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.


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.

#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.



An apology and a thank you

To the man walking through the park this morning,

It was early, about 7.45am. We were the only two people around.

I was heading to the train station to go to work.

You were wearing workout clothes – blue tracksuit pants, Nike shoes, blue Adelaide Crows hoodie. I made sure I took note.

If I’d had to guess, I’d say you were in your 50’s. Slightly greying hair, not a full beard, but a little more than a 5 o’clock shadow.

I heard your footsteps behind me.

You must have seen me glance back.

You must have noticed my pace speed up.

I heard your footsteps quicken, in time with mine.

I’m sure you noticed my entire body tense as I fumbled around in my bag, trying hurriedly to get to my phone.

And then it happened. You called out to me.

“I’m going to speed up a little and overtake you on the right, so you can see me. I’ll be in front of you, not following you. You’ll be able to see me ahead of you.”

I didn’t say a word. I just kept furiously digging for my phone that was at the bottom of my bag.

You walked to my right, without saying anything else.

By the time I looked up, you’d turned in a different direction to the one I was going in.

To the man in the park this morning: I’m sorry.

 I’m sorry that I didn’t acknowledge what you’d done for me. I’m sorry that I ignored you.

Thank you for recognising my fear. Thank you for understanding why I was afraid. And most of all, thank you for not being an asshole.

What you didn’t know is that I walk that route almost every day. And every time I do, I walk past the factory. The factory where men honk a forklift horn at me. The factory where men whistle and catcall. The factory that the shouts of sexual harassment come from, almost every single time.  The factory I walk past with my arms crossed across my chest and my head down, as though I’m trying to make myself smaller somehow. There is no way you could know how much I hate walking past that factory. No way could you know that almost every day, for a brief moment, I’m terrified; that those shouts, honks and whistles are actually demeaning and scary because I don’t know what might follow them.

If someone is willing to shout such things at me, there’s nothing that tells me that they wouldn’t actually act on those things – force me to perform those sexual acts they so laughingly suggest. If someone is willing to shout things designed to humiliate a female, responding to them, telling them exactly what you think, doesn’t usually end well. In fact, it usually turns nasty and abusive in a split second.

But you didn’t need to know any of that. You read the situation. You realised how I was reading the situation. And you reacted in the best way possible.

To the man in the park this morning: thank you.

Self-doubt and Hypocrisy.

It’s a funny thing, this whole PhD process.

I seem to spend a huge amount of my time filled with feelings of self-doubt, and by all accounts, I’m not alone.

I’m just waiting for a tap on the shoulder, followed by someone telling me that somebody in admissions made a mistake a few years ago, and I should never have been allowed in.

Friday was one of those days.

How on earth has my research gone from sanitation in developing countries, to foreign aid and violence against women? Is that a sign that I really have no clue what I’m doing? Will my topic changes result in that seemingly inevitable tap on the shoulder?

Then I started wondering why I’m focusing on violence against women in developing countries, when it’s such an enormous problem in right here in Australia.

Violence against women isn’t just a problem of “the other”. At least one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner in Australia. One in three Australian women over the age of 15 has experienced physical or sexual violence in their lives.

I headed home with questions and uncertainty swirling around in my head, wondering how I could write about violence against women in a foreign country without being completely hypocritical.

As I waited at the train station, I watched a group of teenage girls say their farewells before the weekend. I smiled as they hugged each other, squealed over how awesome each other one was, and waved goodbye, shouting declarations of love to each other.

I watched as one of the girls boarded the train, her happy, carefree disposition changing in an instant.

She adopted a demeanour that was all too familiar to me. One I’d seen countless women adopt – one I myself adopt on an almost daily basis.

There was the quick, almost-but-not-quite subtle scan of the carriage. An iPod was quickly retrieved from her bag, the headphones shoved in her ears with expert speed. Head bowed down, shoulders slightly hunched. Arms folded across her chest, holding her school bag a little too tight.

There it was. The defense against Schrödinger’s Rapist.

The girl hastily shuffled past the group of teenage boys sitting to my right.

“Nice tits.”

She kept walking to the other end of the carriage.

The boys laughed, one of them shouting after her to ask why she hadn’t smiled. Couldn’t she take a compliment?

The group of boys could have been no more than fifteen years old.

I turned to them and asked them which part of objectifying someone was a compliment. How was she meant to have reacted, when she may have been scared shitless by a group of guys who were much bigger than her had decided that they had right to comment on her body?

They laughed, told me to lighten up and mind my own business.

I’ve thought about my research all weekend. The incident on the train wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary, but it was also on my mind all weekend.

My PhD research will continue on its current path. I will keep focusing on violence against women, using Timor-Leste as a case study.

But it doesn’t mean I’m a hypocrite.

Violence against women isn’t a problem of “the other”.

It happens in developed countries, and less developed countries. To wealthy women, and not-so-wealthy women.

I’ll keep researching and writing about violence against women. Because it’s something that’s happened to far too many of my friends and my family – both in Australia and overseas. And it’s not just rape or violent beatings. It encompasses so much more, like the harassment of teenage girls on public transport, verbal and emotional abuse, to name just a few examples. And its forms are the same the world over.

I won’t doubt my research anymore.

Because violence against women, in all its insidious forms, is a problem. A global problem.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep waiting for that tap on the shoulder.

Change the Conversation

Holy internet, Batman!

A few days ago, I wrote a post. A post that in the days since, has had almost 30,000 views, has been shared tens of thousands of times, and spent some time in the WordPress list of Top Posts of the Day.

