I was in a violent marriage for several years; the majority of that was emotional abuse, but also physical. In June 2014, my then-husband had physically threw and locked me out of our house for the third time that year. Having no access to my car, I walked to my closest friend’s house with the clothes he had “packed” for me – by packed, I mean thrown down the front stairs.
Living in fear was suffocating, and the violence was getting worse, because as he had told me, I was becoming more ‘defiant’ so I was getting what I deserved. In what I call my ‘lightbulb moment’, I vividly remember thinking to myself that night, , ‘Ok, this is it. You need to decide if this is how you want to spend the rest of your life.’ I was lucky enough to have a path out and I took it.
When I moved interstate, away from my family and friends it was out of necessity.
Standing up, speaking out
Being far away from everyone, I was mentally at my lowest. One day I googled ‘domestic violence support’ and the first search that came up was White Ribbon. I became a supporter that day. I completed the e-learningcourses, and would love the opportunity to become an official White Ribbon advocatenext year once registrations open. I ran and competed in challenges, including Run Melbourne, proudly waving the White Ribbon flag.
I found my voice. I realised that if my story can help one other woman, then I know what I went through means something.
Joining the Trek for Respect: Kokoda
Kokoda is something I always thought I would love to do but didn’t think it was realistically within my grasp. When the email came through from White Ribbon to join the Trek for Respect, I just knew I had to be a part of that. It was an instinctual moment, so I jumped on it.
You will meet people from all different walks of life who have come together for the same reason. Trek for Respect: Kokoda allowed me to realise that I wasn’t alone, that so many other women (unfortunately) have experienced similar situations to me and that we can be there to support each other. I now have life-long friendships that I greatly cherish from that trek.
For me White Ribbon’s cause is something I will carry for life. Awareness, speaking out and education are a huge part of ending domestic violence and I want to be apart of that change.
Author Jaimee is a White Ribbon supporter who took on the Trek for Respect: Kokoda in 2019. To find out more about the Trek and to see the itinerary for 2020, please visit the Trek for Respect:Kokoda 2020 information page.
Joe Hildebrand’s words are at the root of contemporary debates with the #NotAllMen faction, which, by definition intrinsically declines to engage in thoughtful reflection. We have, thankfully, now given sufferers of violence a voice, and partly, in thanks to the #MeToo movement, the conversation has now moved into the mainstream. In Australia, the establishment of organisations such as White Ribbon and OurWatch, as well as the Royal Commission into family violence, an act of retrospection in of itself are undoubtedly, huge steps forward for the incomprehensible amount of women who have been or are currently victim to abuse from their current or former partner. In the wake of yet another Melbourne woman murdered by a man, it is times like these where I believe the most fundamental and progressive action that any of us can take is to reflect on our behaviours and of those that surround us, asking the question ‘why does this keep happening and what can I do to stop it?’
In his op-ed, Hildebrand correctly states that men are more violent than women, committing many more homicides and assaults than women do. However, the contention is then followed by an inexplicable flip towards a contracted focus on the murder rates committed by men, with deliberately reductive math resulting in the assertion that only “0.0042 per cent of the male population” murder a woman over a two-year period in Australia. Hildebrand goes on to state that men commit murder despite the assurance of criminal punishment, and therefore, asking murderers to reflect upon their attitudes is a fruitless endeavour.
There are two main issues I find with this argument. Clearly, domestic violence appears in many forms other than murder; financial, social, and emotional to name a few. To reduce the issue to homicide alone is a gross misrepresentation of the issue at hand.
Secondly, Hildebrand fails to understand the cultural and societal basis of violence against women. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies1, gender inequality is a key determinant of violence against women, going beyond just economic considerations, including social norms and attitudes. Yet having said that, the World Health Organisation has found that perpetrator programs are generating significantly positive behavioural and attitudinal progressions, suggesting that reflection and intervention does have a principal role to play in shifting these behaviours2.
Source: Getty Images
Hildebrand then moves on to blame the “failure of the Victorian criminal justice system” utilising the brutal murder of Jill Meagher, Aiia Maasarwe and Eurydice Dixon as evidence, whilst hastily touching on a mental health alibi for the case of Courtney Herron’s brutal murder. Following soon after, he then again makes the assertion against reflection, claiming that he doesn’t disagree or feel threatened by the idea, only that “you don’t have to stretch your mind too far to realise how absurd [reflection is]”. I would challenge Hildebrand, as well as the men and women who agree with this assertion, that some variety of fear may potentially be a contributing factor in this steadfast refusal to engage in inner contemplation.
In the tertiary segment for Hildebrand’s case for #NotAllMen and against reflection, he refers to Muslims and young African males within the framework of terrorism and gang violence. He asks, did police ask these communities to reflect on their behaviours? Well, not publicly, but the police and many other groups are indeed working with them to do so. The African community, the Muslim community and even the Catholic community are working to address the issues concerning the inexcusable actions of the marginal groups within these communities occurring. But how did this collaborative action begin? It begun with the act of reflection. It is through the act of reflection of all members inside and outside of our communities that we can begin to progressively address the vast number of factors that contribute to acts of violence. In the case of violence against women, I reiterate, social norms and attitudes need to be addressed, and as members of our society, it is a call for all of us to take time to reflect and upon doing so, act.
