What kind of society do we want to live in? We must unite to end to gender-based violence

What kind of society do we want to live in? We must unite to end to gender-based violence

katherine berny

I feel sad this week, I also feel angry. There’s no other way for me to frame it. At the start of the year, I wrote for this publication the I didn’t want to continue to write anguished words about the alleged murder of women, and here we are.

It goes without saying that the events over the past week have highlighted the crisis that we face with men’s and gender-based violence in this country.

We are rightly horrified by the visceral violence in Bondi. A mentally ill man targeting women as people went about their Saturday. I can only imagine the terror experienced by the community who were there, and the ripple effects of this crime for communities across Australia. As we process this event and the investigation continues, we need to be thoughtful in how we label it. The subsequent stabbing in Sydney has shown we must take men’s violence extremely seriously. And in doing so, we consider all the factors, including problematic gender attitudes and overall male entitlement. But we do need to include and examine other factors.

Clinical and forensic psychologist Dr Ahona Guha wrote “focusing on only one risk factor will only hamper our violence prevention and intervention attempts, leaving more people at risk.”

When we rely on single, linear factor explanations, are we sorting into a binary of cause and effect rather than problem solving? There is a risk at oversimplifying an issue to provide a magic solution, for example, gender equality = no violence.

Of course, there are a number of other considerations, and yes, mental health is one of those factors.

This week also saw the landmark defamation verdict on rapist Bruce Lehrmann. The process of justice has forced a survivor of rape into exile. Saxon Mullins, a friend and colleague of mine, wrote “the civil defamation case – operating as a quasi-rape trial – has been a public autopsy on our fatally flawed justice system.”

I couldn’t agree more. When speaking to legal colleagues after the verdict, one remarked “the sad truth is the punishment for perjury would probably be more severe that the actual rape.” A sad but telling statement about how the legal system views sexual violence in this country.

After the alleged murder of three women in Ballarat, we saw The Herald Sun publish a front page with the headline: “IT HAS TO STOP”. Indeed. That same publication also printed at least thirty “opinion pieces” (read: lightly veiled bullying of a rape victim) sneering about Brittany Higgins’ case. Forgive me if I don’t believe they actually care about gender-based violence.

We are 16 weeks into the year and 24 women have been allegedly murdered by violence. We know this because a group of amazingly dedicated volunteers run a page called “Counting Dead Women” – there is no official government data point.

Counting Dead Women. It chills me. My colleagues and I often have a back and forth discussion between which campaign figures we should be using because different campaigns use different metrics and drivers of violence. The National Women’s Safety Alliance looked at the death review board data from states and territories, we discovered that some jurisdictions are excellent in how they looked at gender-based violence, others did not have aggregated gender data- so the reality is we don’t have a definitive number. A grim situation really.

What we do know is that data is critical when we start to talk about the funding and solving of social issues.

Yesterday I watched the National Press Club. The minister of defence was talking through the investment required to ensure Australia has a functioning defence force: $765 billion over a decade. He talked of the legacy left by the previous government, which has meant we have to play catch up, and the financial burden that has left. Makes sense, his answers were measured and empirically correct.

I really thought about how we frame the national emergency of gender-based violence in Australia. Gender based violence doesn’t have the same supports in cohesive and consistent data as other portfolios. I’m told in defence this data is a matter of life and death. In that same period 645 women were allegedly murdered (this number comes from Counting Dead Women, it could be much higher). These women were tax paying Australian citizens, who were not safe in their homes. Arguably, lives in our communities depend on us getting this right.

Here are the alarming stats about violence within Australian society. The Australian institute of Health and Welfare has advised almost two million Australian adults have experienced at least one sexual assault since the age of 15. The ABS personal safety survey from 2023 show that an estimated 3.8 million Australian adults (20 per cent of the population) reported experiencing physical and/or sexual family and domestic violence since the age of 15. The child maltreatment study showed that nearly 40 per cent of Australians aged between 16-65+ have been exposed to family violence.

There is a history of violence and trauma in our cultural makeup and that is what we are not addressing. Again, these statistics represent people who are prepared to share their story. There is a bigger picture that we have not captured.

For me, the question for gender-based violence becomes: is there a correct dollar figure to ensure we have a functioning society? What is the metric of success?

These answers are not the sole responsibility of the sector or government. It asks a question about what kind of society we want to live in, and everyone has a role in that broader framework.

Feature Image: Katherine Berney.

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