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. 

Advertisements

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.

To the whiny dude-bros of Twitter

There are a few gems of internet wisdom that present themselves on a fairly regular basis – especially if you’re posting anything related to men’s violence against women, street or online harassment, or pretty much anything that negatively impacts female-presenting people.

  1. Don’t feed the trolls
  2. Lewis’ Law – Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.

As a women who regularly shares articles relating to violence against women, harassment and other similar topics on social media platforms, such as Twitter, I am all too familiar with both trolls, and the accuracy of Lewis’ Law.

The trolls I’ve encountered are all of the same, garden-variety misogynist, MRA-types. Their key tactic is to intimidate. They aim to silence women using harassment, threats and bombardment-style attacks. They’ll fill your ‘mentions’ without you even having mentioned them. They sit in wait, pouncing at any mention of The Things They Don’t Like. Like equality. And women pointing out inequality. Their tweets are the epitome of Lewis’ Law. And the idea of not feeding them is not one I necessarily agree with. Because their sole aim is to intimidate women into silence, and I will not be silenced by an anonymous keyboard warrior. Do I sometimes get a little shaken up? Sure. When you get rape or death threats, who wouldn’t? I block and I report, and I know that there are thousands of others out there who have each other’s backs and will stand together against the online trolls. And I won’t be silenced.

So here it is. An open address to the whiny dude-bros of Twitter.

I want to start by addressing a couple of issues that you all, so very predictably, bring up.

  • When I post an article about sexual assault, or street harassment, I am not targeting you, nor am I targeting the other “poor innocents”, you so valiantly claim to be standing up for. I didn’t tag you in the post. I didn’t mention you directly. So unless you have something to feel guilty about, I wasn’t talking to you.
  • Street harassment” and “finding a girlfriend” are two very different things. If you don’t know the difference, or you think following a woman you don’t know or shouting “show us yer tits” is the best method for finding a partner, I can’t help you. Nobody can.
  • If you’re getting mad at people who post about sexual assault, violence against women, or street harassment online, you’re getting mad at the wrong people. How about directing some of that anger at your fellow dude-bros who assault, beat or harass women?

That last point is particularly important. Research released recently shows that 87% of Australian women have experienced verbal or physical street harassment in their lives. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators, women are overwhelmingly their victims. And the consequences for women aren’t limited to a moment of fear – all though that moment of fear should be enough for society to stand up against street harassment. Women limit their movements, change their behaviour, and suffer the effects of street harassment long after some asshole decided to grope them or scream at them from a car.

So, whiny dude-bros of Twitter, here’s the thing. You can scream “NOT ALL MEN” at the top of your lungs to as many women online as you want. But it’s not going to change the fact that your fellow dude-bros are the ones causing the problem in the first place.

I’ve had several of you, whiny Twitter dude-bros, contact me in the last few days after I posted a couple of articles about street harassment. Some of you enacted that bombardment treatment that has become so damn predictable, despite the fact I didn’t tag any of you in any of my posts. Hell, I’ve never even heard of you before. Yet there you were, filling my mentions with your whining about me targeting innocent dude-bros, asking me how you could get a girlfriend without resorting to street harassment, and calling me a whore.

You got inexplicably mad at a women who posted something online about street harassment, that wasn’t directed at you, that didn’t mention you in any way, shape or form.

And you harassed her.

So, thanks, whiny dude-bros of Twitter, for always coming through with the goods and proving Lewis’ Law over and over and over again. You make us more determined than ever to keep posting about and fighting to end street harassment, online harassment, and men’s violence against women.

Where was Prime Minister Abbott’s White Ribbon?

Earlier this year, I wrote the following post:

“Today, May 7th, is National Domestic Violence Remembrance Day. A day to remember those who have died, and the ones left behind, due to domestic and family violence.

A day to remember those that we ignored, that we failed.

Now, it’s inevitable that someone out there will respond saying that we didn’t simply ignore these deaths. And on that, I call bullshit. Sure, we dedicated several column inches in daily newspapers, and segments on the nightly news to those that lost their lives. And then, when all the hand-wringing and discussions on how awful it was, we forgot. We moved on with our lives, without taking any action, until news of the next death broke. Then it became more collective hand-wringing, more wondering about why it had happened once more. And again, we moved on.

