Violence against women & Australia’s lip service.

The UN’s “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” finished just two days ago, on December 10th. The “16 Days” campaign is designed to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world.

In the TWO DAYS since December 10th, we’ve learned a number of things about violence against women in Australia.

Thanks to the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, we’ve learned that the federal government won’t support a national standard of 10 days of paid domestic violence leave because they “just believe it’s another cost on our economy that will have an impact on our international competitiveness”.

Sorry, women whose partners abuse them. Your life is not as important as the government’s bottom line.

Today, we learned that, like other forces around the nation, sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse is widespread in the South Australian Police Force. More than a third of SA Police officers and other staff have endured sexual harassment that ranged from sexualised and suggestive comments to rape at the hands of other officers and staff. Reports of officers harassing or “ranking” the attractiveness of victims or witnesses also emerged. Those who complained about the abuse and sexism were further victimised, labelled “bitches” and “troublemakers”.

If you’re a policewoman who has been subjected to such behaviour, who do you report to in this “boys club” where such behaviour has been labelled “acceptable and normalised”? If you’re a civilian woman, how can you trust that the police will believe you, will take you seriously, won’t target you for further abuse?

And – as the icing on the violence against women cake – we learned the cost-cutting “triage system” put in place at 1800 Respect, the national domestic violence and sexual assault helpline, has been riddled with problems and may have re-traumatised those seeking assistance.

So often we hear questions like “why doesn’t she leave?”, “why didn’t she report to the police?” or “why didn’t she seek help?”. This is why.

How do you leave when you can’t afford time off work?

Why would you report to the police, knowing that the person you’re speaking to might be a perpetrator or might decide if your report is “worthy” based on your appearance?

How can you seek help when the national helpline has been restructured so poorly that you might not be able to speak to a person who has actual counselling qualifications?

We pretend that we’ve come so far in addressing violence against women in Australia. Look what we’ve done! Rosie Batty was the Australian of the Year! Our politicians attend White Ribbon Day breakfasts! We hear about violence against women on the news!

It’s bullshit. It’s bullshit and nothing more.

We haven’t come far. Hell, we’ve barely made any progress at all. For all of their lip service and ribbon-wearing, those who are supposed to support survivors of violence have failed them miserably.

We don’t need more awareness raising. We know all of the statistics about violence against women in Australia. They’ve been well established and spoken about over and over again. We don’t need more lip service or patronising ribbon-wearing bullshit.

If you have been impacted by domestic or sexual violence, you can still call 1800 Respect. Ask to speak to a trauma-informed counsellor.

If you don’t need help yourself, consider donating to an organisation that directly helps those that do (e.g. not White Ribbon).

Write to your member of parliament. Demand better.

We need real services. We need funding. We need cultural change.

But first we have to admit that Australia has a huge problem when it comes to violence against women.

We have to admit that we haven’t made any real progress, despite how things might appear.

We have to admit that we have a hell of a long way to go.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

I Have The Right

 

This past Tuesday, I was scared in my own home.

I was scared and shocked and intimidated.

And I froze.

As a renter, periodic inspections are part of life. They’re annoying, but I completely understand their necessity. I am residing in a house that belongs to someone else. I pay to live here, but I understand that the property doesn’t belong to me and therefore it’s only fair that regular inspections are carried out to ensure I’m not causing damage to a house that belongs to someone else.

One of those quarterly annoyances that is the periodic inspection was scheduled for 11:00 am this past Tuesday.

Of course these things never quite seem to take place as scheduled and as the clock ticked closer to 12:30 pm, I was mildly annoyed, but not at all surprised. It wasn’t a huge deal – I was working from home. But I’d expected that it would be well and truly done by 12:00 pm and I’d scheduled a meeting for 12:30.

Just before 12:30, there was a knock at the door and I answered, relieved that I might be able to make that 12:30 pm skype meeting that I’d organised.

The real estate agent who attended wasn’t someone I’d met before. I’ve been living here for over two years and my inspections had always been carried out by a lovely woman, a woman I’ve enjoyed chatting with at each of my previous inspections.

My dog – being, you know, a dog – barked at the sight of the strange man at the door. Before he’d even introduced himself to me or confirmed that he was indeed the representative of the real estate company that manages the property, he started shouting at her. I was instantly taken aback. I reassured him that she would stop barking and leave him alone quickly. She always does. Frankly, she’s a useless guard dog. All it takes is one calm acknowledgement of her presence and she rolls straight onto her back, ready for a belly rub. She can’t help it. She just loves people and attention and belly rubs.

