Domestic violence, it’s more than just a women’s issue
By Karmil Nguyen, Suzanne Cory High School
When I was 14, I learnt that my dad was never going to be too fond of me having boyfriends. I did not understand why he wanted to stand in the way of ‘true love’ and figured that I would have to be 30 and married before I could start dating.
While I might be exaggerating – somewhat – one thing I now know for certain, is that my dad will actually always be hesitant about me entering relationships, regardless of how old or successful I am, for the sole reason that I am a girl and I need protection.
I need protection because – as disturbing, but not surprising as it is – on average, at least one woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner.
Domestic violence is this age-old issue that some of us will never see firsthand, if we are lucky. Because, if we are lucky, we will be able to sit back on our couches, to mourn the tragic losses of the victims on TV, while still being grateful that the name on the news isn’t our sister; that the name isn’t our mother; and that it isn’t our best friend.
We count ourselves lucky, for we are not the victim.
But for the 34 women murdered in Australia this year, fortune wasn’t the only thing that failed them. We as a society did.
In Australia alone, the police process 657 incidents of family violence on an average every day. That’s one every second minute. Yet why do we not feel the outrage?
We feel sorrow, and grief, and remorse, but why is there no sense of urgency? Why do we not reflect upon our own society, and question what is it that creates so many perpetrators?
Because while both men and women can be perpetrators or victims of family violence, overwhelmingly the majority of victims are women and children, and the majority of perpetrators are men.
Women are known to have long been advocating for better victim support, for a fairer justice system, and for recognition of domestic violence as transcending merely the physical and sexual assaults to include emotional, financial, and spiritual abuse.
To put it simply, a lot women get hurt by men, and a lot of women – yet still not enough –talk about getting hurt by men.
And because of this, we’ve become accustomed to labelling family and domestic violence as a women’s issue.
But in calling it a women’s issue, that is where I think we go wrong. Because in calling it a women’s issue, we’ve excluded the most responsible demographic from their obligation to pay attention to our discussions.
Most of the progress surrounding domestic violence made over the last decade has fixated around post-abuse support for the largely female-based demographic of victims.
But to really target the structural nature of the issue – to prevent rather than just punish – domestic violence can no longer be seen as a women’s issue, because fundamentally, at its core, this is a men’s issue.
It’s a men’s issue because it stems from a destructive culture of toxic masculinity that hurts women through abuse, but is also detrimental and restrictive to men themselves.
It’s a men’s issue because in Victoria, 98 per cent of reported sexual assaults and 87 per cent of homicides were committed against both men and women, by a man.
And it’s a men’s issue, because no matter how much women advocate, how many new laws policymakers implement, or how many victim shelters the government decides to fund, the problem won’t go away until men truly and fully become part of the conversation, rather than just being the topic of conversation.
This perception of domestic violence as a women’s issue has excluded men, who need to be targeted the most. Firstly, because of perpetrator statistics. But, more importantly, because men have the power to influence other men, to redefine masculinity, and to act as role models for the generations to follow.
As Malcolm Turnbull said, we must ‘change the hearts of men’ and ‘start with the youngest ones’.
Because as an issue that stems from deeply rooted discrimination and power imbalances, the structural nature of domestic violence makes it a gendered issue, surrounding a culture of toxic masculinity that teaches boys from an early age that weakness is repulsive, and sensitivity is condemned.
It’s this very system that creates perpetrators of domestic violence, while simultaneously invalidating the very real struggles of male victims, whose voices are neglected and overlooked because people don’t believe that they too can be abused, that they can be hurt, or that they can even be weak.
But to change this culture – a culture entrenched in our playgrounds, our classrooms, and our boardrooms – it’s not good enough to just not be perpetrators. Because while not all men are violent, all men can help prevent violence if they challenge what it means to be a man.
Not even just for the women and children who are victims, but also for the boys traumatised by watching their mothers get assaulted; the men abused and raped by other men; and the everyday bloke who can’t even cry without feeling like his sense of masculinity is being eroded.
This discussion isn’t at all about blaming men. It’s about being courageous enough to have open and honest conversations about a problem that affects all of us on some level.
Domestic violence is located on a spectrum of complex social problems, some of which we ignore and excuse. It can start in the most benign places of locker-room immaturity, but it can also be disrupted right then and there if we stop being afraid to call it out for what it is.
One voice is already permanently silenced every week in Australia. And because of them, we must no longer stay silent.