The closing argument in Hildebrand’s piece concerns the socio-economically disadvantaged, including the opportune twist away from homicide statistics to the more appropriate inclusion of domestic violence statistics. Yes, when looking at the data presented from police reporting only, domestic violence does occur at much higher rates among segments of this population. However, when examining referral programs statistics, rather than police reports, the rate of domestic violence may actually be just as high in affluent relationships3. This may be attributed to the reputational shame of addressing issues of domestic violence as well as greater access to income and independent means of accessing support in affluent families4 and 5. Hildebrand then briefly appears to engage in some, albeit rhetorical, reflection, as well as some common sense approaches to addressing disadvantage in our society, namely housing and health provisions. However, this again serves as a deflection. Hildebrand neglects this opportunity for reflection, and in doing so, forgoes the chance to consider the innate factors that may be contributing to the greater incidences of violence observed in both the socio-economically disadvantaged and affluent communities.
I put it to Hildebrand that when he says, “I don’t see how reflecting on myself is going to stop women from being bashed or murdered” that he is, on some level, only serving to perpetuate the underlying factors that contribute to acts of violence against of women by men through the reinforcement of the false narrative that men, or any other group for that matter, have nothing to gain from retrospective action.
#YesAllMen have a role to play in calling out the attitudes and behaviours that lead to men viewing women as lesser, and consequently, the violence against them.
From one privileged male to another, the cry for critical and intentional self-reflection is on us above all.
Author Jesse Boyd is the co-founder of BreakBoundaries, a Melbourne project working group which focuses on the prevention of violence against women. A version of this article was first published on Greenleft.
Courtney Herron was the 20th women this year to be killed in Australia1. Every week a woman in Australia is killed by a current or former partner. Yet all too often, statistics around violence against women are obscured and the larger picture goes unrecognised.
Courtney’s death was not because she was homeless. It was not because she was at a party. It was not because she was unaware of her surroundings.
It was because of a toxic culture of masculinity that marginalises women.
Initial responses from Premier Daniel Andrews and Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius were productive. Both placed the blame for the murder on men’s behaviour. Both made it clear that it was not an isolated incident.
Unfortunately, outside of a small number of officials, the wider male response has been mixed. Some men have been hostile or defensive to the notion that men’s behaviour is the problem, rejecting the idea that these statistics tell any wider story about the treatment of women.
The most common contribution from men, however, has been silence.
Countless women have spoken up after Courtney’s death, sharing their fears and anxieties and talking about how this kind of behaviour needs to stop. Yet the male response, from the inappropriate Herald Sun front page to public discussions on Facebook, has been one of minimisation and shifting responsibility, if it is discussed at all.
Men’s violence is an issue for men. We must do better in dealing with it.
By saying this, I do not mean that all men are murderers. The majority of men are not violent. But all of us could do more to counter the harmful views of women that underpin acts of violence. Not being violent ourselves is not enough to absolve us of responsibility.
All of us as men engage with the concept of what we associate with being a man every day. When people describe aggression as manly and passivity as effeminate, we propagate an image in society of what it is to be a man.
Most of the time this engagement is innocuous, but often it can be harmful, both to the man who feels the pressure to live up to these expectations and to the women who suffer under the toxic extremes of these beliefs.
Men are shaped by these expectations and pressures, but we also have the capacity to shape them ourselves. Young men especially are uniquely positioned to redefine what they associated with masculinity for the next generation.
We should do more to challenge violence against women and the toxic attitudes that underpin them, not just because we have an obligation (though we certainly do), but because we don’t want these harmful views to be associated with what it means to be masculine.
We as men can do better to call out poor behaviour by men. As we do so, we can create an image for what it is to be masculine that doesn’t rest on harmful attitudes toward women.
For Courtney, Aiia Massarwe, and more importantly, for all women whose suffering never made the front-page news.
White Ribbon Australia celebrated the work of multicultural leaders in a graduation ceremony on Friday 31 May in Melbourne. The empowering Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Leaders Project took proactive steps to address the gaps in the prevention of violence against women from multicultural or CALD backgrounds through a number of community engagement projects.
White Ribbon Australia CEO, Delia Donovan said that in 2018, there were 7.3 million migrants living in Australia, with 29 per cent of the population having been born overseas. She added that there continues to be huge complexities for CALD communities accessing the support they need and that rates of abuse, disrespect and violence continue to need addressing through a strengths based approach.
“We know that violence against women is a big issue because our national statistics tell us so and women in our CALD communities are especially susceptible for a variety of reasons. This project has supported emerging leaders from CALD communities to engage with their communities on this issue and make a positive change. ,” Ms Donovan said.