The man at my front door, however, decided that the best course of action was to ignore me all together and to continue shouting at the dog. Her tail wagging, she got closer to him to have a sniff of his shoes. Again, you know, because she’s a dog.

He kicked his leg in her direction, narrowly avoiding contact with her body, before walking into my house.

I was stunned. A man who I had never met, who had barely even acknowledged my presence, had shouted at and tried to kick my Chihuahua before walking into the house in which I live.

He walked into the lounge room, as I stood in the hallway, shaking. I didn’t quite know how to react. The dog, of course, barked again. He shouted several more times, repeating “inside” over and over waving his ipad dangerously close to the dog’s face.  We were inside. The front door was closed. We were inside. Why was he yelling at my dog to go inside when we already were?

Still, he hadn’t said a word to me.

I coaxed the dog away with the promise of treats and retreated to the kitchen. My entire body was screaming at me to grab the dog and get out of the house, to say something, to tell him to leave, but I didn’t. I sat at the kitchen table, the dog on my lap and my mobile phone in my hand, frozen.

He continued walking around the house, taking photos of each room, as the previous agent had done – all the time not saying a word to me.

Finally, after he’d photographed the backyard and walked back inside, he spoke: “is it just one bedroom?”

Yup, I replied. My voice sounded small and shaky.

With an abrupt “have a nice day”, he was gone.

I locked the front door and headed out the back for a cigarette, wondering what the hell had just happened.

His behaviour was not normal. In the 15 years that I’ve been renting, I’d certainly never encountered anything quite like it before. But my behaviour? It wasn’t normal either. At least not for me. I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t stand up for herself, who doesn’t speak up when something isn’t right, who shies away from confrontation. In fact, I’m the opposite. I’m the woman who stood up and shouted at a bus full of strangers when they hurled racist slurs at the driver a few weeks ago. I’ve never been the person who didn’t say something.

I went back inside and emailed the manager of the real estate company, expressing my shock at the unprofessional and unnecessary behaviour I’d experienced.

An hour later, I was still shaking. It took almost two hours before it dawned on me. The reason I’d frozen, stayed silent, not reacted like I usually would? Fear.

I was scared.

A man I’d never met before had been in my home, with nobody else around, shouting and physically intimidating my small dog. The situation seemed threatening, it made me anxious, and instead of my “fight” or “flight” instincts taking over, my “freeze” instinct jumped on in.

I’ve since learned that the real estate company won’t be sending another agent to conduct future inspections of the property. They say he’s a “gentleman” and is always “very respectful” to clients. Apparently scaring tenants is another area in which you get a “first-time freebie” if you’re a man who has acted violently.

Maybe my “freeze” response was a good thing. I mean, if you’re a grown man who has no problems attempting to kick a Chihuahua, who knows how you’d react if I told you to leave? There was nobody else around. I was alone in a house with a man whose actions I deemed to be irrational and threatening. Maybe saying nothing was the best course of action.

But today? Today I’m angry.

I have the right to feel safe in my own home.

I shouldn’t have to ask that my mother, or father or anyone else is present at future inspections because I, a grown woman, am scared of the real estate agent.

I have the right to feel safe in my own home.

He shouldn’t get a “first time freebie”. One complaint should be enough.

So, I’m going to fight. I’m not going to accept that I have to be fearful because they refuse to take action. I’m going to fight because I have the right to feel safe in my own home – we all do. And that is not negotiable.

World Toilet Day & the unmasking of a Twitter troll.

November 19th is World Toilet Day, a day designed to draw attention to the fact that almost one third of the world’s population doesn’t have access to a safe toilet, contributing to the deaths of around 1000 children under the age of five every single day. The first World Toilet Day was held in 2001, and it became an official “United Nations International Day” in 2013.

Anyone that knows me well enough knows that the issue of sanitation is one of my passions. It was the focus of many of my essays as an undergraduate student. It was the topic I chose for my honours thesis, and was supposed to be what my PhD research centred around (the universe apparently had different ideas on that).

So, as she does every year, a friend wished me a happy World Toilet Day on Twitter.

And then this happened:

troll1

Apparently my research interests and deep love of all things loo-related means that I hate men. It was news to me. I actually laughed out loud at Mr.CloudedByAgony’s nonsense.