From each of these deaths that were reported in the news, there will be another that the media didn’t pick up on. For each of these deaths, countless more women and children will still be living in terror and danger. For each of these deaths that were reported from the beginning of this year, we made our comments about how awful it was, and we moved on: 

– Therese Brown, 52 years old. Died 3 January 2014.

– Victoria Comrie Cullen, 39 years old. Died 22 January 2014.

– Luke Batty, 11 years old. Died 12 February 2014.

– Margaret Tannous, 47 years old. Died 17 February 2014.

– Baby girl (name unknown), 11 months old. Died 2 April 2014.

– Fiona Warzywoda, 33 years old. Died 16 April 2014.

– Savannah, 4 years old, and Indianna, 3 years old. Died 20 April 2014.

– Woman (name unknown), 47 years old. Died 30 April 2014.

 

And these are just the tip of the iceberg, the deaths that have occurred and been reported on in the last five months.

Domestic and family violence is a national emergency. And a national disgrace. We need to stop the silence, the quick mention on the daily news, the forgetting. We need real, tangible action. We need political will. And for that, we need a leader.”

Today, just over six months later, and on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (or, White Ribbon Day), I can sadly add over sixty more names to the list of those who have died as a result of men’s violence against women and children. Over sixty more people that we, as a society, have collectively failed.

Today, on White Ribbon Day, I watched as the Australian Prime Minister – and self-appointment Minister for Women – walked into question time at Parliament House, White Ribbon-less. While almost other member of parliament was clearly displaying their White Ribbon (the global symbol of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women), the Minister for Women, rather conspicuously, was not.

Prime Minister Abbott enters question time on White Ribbon Day - sans White Ribbon. (Source: The Guardian)

Prime Minister Abbott enters question time on White Ribbon Day – sans White Ribbon.
(Source: The Guardian)

At a White Ribbon Day breakfast yesterday, Prime Minister Abbott said “domestic violence has no friends anywhere. It’s just wrong, it’s never justified, it’s never excused”.

But the Prime Minister is wrong. The findings from the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) suggest that men’s violence against women in Australia is excused. And people do find ways to justify it.

I have written before about the PM’s lack of action on men’s violence against women, and I will likely do so again. I will do it not because I wish to continually attack one man, but because this is a man who did appoint himself as the Minister for Women. A man who leads a government that continues to perpetuate sexism and inequality – two things that we know contribute greatly to men’s violence against women.

When Prime Minister Abbott speaks at a White Ribbon Day breakfast he is preaching to the choir. And he’s doing it in a room of media representatives who will report his words.

When Minister for Women Abbott walks into Parliament, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, without wearing the global symbol of that day that almost all of his political colleagues were, his actions speak louder than any of his previously spoken words.

 

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

We are failing women. And it’s killing them.

Last weekend I was reading a story online about a family from a small town in rural Australia. A family that included three children. Three children who, along with their mother, were murdered by their father. The story allowed comments (that have since been removed), and although conventional internet wisdom suggests “Don’t Read The Comments”, I went ahead and read them anyway. Until I got to one that said:

“This wasn’t a case of domestic violence. Domestic violence is the repeated beating of a woman over a long period of time”.

It was a comment that blew my mind.

It was a comment that made me angry.

It was a comment that had gotten over 60 ‘likes’.

Today, VicHealth released the findings from the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS). And those findings are horrifying. Horrifying, yet not surprising.

The eye-opening stats just seem to go on and on.

I suspect that in the coming days, we will hear more about these findings. And I hope we do, because Australia is failing. It’s failing its women. It’s failing its men. It’s failing its children.

The person who commented on the story about the family in that small town, and those who had ‘liked’ it, are not alone in their thinking. And those ideas don’t occur in a vacuum. They occur in a country that privileges men above women and tolerates misogyny.

They occur in a country where attitudes regarding men’s violence against women means that domestic violence remains hidden, victim-blaming is prevalent, and jokes about rape are considered funny.

The survey found that over a quarter of people believe that men make better political leaders. A belief that occurs in a nation where senior politicians and media personalities were the perpetrators of gender-based bullying against our first female Prime Minister.

The survey found that 12% of people believe that when jobs are scarce, men have more right to a job than women. A belief that occurs in a nation where our male Prime Minister named himself as the Minister for Women.

The survey found that there has been a decrease in the number of people who believe that violence against women is common. A belief that occurs despite police in New South Wales alone receiving an average of 94 domestic violence report every day.

