australia. And it is a debate the laid back, ‘fair go mate’ Australia we all know and love, has to have.

The sad reality is that most of the abuse domestic violence victims endure across Australia is not nearly as public as these high profile cases, and it often goes unreported. While these particular cases have raised public awareness, the fact is that each week in Australia at least one woman is killed as a result of domestic violence.

Tragically, already this year, we have exceeded more than 52 deaths.

The message that “something must be done” has been received loud and clear by the Government, and substantial policy work has been underway for quite some time.

The Government is playing an important role in encouraging what I firmly believe is an irreversible momentum to reduce and ultimately end violence against women and children.

Earlier this year the Coalition Government launched the Second Action Plan 2013-16, which is the second of four stages of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22. This includes a significant investment of $100 million over the forward estimates, a demonstration of both the significance of the issue and our commitment in working to address it.

The policy work undertaken by Government and organisations is not headline-grabbing. It is not sensational and it certainly isn’t glamorous, however it is substantial and it is essential.

Announcements, press conferences and media releases are hollow unless they are backed up by meaningful policy work. For example, last week Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) announced its 2014-16 research program.

While in today’s 24-hour news cycle this is not a dramatic headline, the ANROWS research will play a key role in determining how we effectively tackle domestic violence across Australia.

We need to understand how women and children experience violence across Australia before we can address its causes and effects. The research program, costing approximately $3.5 million over two years for 20 research projects, ranges from investigating how women in rural areas experience domestic violence, to pressures felt in Indigenous communities, to women with a disability and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and how access to services might vary. This work will form the foundation for an informed policy approach in the future.

On the international stage, Australia is also stepping forward. The United Nations in Geneva noted earlier this month that “Australia was a leader on dealing with violence against women” however in the same report it was noted that the level of domestic violence is endemic. We have much to do in order to effect long term change in how we as a society view violence against women and children. The Government has a critical role to play in addressing this scourge on society and we are determined to meet the challenge. However, it is the community itself that will ultimately decide what behaviour we celebrate, what we tolerate, and what we condemn.

A recent example of the community’s determination to speak out on domestic violence was the furore surrounding Julien Blanc’s brief visit to Australia. Mr Blanc, the self-proclaimed pick-up artist, encourages those attending his ‘seminars’ to engage in vile behaviour towards women including blatant emotional and physical abuse. The obvious question is who would pay to go to such an event, though this is something that attendees themselves would have to justify.

Julien Blanc’s behaviour and his encouragement of others to participate in violence against women, was rightly and overwhelmingly rejected by the Australian public.

A community inspired campaign was initiated to remove him from Australia, and it worked. His visa was subsequently cancelled and he departed Australia without completing his schedule of public appearances – this was a compelling example of people power delivering a very clear message about what we consider unacceptable and offensive conduct. It is scenarios like these that will ultimately produce the long lasting, meaningful cultural change that we are all seeking.

The reality is that every single Australian can influence how we deal with domestic violence in Australia.

We have a responsibility to the women and children of Australia to define what acceptable behaviour is – to speak with one voice when we call domestic violence a crime that is totally unacceptable, and to commit to work together to eradicate it.


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