I’ve previously written about the trolls I – and pretty much all women online – have encountered, and how I refuse to be silenced by the anonymous whiny dude-bros of Twitter. So, I retweeted his absurdity for all to see (and by all, I mean the small number of followers I have on Twitter):

Troll2

So, after questioning his knowledge of the existence of World Toilet Day, I carried on with my day. I put some laundry on. I got started on cooking dinner. I came back to my Twitter feed to find this response:

Troll3

For those of you who are like me, and had never actually heard of the word “branks” before, let me fill you in. Google informed me that: “A scold’s bridle, sometimes called a brank’s bridle or simply branks, was an instrument of punishment used primarily on women, as a form of torture and public humiliation. The device was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head.” It looks just as evil as it sounds.

At first, I got kind of creeped out. I mean, I’ve had my fair share of rape threats and violent taunts thrown at me online – although admittedly it’s much less than other women get. This, however, was a level of weirdness that I hadn’t encountered before. But then I got mad. Dealing with aggressive tweets from anonymous creepers is exhausting. It’s exhausting, unnecessary, and incessant. It becomes a never-ending cycle of reading awful (and often graphic) threats, blocking and reporting. So, I decided to check out Mr. CloudedByAgony’s other tweets. He seems like your average anonymous white supremacist, misogynistic Gamergater who likes to demean and threaten anyone who isn’t a white male.

Except that his Twitter bio mentions that he’s a single dad to four kids, two boys and two girls.

I wondered what kind of man would send such vile things to women online if he had two daughters. Surely he would be horrified if it were his daughters that were on the receiving end of tweets telling them that they’re the reason medieval torture devices were invented, right?

So, I did a little digging. It took me roughly ten minutes to discover Mr. CloudedByAgony’s real name. It took another ten minutes to work out what part of Colorado he lives in, the names of three of his four kids, and what school one of them attends.

It turns out that his anonymous hatred isn’t so anonymous after all.

I’ve often wondered if people would be so quick to fire off their missiles of hate and threats of violence online if they were unable to hide behind a username that doesn’t identify them. I wanted so badly to let him know how easily I’d worked it out, how quickly I was able to unmask a troll, using nothing but Google. I wanted to send him a private message to let him know that I’d figured out exactly who he was. But I didn’t.

For a brief moment, I felt like I’d managed to gain the upper hand on a guy that sits on the internet with the sole intent of harassing people – women in particular. I had a tiny little bit of power back in my corner, but I couldn’t use it.

I couldn’t use it because I would never stoop so low as to use the details I’d discovered about his children for my own benefit. It’s not their fault they have a father who likes to abuse people online.

But I also couldn’t it for another reason. One that I’m almost embarrassed to admit: I’m too scared. I know too well what can happen when people online decide to target a woman. I’ve seen the revolting, terrifying threats. I’ve seen the doxing and I’ve read about “swatting”. I’ve spoken to women who lives have been irrevocably changed because some guy somewhere decided that they were his target of choice.

No matter how much I want to, I won’t be letting a troll know that his vitriol is no longer anonymous, because we live in a world where men’s violence against women is so prevalent that I’m too scared to do anything with the small amount of power that I gained back last night. I’m too scared of the possible repercussions. And I hate that I’m scared. I hate that violent repercussions are even something I have to consider, but I do.

The best I can do for now is to report his tweet to Twitter, an action that’s probably futile, but that I’ll do anyway. The futile action taken by countless women around the world, over and over and over again because we live in a world where some men don’t like women to have a voice, while others don’t think online threats are serious enough to warrant real action.

I will report this creepy weirdo to Twitter, and then I’ll carry on with my life, tweeting about whatever I want, and enduring the cycle of blocking and reporting as necessary. And continuing to mark World Toilet Day with gusto every November 19th until every single person on this planet has access to a safe and hygienic toilet. Even those who threaten women online.

 

 

She Did Everything Right

**Content warning – this post contains discussions of sexual assault**

“Why didn’t she report it to the police?”

It has to be one of the most commonly asked questions when incidents of violence against women are reported. And it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. When someone has been the victim of crime, we generally expect that they will report it to the police. And, in a perfect world, the police would investigate, make an arrest, the matter would go to court and justice would be served.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

There were two incidents of sexual assault reported in Australian media last week – in both instances, a male university student had sexually assaulted a female acquaintance. In both instances, the woman had reported the matter to the police, and the matter was taken to court.