The survey found that almost 1 in 5 Australian’s believes that a woman is partly to blame if she is sexually assaulted while she’s intoxicated. A belief that occurs in a nation where alcohol-fuelled street violence is “horrific”, but the rape of a woman is “an unfortunate reminder”.

We need to change, Australia. Because men’s violence against women doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens along a continuum.

When we ask “why didn’t she leave” instead of “why did he hit her”, we’re blaming her.

When we laugh at a rape joke, we’re telling the world that rape is okay.

When we excuse street harassment with “boys will be boys”, we’re telling women that their safety is not important.

As I’ve said before, when we tell women not to drink too much or not to wear a short skirt, we’re telling them to make sure that he rapes someone else, instead of telling him not to rape.

These factors, and many more, enable the climate in our country that lets men’s violence against women thrive. And each one of us is responsible for changing it – by not laughing at that joke, by not blaming that victim, by speaking up when we see or hear sexist attitudes.

And we need to do it fast. Because we’re failing women. And it’s killing them.

#YesAllMen wouldn’t have been a surprising hashtag.

The violent rampage of a man whose hatred of women was so deep that it drove him to kill was the catalyst for one of the most heartbreaking, powerful and disturbing trends I’ve seen on Twitter. #YesAllWomen saw women from around the globe share their stories of harassment, abuse and various types of misogyny that they had endured. The hashtag demonstrated the many ways our societies allow men to somehow feel entitled to women, usually at the expense of women’s health and wellbeing, safety, and even lives.

Of course, #YesAllWomen was met with the inevitable cries of #NotAllMen from those who felt slighted that so many women had spoken out about their feelings of pain and terror at the hands of men. Now, in the tens of dozens of tweets that I read, I didn’t see one that actually claimed that all men harass and abuse. Not one.

But, and I say this without trying to be provocative or sensationalist, I would not be surprised if I had seen a tweet that read #YesAllMen.

I’ve written before about those “safety” messages we as women get: don’t drink too much, don’t wear that short skirt or low-cut top, don’t walk alone. To me, those messages not only tell me to try to make sure he rapes someone else, they also tell me #YesAllMen. Those messages – given by friends, family, the police, security personnel, teachers and others – are given with the implication that any male stranger I encounter is a potential rapist, who will strike should I be too drunk, or showing a little too much skin. Those messages don’t come with a disclaimer noting that #NotAllMen are a bad. They are blanket warnings, covering any and all men and we have heard them our entire lives.

#YesAllWomen demonstrated the myriad of ways in which women are harassed, abused and assaulted on a regular basis. When women are consistently subjected to men who are total strangers hurling sexually explicit remarks at them as they walk to the train station, another who rubs up against her in a suggestive way on the bus, or decides, mid-conversation, that sticking his hand up her dress in bar (all things that have happened to me fairly recently), I wouldn’t blame them for thinking #YesAllMen. There is absolutely nothing in these actions that would suggest that these men aren’t capable of taking their verbal and physical assaults one step further. Coupled with those “safety” messages, I think #YesAllMen could be an entirely reasonable thought.

Logically, I know that it’s #NotAllMen. We all do. But logical thinking can be a funny thing. I know, for example, that I’m more likely to be raped by someone I know in a private house, than I am by a stranger on the street. But it’s what Tom Meagher so brilliantly described as the “Monster Myth” that so often rules the way we think. The “how not to get raped” messages we get from the media, from authorities, from those who are concerned about our safety, is to always be prepared and to protect ourselves from strangers, because #YesAllMen are potential rapists. And those messages have been so pervasive, in my life at least, that even though I know better, I will still employ every tactic I can if I find myself walking through a park with a man behind – keys between my knuckles, phone in the other hand, perfume ready to be sprayed into someone’s eyes.

Those “safety” messages lend themselves to the Monster Myth. They tell us that if we follow a certain set of rules, we’ll stay safe from the stranger lurking in the bushes. They tell us #YesAllMen. Likewise, the Monster Myth tells us that it is those men we don’t know who rape. Any man. #YesAllMen. It’s a vicious and useless cycle.

#YesAllWomen was a glimpse into the terror and suffering of countless women around the world. #NotAllMen missed the point completely. It was a reactionary hashtag that didn’t show that those who used it hate men’s violence against women. It showed nothing more than childish defensiveness that buys in to the Monster Myth, thus perpetuating the idea of #YesAllMen. If those who continually cry #NotAllMen were so concerned about being tarred with the violent brush, they would be better off speaking out against the things that enable men’s violence against women in all its forms, whether it be a rape joke, or their friend groping a girl in a bar.

