Namely, that it most often takes place behind closed doors.
On Sunday, during a sunny barbecue with a group of friends on the Northern Beaches, I realised my naivety when I saw a woman assaulted.
The afternoon started out as expected. I was flipping burgers while my friends played frisbee, families were picnicking and kids splashed happily in the lagoon adjacent.
Sitting beside the barbecue at a table of their own was a group of five, middle aged, Australians; three women, two men. They were well dressed, and seemingly enjoying themselves. They had drinks. One of the men appeared to have had a few.
All of a sudden, the mood shifted. The sound of broken glass smashing on pavement reverberated.
One of the men, had stood up and was leaning over one of the women. His face was inches from hers and he was glowering, his finger pointed in her face. She cowered.
“You fucking bitch! I will never let a woman tell me what to do!”
“Mark, please stop”….
“DON’T FUCKING TELL ME WHAT TO DO! You’re all fucking ridiculous.”
“Please Mark, please, we’re all trying to have a nice day. Don’t ruin it.”
“You’ve ruined it. You and that other bitch. I expected it from her, but not from you.”
The other woman, his wife, who had left the table briefly moments before this public meltdown, returned. She wasn’t shocked by his outburst. To my eye she was visibly worn down.
Within a second of her return, the man began bellowing at her as well. His fury had risen, and this time he pushed her hard in the chest. She stumbled over the esky next to them. Beside their picnic table was a cliff. Had he pushed her any harder? Who knows what the outcome might have been.
Onlookers started to mill around, and my partner and his friend stepped in. The man squared up to them, but appeared to realise he was outnumbered.
Already on the phone to the police, I relay the details and plead with them to arrive soon.
Within minutes, two police vans arrive. Six young, male officers peel out.
My partner meets them and explains what has happened. He leads them to the table where the man sits. The other group members have left and only the man’s wife remains. She is still begging him to stop.
The young officers sit the man down and all of a sudden, he is calm – almost charming. The storm has passed. I am shaking with rage, knowing that he is now able to control his mood when the police are questioning him. Alcohol, clearly, isn’t solely to blame.
His wife is speaking with another officer at the table. She is also hastily picking up shards of broken glass. I get the feeling she’s done this same thing, many times before.
When the police come over to my group for statements, I am clear: “Please, do not let that man off with a warning. He needs to be arrested. He can’t go home with her tonight. He can’t go home with her ever.”
The police listen to me. They arrest him on the spot, reading him his rights and bundling him into the back of the paddy wagon.
I have never felt so relieved.
In years gone past, a man like Mark may have slunk away from the scene with a slap on the wrist. He may have been told to go home, have a rest and sober up.
In countless cases, a man like Mark may have gone home, continued drinking and spent subsequent hours terrorising his partner. In some cases, we all know, men like Mark don’t just harm their partners they kill them.
The police response yesterday reminded me that while we still have a very long way to go before violence against women is completely eradicated, there is progress. A group of police officers attended the scene and treated the incident as sufficiently serious to warrant immediate action.
But police turning up depends on people being willing to not stand back and watch, but stand up and report violence when they see or hear it happen. I hope we get better at that.
The National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.