In Adelaide, a 21 year old male was sentenced to at least 12 months in prison for the digital rape of a female friend who was asleep. He admitted to the digital penetration of a drunk friend several times over the course of the evening. When she tried to stop him, he apologised, but continued to abuse her. In his sentencing remarks, District Court Judge Steven Millsteed said:

“The crime that you committed was very serious, you took advantage of a grossly intoxicated young woman… The fact that GW was significantly intoxicated at the time does not lessen the gravity of your behaviour. Women, intoxicated or otherwise, are subject to the full protection of the law”.

While it’s heartening to hear a judge note that the consumption of alcohol in no way excuses sexual assault, his further remarks were less encouraging:

“It is evident from all of the material before me that you are a person of previous good character. You strike me, from everything I know, as a decent young man who went off the rails for a short time. It is very sad to see someone with your background before me”.

In other words, “nice boys don’t rape, they just make mistakes”.

A week later, in Brisbane, a District Court jury heard the case of another male university student who had been charged with three counts of sexual assault. He had met a female acquaintance for a coffee and assaulted her in a car park. The woman told police that he had pinned her up against the side of the car, bit her, groped her, and put his hand in her pants. She told police:

“I was struggling violently, I said, ‘stop it’”

The man admitted to pinning the woman against the car, but told police:

“The reason why she wasn’t letting me kiss her on the lips was because she was doing the whole tease thing”.

He said he was just “testing the waters” and thought the two could be “friends with benefits”.

The incident was caught on CCTV.

The jury found him not guilty.

A sexual assault case takes, on average, twelve months to reach court in Australia. Reporting rapes are known to be low, and it’s estimated that just 4% of those who are found guilty of sexual assault will be imprisoned.

The women in these cases did everything “right”. They did what was “expected” of them as sexual assault victims.

They reported their assaults. They stuck out those long months, waiting for the matter to appear in court.

One of these men, at least, will spend some time in prison. He has received some form of punishment. But hey, he’s a “nice guy”, who just made a mistake, right?

The other man is free. He will be free to continue to attend university, get an education, to carry on with his life as if nothing happened.

The woman he assaulted doesn’t get that luxury.

Even though she did everything right.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault, you can get 24/7 help by contacting 1800Respect via their website or on 1800 737 732. 

Cultivating a culture of intolerance

In the wake of the murder of nine African-American’s by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina this week, Australians reacted the same way we always do when a “newsworthy” gun-related killing takes place in the USA.

With disbelief, coupled with a glimmer of smug superiority.

We shake our collective heads at a nation that owns almost half of the world’s civilian-owned guns and wonder when someone will have the courage to take on the seemingly all-powerful NRA.

We wonder how change will come if the deaths of TWENTY five and six year-olds in a mass shooting wasn’t enough to shake America out of its gun-loving ways.

And we gloat about Australia’s lack of mass shootings since laws were tightened following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

Many of us have watched with horror as nothing more than sheer racism has seen countless African-American men gunned down at the hands of white police in the US.

Again, we got our smugness on. We’re better than that. We don’t have mass shootings. Our cops aren’t killing black people at a rate three times higher than they’re killing white people.

We tell ourselves that America has big problems. Problems that we don’t have. We tell ourselves that they can learn from us; that we’ve got it right.

Except we’re wrong.

We might not have the same number of gun deaths as the US does (not even close) – among civilian or law enforcement populations.

But it’s not like we’re a shining beacon of peace here in Australia. Least of all if you’re a non-white person.

The racist persecution and killings of people of colour is quieter here, somehow.

We* don’t talk about Aboriginal deaths in custody. We don’t talk about the fact that Aboriginal people make up approximately 30% of the Northern Territory’s general population, but 85% of their prison population. We don’t talk about the fact that Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely than white women to be victims of domestic violence. We don’t talk about the forced closures of Aboriginal communities that are happening simply due to Australia’s ingrained racism.

We don’t talk about the gross abuse of the human rights of predominantly non-white asylum seekers in Manus and Nauru. We don’t talk about the fact that these asylum seekers have become political footballs, real humans used to further political agendas.

The murders that took place in South Carolina this week are no different to the deaths of Australian Aboriginals in custody. They’re no different to the murders of countless people of colour at the hands of white police in America, which in turn, are no different to the appalling manner in which successive Australian governments have demonised asylum seekers.

