“A culture of disrespect towards women is a precursor to violence, and anyone who doesn’t see that is kidding themselves.”
These words were spoken in March this year by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It was the same time he said that domestic violence is a matter of national security and announced a new funding package to keep women and children safe.
“Our government is fully engaged in working together to combat violence against women,” he said. “It must stop.”
It must. And yet to a sizeable group of survivors and domestic violence advocates across Australia, today, those words don’t merely ring as hollow. They seem disingenuous.
How to reconcile those sentiments with the decision of the same Prime Minister to implement another inquiry that isn’t necessary, to be headed by a woman who is unashamedly attached to a false and dangerous narrative about violence against women being fabricated?
You can’t. The positions are entirely irreconcilable. If Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to genuinely attempt to stop violence against women, there is broad consensus that the best place to start is implementing the recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review.
Even as a mere keyboard warrior who has dedicated time and countless column inches to this national scourge over the past decade the chasm between the Prime Minister’s rhetoric and reality is devastating.
For survivors? And advocates on the front line? It is utterly shattering.
In Canberra on Tuesday a group of women who know this needs to stop better, more perilously, than anyone else in the country gathered in a bid to stop this inquiry going ahead.
An alliance of organisations in the sector and several survivors travelled to the nation’s capital – many on their own dime – to beg decision makers to reconsider.
They held a press conference, issued an extraordinary joint statement, and sought meetings with anyone who would listen.
They weren’t heard. They were barely able to meet with anyone. Their soundbites didn’t make the news.
They watched on in the chamber as a motion to stop this inquiry was defeated.
The CEO of Safety NSW, Hayley Foster, struggles to articulate how distressing the experience was.
“These are the people who know what needs to happen, they are on the front line of this, but there was no respect for their views,” Foster says. “We have an epidemic that impacts a significant proportion of the population and yet advocates and survivors are completely dismissed?”
That is bad enough in itself but when a person like Pauline Hanson is afforded a platform to dismiss and blame victims and peddle misinformation? It is diabolical.
As a survivor has written to the Prime Minister in The Guardian today:
“She has made it clear that she believes that women like me routinely lie about domestic violence. I can assure you, prime minister, that I have not lied, and I am genuinely distressed by Hanson’s comments.
I am fearful that my abuser will take confidence from Hanson’s rhetoric and that I will be even less safe than I was before she so publicly called me, and other women like me, a liar.
I assure you that I want nothing more or less than to feel and be safe.”
The author of that letter is so scared of her ex-husband that she keeps a notebook marked ‘for the coroner’.
It has been almost five years since Annabel Crabb wrote a column in the then Fairfax Sunday papers and included this now famous line: “It bothers me that a woman gets killed by her male partner every single week, and somehow that doesn’t qualify as a tools-down national crisis even though if a man got killed by a shark every week we’d probably arrange to have the ocean drained.”
That line went viral because of the chord it struck. Because it exposed what would be laughable double standards if it weren’t for the fact women were – and still are – dying. And far from draining the sea, barely a warning alarm has been raised. No sign of anything like the necessary ‘tools-down national crisis’ response.
“We see whenever there is the slight threat of terrorism it’s amazing how funding can be found to combat that where seemingly there was no funding before,” Rosie Batty said. “Let’s start calling family violence ‘terrorism’ and then maybe we will start to see that investment of funding applied to where it needs to be.”
Nearly five years on nothing, not a single thing, has changed. It doesn’t matter how many clever analogies are written or how many desperate and emotional pleas are issued.
It doesn’t matter how many powerful documentaries are produced and broadcast, nor how many eye-opening reports and essays and books are penned.
At the end of September and start of October five women were murdered in seven days. In every instance the person charged was known to the woman.
If there was any need for tangible evidence of the deadly toll domestic violence inflicts there it is in tragic detail. Yet survivors and experts and advocates can barely get a meeting in Canberra.
“I want to highlight the destructive message sent when every single agency charged with advocating for the safety of women and children is unceremoniously dismissed,” Foster says. “I work with, and try my best to represent every one of these amazing, skilled, professional, inspiring women who are on the frontline every day supporting women and children who are being terrorised and having their lives ripped apart and many of them are all heartbroken by this and fell so dejected; crestfallen.”
Foster says survivors and experts alike “feel unheard, unvalued and invalidated by those who hold power”.
If, as the Prime Minister himself said earlier this year, “a culture of disrespect towards women is a precursor to violence” what are we to make of a government which not only dismisses and ignores the advice of the sector, of medical professionals, of survivors, but elevates Pauline Hanson to a position of power?
It is the ultimate act of disrespect, and we know where a culture of disrespect leads. Morrison himself said it.
Anyone who doesn’t see that is kidding themselves.