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White Ribbon Day

No more excuses

White Ribbon Day, on 25 November, is an opportunity to consider new ways of tackling family and domestic violence, write Barry Gittins and Carolyn Russell.

All year long, on midweek afternoons, Friday nights and weekends, the Australian family is at play. You can find us at playgrounds, parks, pools, ovals, sports grounds and beaches. Coaches, parents, kids, helpers and spectators; there is a heady mix of leisure, laughter and life lessons.

On 12 February 2014, a horrific tragedy occurred at just such an idyllic setting, on a cricket oval in Tyabb, 67 km south-east of Melbourne. The brutality of family and domestic violence (FDV), normally hidden behind locked doors, resulted in the death of 11-year-old Luke Batty at the hands of his father. It followed a decade of reported but never resolved physical violence against Luke’s mother, Rosie Batty.

Luke’s death, and the subsequent, tireless advocacy of his mother—our 2015 Australian of the Year—have gone a long way in removing the taboo status of domestic violence. That bleak day has transformed our national conversation around FDV.

However, as a 2014 national survey showed, we still have a long way to go. While our awareness might have increased, community attitudes towards family violence remain worryingly locked in time.

Through research such as the National Community Attitudes Survey (NCAS, vichealth.vic.gov.au/ncas), we know that one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence, most often by a previous partner.

One in six Australian women, and one in 19 Australian men, has endured physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner. Sixty-one percent of the women were looking after children when they experienced violence at the hands of an ex-partner.

Indeed, our emergency and community support services continue to respond to domestic violence incidents, and the number of assaults continues to increase.

What needs to happen to stop this violence?

What does it take for us to stand up and say no more?

The answer is nothing short of a major cultural shift, and certainly the most direct way to do this is to target the next generation—our children.

We don’t start out abusing each other. Somewhere along the way, our view and thoughts can change; we can start to accept family violence in relationships. Our values can slip away between childhood and maturity.

You Can’t Undo Violence by Our Watch found that one in four young Australians, aged from 12 to 24, hold attitudes that put them at risk of perpetrating, excusing or tolerating violence against women: reaching kids and young people in their first relationship is vital.

We breathe in views that praise violence, guide young people’s beliefs and shape experiences. There are still many people who choose to use violent behaviours to control, harm and dominate relationships.

We can introduce an ‘off switch’ to abuse, by educating our kids from a young age. Responding to their needs. Mentoring them, and standing up for vulnerable people.

To achieve this, we need to galvanise every Australian. The quintessential building block of our society, the family—seen daily at our ovals, swimming pools, beaches and parks—has to act on that message and reject violence.

Why? Because the violence is getting worse; while 83 women were killed by current or former partners from 2010 to 2012, at the time of writing, 76 women have already died this calendar year.

The NCAS goes on to report that 64% of people surveyed believe domestic violence is virtually inevitable ‘because men can’t control their anger’; 22% excuse domestic violence ‘if people get so angry they lose control’; 19% think men ‘should be in control of relationships and the head of the household’; 21% excuse violence ‘if the violent person regrets it’, while 6% still believe domestic violence ‘is justified if [a current/former partner] admits to sex with another man’.

Are you sick of seeing reports, hearing about yet another murdered partner or child? Are you over weak excuses for violence? Then let’s stop pretending it’s somebody else’s problem. This problem belongs to all of us.

Let’s no longer accept macho clichés and sexist attitudes. If you hear someone blaming a survivor, saying that what that person experienced was their fault, then set them straight with honest words.

Someone gets it right. Honour the example. Replicate it. Violence is rejected through respect, equality, and healthy attitudes to gender roles; actions can be changed, but only after we change our attitudes and words.

For more, go to  www.whiteribbon.org.au and www.ourwatch.org.au.

Article originally published in Warcry