We know that it’s #NotAllMen. We really do. But the ever-present Monster Myth and behaviour-policing “safety” messages tell us otherwise.

 

 

This is what leadership on violence looks like.

“And perhaps most important, we need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted, you are not alone. You will never be alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back… I’ve often said in my travels around the world: You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and girls. Those nations that are successful, they’re successful in part because women and girls are valued. And I’m determined that, by that measure, the United States of America will be the global leader.”

–          Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, 22 January 2014.

 

“My father used to say that the greatest abuse of all was the abuse of power, and the cardinal sin among the abuse of power avenues that can be taken is for a man to raise his hand to a woman. That’s the cardinal sin. There’s no justification in addition for us not intervening. Men have to step up to the bar here. Men have to take more responsibility. Men have to intervene. The measure of manhood is willingness to speak up and speak out, and begin to change the culture.”

–          Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States of America, 22 January 2014.

 

Earlier this year, President Obama and Vice President Biden announced a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The formation of the task force was just one of the results of the tireless work of survivors, allies and activists. The initial announcement, and the resulting first task force report, demonstrates a huge step in addressing sexual assault on university campuses across the US. But more than that, it demonstrates something that is so noticeably absent in Australia when it comes to issues of violence against women – leadership and political will.

My previous post questioned the political silence surrounding domestic violence, and noted that the World Health Organization advocates for governments to recruit social, political, religious and other leaders to speak out against violence against women, a view shared by other leading bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations.

Those who are in positions of influence and authority, especially men, play a vital role in raising awareness about the issue, while challenging ideas that normalise the use of violence. Most importantly, these men – whether they are politicians, celebrities, or other notable figures, can use their influence to promote positive changes.

The Obama administration has harnessed not only the power of celebrity men in a great public service announcement campaign, 1 is 2 Many, but is also tackling the issue at a legislative level.

In short, this is what leadership looks like. Leadership that is sorely lacking when it comes to violence against women in Australia.

A recent spike in domestic and family violence related deaths continues to see silence from the leader of our nation, Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Silence that, to me, suggests that the lives of women and children hold little value to Prime Minister Abbott.

Domestic Violence NSW has started an online petition urging the Prime Minister to take the urgent political action that is required to end the unnecessary domestic violence deaths that take the lives of over 50 women every year and to recognise that domestic and family violence is a national emergency. I ask that everyone who reads this signs and shares this petition with as many others as possible. It’s time that we forced our “leader” to step up and lead.

Today, May 7th, is National Domestic Violence Remembrance Day. A day to remember those who have died, and the ones left behind, due to domestic and family violence.

A day to remember those that we ignored, that we failed.

Now, it’s inevitable that someone out there will respond saying that we didn’t simply ignore these deaths. And on that, I call bullshit. Sure, we dedicated several column inches in daily newspapers, and segments on the nightly news to those that lost their lives. And then, when all the hand-wringing and discussions on how awful it was, we forgot. We moved on with our lives, without taking any action, until news of the next death broke. Then it became more collective hand-wringing, more wondering about why it had happened once more. And again, we moved on.

From each of these deaths that were reported in the news, there will be another that the media didn’t pick up on. For each of these deaths, countless more women and children will still be living in terror and danger. For each of these deaths that were reported from the beginning of this year, we made our comments about how awful it was, and we moved on:

 

Therese Brown, 52 years old. Died 3 January 2014.

Victoria Comrie Cullen, 39 years old. Died 22 January 2014.

Luke Batty, 11 years old. Died 12 February 2014.

Margaret Tannous, 47 years old. Died 17 February 2014.

Baby girl (name unknown), 11 months old. Died 2 April 2014.

Fiona Warzywoda, 33 years old. Died 16 April 2014.

Savannah, 4 years old, and Indianna, 3 years old. Died 20 April 2014.

Woman (name unknown), 47 years old. Died 30 April 2014.

 

And these are just the tip of the iceberg, the deaths that have occurred and been reported on in the last five months.

Domestic and family violence is a national emergency. And a national disgrace. We need to stop the silence, the quick mention on the daily news, the forgetting. We need real, tangible action. We need political will. And for that, we need a leader.

 

 

Take action and demand leadership on domestic and family violence. Contact Prime Minister Abbott and your local MP here.

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