Violence against women and children is everywhere you look. 2014 has been a watershed in terms of mainstream media coverage and we’re getting better at talking about violence too.
But there’s still a piece of the puzzle missing. Earlier this year in the five-day period between Easter long weekend and ANZAC day, seven women and children were brutally murdered in domestic and family violence incidents across the country.
The incidents made the local news across several states but there was no formal connection made between the disparate acts of violence perpetrated in NSW, Victoria, QLD and WA by partners and fathers. They were all reported as separate tragedies, no-one thought it worth mentioning that they might be part of a continuum of violence against vulnerable women and their children.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has kept the uncomfortable topic of pedophilia on Australian television almost nightly, whilst in the UK the systematic cover up of decades of sexual assault, exploitation and abuse of children and women by celebrities and famous faces, has begun to be exposed in its entire ugly offensiveness. Thanks to the magic combination of widespread media condemnation, a bunch of noisy activists and a significant shift in public attitudes to violence against women, some of the victim-survivors of sexual, domestic and family violence are finally getting a voice. You only have to open a magazine, turn on one of the news channels or click a webpage and there it is.
And yet we are still struggling to find an appropriate response to the state and socially sanctioned violence that women, children and young people were subjected to for so long.
We’re not quite sure what to do with it. We don’t yet have an adequate language or framework that explains why these things happened so frequently. It’s relatively easy to dismiss the murder of a child by his or her father as an act of someone with mental health issues in a psychotic rage, or to excuse the slaughter of three children and their mother on a rural property as the result of diminished responsibility by a kind and loving man because of the drought, or because he crumbled under the pressure of caring for his recently disabled wife.
We use the excuse of intoxication or diminished responsibility because it means we don’t have to examine the attitudes that have allowed this violence to take place for such a long time.
But we still can’t really explain why in Australia one woman dies every week at the hands of her partner or ex-partner. And we find it easier to think of Rolf Harris, Robert Hughes, Jimmy Saville and those Catholic priests as aberrations of nature rather than just men who felt entitled to take what they wanted from the most vulnerable that they came into contact with.
In Victoria a group of organisations working in the field of family violence came together in August to launch the No More Deaths campaign. It is a deliberate attempt to bring the consequences of family violence to the forefront of public consciousness in the lead up to next weekend’s state election. Victorians have been particularly confronted by a series of horrific family violence murders including the vicious and senseless murder of 11-year-old Luke Batty by his father after a cricket training session and the fatal stabbing of Fiona Warzywoda by her ex-partner in broad daylight.
No More Deaths is a loud, outraged demand for change. It’s about the community saying we are sick of these murders. There are no excuses, there should be no more deaths of women and children. We will not sanction the types of behaviour and attitude that have allowed the abuse of women and children to go any further. Luke’s mother Rosie Batty has demonstrated remarkable resilience and courage in the face of tragedy. She has shifted the national conversation about family violence and has tackled the victim-blaming mentality head on. She reminds us that the more we talk about violence against women and children, the less it can remain hidden and mystical.
The louder we discuss its dynamics and the more personal stories we share, the less it becomes something that happens over there in isolated, extreme cases, and the more we will be willing to see that it’s happening right here in our families and communities. It is time for the survivors to be heard, it might just save another life.