The feedback I’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. Sure, there are those who don’t agree with my opinions. And then there have been those who decided to send me messages filled with threats and vitriol.

I didn’t expect any of it. What has happened in the last few days far exceeded anything I could have imagine, and has crushed my previously-glorious record of 61 views on a particular post.

To each and every single person that shared, tweeted, commented (both supportive and not-so-supportive), talked about, and critiqued my post, I want to say thank you.

Thank you for joining what I think is an important discussion.

Thank for encouraging and inspiring me.

For too long now we’ve been having the wrong conversation when it comes to rape and sexual assault.

We’ve been telling people to dress in a certain way, to avoid certain areas and to change their behaviour to avoid rape. We’ve been sharing what seem to be “reasonable” suggestions of how we can ensure our personal safety.

Yet rape still occurs.

We know that 1 in 5 Australian women will experience sexual assault at some point in their life.

We know that women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, representing over 80% of victims in Australia.

We know that male perpetrators of sexual assault far outweigh female perpetrators.

And we know that almost 80% of female victims know their perpetrator and most sexual assaults take place in a private dwelling.

So, the warnings to that woman to cover up, stay sober, and drive home instead going out drinking in a mini-skirt and walking home via a dark alley? They’re meaningless. She’s more likely be raped by her male housemate/boyfriend/friend when she gets home.

Knowing the facts, would we still consider it “reasonable” to tell women to alter their behaviour to reduce the risk of rape? Are we supposed to avoid people’s homes and males that we know? Our friends, our brothers, our boyfriends, our fathers?

I think not.

Women are raped while drunk or sober. They’re raped wearing mini-skirts and tracksuits. They’re raped in public areas and private homes. The only common factor is that they came into contact with a rapist.

We need to change the conversation.

We need to stop referring to all rapes and sexual assaults as “sex crimes” or “sex attacks”. Rape isn’t about sex. It’s about violence and power. Using the term “sex” diminishes the violent nature of sexual assault and implies some level of consent. Let’s call a spade a spade.

Let’s take the focus off of the victim and place it squarely where it belongs – on the perpetrator. Let’s call out media reports that use a passive voice when reporting sexual violence, placing victims at the forefront of the story and pushing the actions of the perpetrator into the background.

Let’s demand greater attention be paid to sexual assault and rape. Where are the calls for greater penalties for perpetrators? Where is the media coverage? Where are the comments from Prime Minister Tony Abbott (who also appointed himself Minister for Women) labelling rapes as “insidious”, or “utterly cowardly” as he has just done in relation to street violence? Why isn’t the PM calling for rapists to be treated with “appropriate severity”?

Let’s make sure that rapes get the same media attention and public outrage as “king hits”.

We can do it. All of us. Together, we can make a difference.

Let’s change the conversation.

A “horrific” incident and an “unfortunate reminder”.

**Trigger warning – violence, rape, victim blaming**

On New Year’s Eve, an 18 year old male was “king hit” on the streets of Sydney in an apparently unprovoked attack.

The story has led news bulletins for the last three days, has been the feature story on many news websites and a Google news search results in over 100 online articles relating to the incident.

On the same night, just over an hour’s drive south of Sydney, a 21 year old woman was grabbed from behind, dragged into nearby sand dunes, and raped.

I came across the story of the woman’s rape purely by chance. A Google news search results in just four almost-identical online articles about the incident.

It’s not necessarily the difference in media coverage between the two incidents that I find disturbing, (although, I do find it problematic) but the difference in the discourse in the articles.

The two incidents share similarities – both were violent, unprovoked and horrific. Both will likely have life-changing effects. Neither victim was at fault.

When discussing the “king hit”, Police Prosecutor Sergeant Lisa McEvoy called the event “horrific”, noting that it was “completely unprovoked”. There have been numerous calls for tougher penalties and requests to change the term “king hit” to “coward punch”. The senseless act of violence has been called brutal, horrific, savage and an act of thuggery.

When discussing the rape, Acting Inspector Dan Richardson of the Wollongong Police said the assault was an “unfortunate reminder for people to avoid walking alone” and “for friends to keep an eye on each other”, suggesting that “it might have helped if a different route was taken”. Articles discussing the rape all mention that the victim was walking alone and had been out a New Year’s celebrations. There have been no calls for harsher penalties for rapists, no descriptions of the incident as brutal or horrific.

I can’t help but wonder why the rape of a woman is an “unfortunate reminder” , while the bashing of a man is “horrific”. Kings Cross, where the “king hit” incident took place is well known as a frequently violent spot, yet nobody would dare ask why the young man was there in the first place.

Why, when writing about a rape, is it necessary to repeatedly mention that the woman was walking in the early hours of the morning, as though such an act caused her rape?

It didn’t.

A rapist caused her rape.

As women, we are often reminded that we should take steps to ensure our safety. But when you tell me not to drink too much, not to walk alone, not to walk in dimly lit areas, what you are really telling me is to make sure he rapes some other girl. Because there will always be someone who has had more to drink, is more alone, or is walking in a darker area. And I want that girl to be safe as well.

When you call the rape of a person an “unfortunate reminder” you are using a horrific event that happened to a human being as a cautionary tale. A bullshit cautionary tale.

I can’t believe that this is even something that I have to be pissed off about. It’s two-thousand-and- fucking-fourteen.

Nobody’s rape is an “unfortunate reminder”.

Walking alone does not cause rape.

Rapists are the sole fucking cause of rape.

End. Of. Story.