“This year alone, 20 women have been killed in Australia. That means that each week at least one woman is killed by a current or former partner. This is simply unacceptable and no less than a national crisis. Prevention alongside other modes of practice continues to be fundamental if we are to stop the violence before it starts and address this as a whole community.
“Prevention programs that raise awareness and educate the community about violence against women are essential. As part of White Ribbon’s strategy to address this, we need to continue to work more closely with CALD communities.”
White Ribbon Australia believes the key to ending violence against women in diverse communities is to ensure that men and women within these communities lead, educate and raise awareness to empower change.
Ms Donovan added: “We have heard anecdotes which support these findings many times. That’s why we partnered with AMES Australia to deliver a program which trained individuals from CALD backgrounds to connect with their communities, educate and share information to end violence against women. Partnership efforts remains key for White Ribbon in order to maximise community reach and impact.”
The emerging CALD Leaders Project engaged with more than 40 men and women in Melbourne who have become passionate leaders and supporters for ending violence against women. Participants developed resources, tools, delivered workshops, presentations and created videos to engage with their communities on the issue of abuse and violence against women.
Financial abuse is a significant problem for many migrant women, with some revealing they must cover all home expenses, relinquish all their earnings to their partner or other family members.
“When I didn’t give him my money, he was angry with me. One day I spent $60 so he got angry and he beat me very badly for not letting him know. The second [time] was when I wanted a new iron and he didn’t let me buy a new iron. I got upset and then I went to my bedroom and he came and then sat on my stomach and slapped my face.”
Participant, Manal Shehab, said she became involved because of her own lived experience and the adversity experienced by other women. “It is disheartening and upsetting to see barrier after barrier come up at a time when women are trying to muster courage to leave an abusive relationship and create a stable safe home for themselves and their children, only to find they are on their own,” she said.
“These women are juggling emotions, a fear of being killed, stalked, having children taken away from them, finances, housing, schools, courts, questioning their faith, perhaps moving away from family and social supports, and on top of that navigate a very complex system.”
As part of their training with White Ribbon and AMES, Manal and her fellow project participants, are now educating and empowering those within their community by organising workshops on preventing violence against women. Participants are encouraged to discuss gender roles, myths, women’s rights within their religion and cultural practices. For her workshops, Manal examines Islamic texts, traditions and how some translations are problematic when they give men power over women. Manal offers alternative scholarly and plausible translations that disengages with perspectives of power and violence.
The graduating project participants that evening took away printed cards with photos of themselves and their messages of how they will prevent violence in their community. They shared with the audience what they have learned and what aspirations they have for the future.
The Brisbane White Ribbon Committee and Cameron McKenzie (White Ribbon Ambassador, Deputy Chair of the Queensland Law Society Domestic & Family Violence Policy Committee) facilitated a panel discussion including:
Rachel Durdin, Chief Advisor – Social and Stakeholder Engagement at Rio Tinto
Michael Wassing, Deputy Commissioner at Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
Ronan Smyth, Executive Manager – White Ribbon Workplace Program
Supported by ANZ and part of QLD Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month the evening was full of inspiring and challenging discussion and practical ideas for organisations and leaders on how they can reinforce positive social messages of respectful relationships and gender equality.
Panel members spoke about their experiences in creating safe and respectful workplace cultures through the White Ribbon Workplace Accreditation Program and how the lines between work and private life can become less clear in a domestic violence context.
Those who attended walked away inspired to create a positive cultural change and improve gender equality within both their workplaces and communities.
The Cairns White Ribbon Committee hosted a community barbecue at Raintrees Shopping Centre in Manunda, an area with one of the highest domestic violence rates in Cairns.
Cairns has also been reminded of the Stand Up, Speak Out campaign with silhouettes and message blocks appearing around the city with Adrian Geary, White Ribbon Ambassador and Cairns Committee Chair and ATSI Reference Group Member putting his neck on the line and engaging with the Cairns community.
Motorists have also been reminded of their responsibility to Stand Up, Speak Out messages displayed on electronic message boards on the highways in Cairns during May.
Reaching the remote
White Ribbon QLD State Committee member Dave Kerrigan made women’s safety a man’s issue in the Blackall, Longreach, and Barcaldine communities during May.
Dave travelled to these central Queensland communities to build awareness with men, women and youth from diverse backgrounds, experiences and professions.
For some of Australia’s rural and remote locations, the work of people like Dave can be critical in providing these communities with opportunities for education about domestic violence and distribute practical tools and information like the White Ribbon STOP kit. Starting conversations about men’s violence against women is a crucial component of White Ribbon’s primary prevention movement.
White Ribbon Australia acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the country on which we work, the Cammeraygal people of the Eora nation. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
White Ribbon Australia recognises that the movement to prevent men’s violence against women is built on the tireless efforts of women and women-led organisations throughout history, internationally and in Australia.