The Dire Need for Self-Reflection: A response to Joe Hildebrand

Social worker, Jesse Boyd, pens his response to Joe Hildebrand’s comments regarding Courtney Herron’s violent death and the mindset of unrequired accountability and reflection.

“I don’t see how reflecting on myself is going to stop women being bashed or murdered” – Joe Hildebrand, May 29th 2019

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.

Reflecting on Courtney Herron's Death-min

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.


[1] Wall, L. (2014). Gender equality and violence against women: what’s the connection?. Australian Institute of Family Studies Retrieved from: https://aifs.gov.au/sites/default/files/publication-documents/ressum7.pdf.

[2] Rothman, E. F., Butchart, A., Cerdá, M., & World Health Organization. (2003). Intervening with perpetrators of intimate partner violence: A global perspective. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/violence/intervening/en/

[3] Phillips, J., Muller, D., & Lorimer, C. (2015). Domestic Violence: issues and policy challenges. Parliamentary Library. Research Paper Series, 2015-16. Retrieved from: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1516/DVIssues

[4] Weitzman, S. (2008). Not to people like us: Hidden abuse in upscale marriages. Basic Books. Chicago

[5] Carroll, L. (2013). ‘Shame pressures affluent women to hide domestic violence, say experts’. Sydney Morning Herald. Published: June 19, 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.smh.com.au/national/shame-pressures-affluent-women-to-hide-domestic-violence-say-experts-20130618-2ogw9.html

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