This week the world observed International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
White Ribbon Day.
In Australia, this day is known as White Ribbon Day- a day where men get together to swear to end such violence by raising awareness. They wear white ribbons and mark the event with national marches, morning teas and pledges. How effective it is questionable; the rate of women killed by current or former partners is still 2 each week here. Former White Ribbon Day ambassador Hazem El Masri was charged with domestic assault, another ambassador, ex-AFL star Billy Brownless, came under fire for sexist and degrading remarks towards women and the NT Attorney-General John Elferink was stripped of his ambassadorship for comments about being tempted to slap a female member of the Labor party. In matters of leadership alone, I can’t help but view White Ribbon with a somewhat jaundiced eye.
Domestic Violence Crisis.
However, on this day I saw many articles circulating that told personal stories of domestic violence survival as well as articles from the point of view of children, articles pointing to help and resources for those still living in domestic violence situations and articles outlining the facts and figures that surround the current crisis situation.
I don’t use the word ‘crisis’ lightly. The fact that two women per week are murdered as a result of domestic violence is horrifying enough. What is less talked about is the other results of this type of violence. For instance, Brain Injury Australia executive officer Nick Rushworth says that 3 women are hospitalised every week with a traumatic brain injury inflicted upon them by a current or former partner. Mr Rushworth believes that many women are receiving such injuries and not seeking treatment due to fear of retribution.
Instead, they are struggling to live, unsupported, in dangerous relationships while experiencing the effects of such injuries. These injuries may also be preventing them from finding a way to leave the situation. Domestic and family violence is also a leading cause of homelessness. That’s just a couple of eamples.
Violence against women, particularly in domestic situations, is an enormous problem in our society and around the world. And we need to talk about it and to act on it. We need to raise a generation that rejects domestic violence and we need to keep the pressure on our government to try to effect real change; not only for prevention of further violence but also for support for people living in these situations. Shelters and refuges are too few and under-resourced, offenders are often dealt with lightly and many families are we still have a culture that questions and blames victims. There is a lot of work to be done to turn things around.
One thing I couldn’t help noticing was that under every article I read, there were comments from a comparative handful of men and an overwhelmingly large number of women saying “But what about male victims of domestic violence?” and “There is no mention of male victims- this is sexist!” and “Not all men are violent!” and “Men are victims too!” and “1 in 3 domestic violence victims are male!” and one even went so far as to tell me that an enormous number of men committed suicide because of domestic violence and that this should be considered an act of domestic violence against men, perpetrated by women.
Yes- men ARE also victims of domestic violence. The claims of 1 in 3 are grossly inaccurate at best but I also have no doubt of that and no doubt that it is under-reported, much like male violence against women. Violence against men at the hands of women is, of course, wrong. However, the problems are not on the same scale. For example, in NSW alone, the Coroner’s Domestic Violence Death Review reported that, in the 10 year period between 2000 and 2010, “there were no cases where a woman was a domestic violence abuser who killed a male domestic violence victim”. In that same period, 108 women were murdered by their intimate partners. 105 of these were victims of domestic violence and the other three were killed by partners in relationships where there was “evidence of violence and abuse used by both parties with no clear coercion and control.” As for claims that men commit suicide because they are domestic violence victims, I couldn’t find any evidence of this. I did ask the woman who made the claim but she hasn’t replied. Men do commit suicide at higher rates than women, it’s true. It’s an important and complex issue and one that we all should care about, for sure. But in a discussion about male violence against women, is it necessary or fair to bring up male suicide rates to try to blame the majority of them on women?
Why are we derailing?
I am struggling to understand why so many people can’t allow a discussion about a very real and horrifying situation in our society without attempting to derail it. If you read an article about cervical cancer, do you charge to the comments section to call sexism because the article doesn’t mention prostate cancer? If you read an article about Christian traditions, do you feel the need to criticise the author for not outlining the traditions of Buddhist people? If you read an article about beautifying your backyard, do you cry discrimination on behalf of those that live in apartments?
Of course you don’t. So why do it when the discussion focuses on the atrocious levels of violence against women in Australia, perpetrated by men?
Are we that conditioned that we fear the way men will react if we point out inequalities? Are we that scared of how men might react if we force them to see that this IS a gendered issue? I think so. I think many women feel driven to believe in this false idea of equal victim-hood because they don’t feel safe acknowledging the gender disparity in abusers and victims. However, this desire to defend, placate and protect men from the uncomfortable truth that they are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of domestic violence is disingenuous.
Derailing, distracting, distorting- It needs to stop.
Conversations about male violence against women are important. They are the precursor to change. Change won’t happen if we continue to minimise the suffering of female victims by derailing these conversations. We should talk about the fact that men are seriously injuring and killing women at an alarming rate. We should sign petitions, write letters, donate money, march in the streets, write blog posts, share articles, educate our children– we should do anything we can that helps to break this cycle. And we should be able to do these things without the caveat that “not all men” are the problem or the false assertion that men are just as likely to be victims of female violence, because not only do these actions derail the conversation and minimise the suffering of the women who experience domestic violence- they are part of the very culture that allows women to continue to be oppressed and victimised.
#FYBF @ With Some Grace