They’re all things that happen when we allow the cultivation of a culture of racism and intolerance. A culture that, in Australia at least, right now comes from the top; from our so-called leaders. “Leaders” who will allow the passing of laws that will punish those that speak out about the human rights violations taking place in Australia’s offshore detention centres. “Leaders” who refuse to act to end the sexual assaults of children in those centres. “Leaders” who will forcibly remove Aboriginal communities from the lands they have lived on for tens of thousands of years.

While we decry the latest in a long line of mass shootings in the USA, and discuss the blatant white supremacy that led to them, we need to also look at what’s happening in our own country.

Because the only real difference that I can see is the presence, or absence, of guns.

*Obviously, this is a generalisation. But, while there are some amazing people in Australia who are doing all they can to address these issues, there are obviously those who either don’t care, or support the things being done in our names.

The Aid Industry: Can we really get by on doing good with good intentions only?

Media Diversified

by Palwesha Yusaf

Sásá ha’ a nalo ó batar la fulin, kôlelemai. (Why does your corn not grow?)
Sásá ha’ a nalo ó hare la burit, kôlelemai. (Why doesn’t your rice sprout?)
Se se ha’ a nalo ó kabun la bosu, kôlelemai. (Who causes your empty stomachs?)
Se se ha’ a nalo ó kosar la maran, kôlelemai. (Who causes your never ending sweat?)

Kolêlelemairadekokodelê, kôlelemai. (Who is responsible? Who is to blame?)
Kolêlelemairadekokodelê. (Who is responsible?)
Kôle hele laloikôlelemai. (Who is to blame?)

I knew I was in trouble when the simulation exercise began. I was completing pre-departure training for my home country’s international aid program. My assignment was in the small half isle nation of Timor-Leste, nestled in between Australia and Indonesia. The participants were of all ages and professions, though many had little to no experience in community development. Much of the training involved preparing us for the…

View original post 1,333 more words

Being alone in parks doesn’t harm women

“I suggest to people, particularly females, they shouldn’t be alone in parks – I’m sorry to say that. That is the case” – Homicide squad Detective Inspector Michael Hughes, Victorian Police.

On March 17th 2015, a 17 year old woman was killed in a suburban park, not far from her home.

It doesn’t matter that she was alone. It doesn’t matter if it was dark (it wasn’t). It doesn’t matter if she was wearing headphones. She was killed by a man who decided to kill her.

In his comments to the media, Victorian Police homicide squad Detective Inspector Michael Hughes indicated that women shouldn’t be alone in parks if they want to stay safe. He later claimed, following widespread criticism, that he didn’t actually say that but the audio is there. He absolutely, 100% certainly did say it.

The Detective isn’t alone in his silly statements. I’ve previously written about Acting Inspector Dan Richardson of the New South Wales police, who described the violent stranger rape of a woman as an “unfortunate reminder for people to avoid walking alone” and stating that “it might have helped if a different route was taken”.

I could write again and again about the statistical futility of risk reduction messages. I could point out that I’m more likely to be harmed by a male that I know, in my own home, than by a stranger in the park. But people – the police included, apparently – will continue to tell us that if she hadn’t been alone, she might have been safe; if she’d just walked a different way, she might have been safe.

But here’s what they’re forgetting: women already do alter their behaviour to try to ensure their personal safety.

And they still die. They still get raped. They still get assaulted.

Ask any woman to list the things they do to “keep themselves safe” and I guarantee it will look pretty much like my list:

  • If possible, avoid going out after dark,
  • Avoid making eye contact,
  • If I have to be walking alone and there’s not a lot of people around, make a phone call so I have someone to talk to, or at least pretend to be on the phone,
  • If I have to be walking alone and it’s not dark outside, wear headphones to block out the street harassment,
  • Ensure my mobile, keys, perfume or anything that could possibly be used in self-defence is within reach at all times,
  • If I’m walking alone and someone else is walking too close to me, cross the street,
  • Take particular note of what that person walking near me looks like – clothing brands, heights, weight, other identifying features,
  • If I am out late, I don’t catch a bus. I have to take a taxi, and I take note of the registration number and the driver ID.

It’s exhausting just thinking about it, but these are the things that I, and I’m guessing millions of other women, do on a daily basis. Consciously or not, I adhere to most of those goddamn safety messages. A lot of women do.

So, Detective Inspector Michael Hughes, to you and anyone else that wants to keep reminding us that women just have to bear some of the responsibility for their own safety, I want to say this:

We already place limits on ourselves.

We already restrict our movements.

We already stop ourselves from living life the way we want to, the way we should be able to.

And we’re still being raped. We’re still being murdered.

Women aren’t the problem here.