Rape, Intimate Partner Violence and the Too Hard Basket

Author’s Note: I do understand that violence happens to both men and women, and that either men or women can be the perpetrators. I am focussing purely on male violence against women because it has particularly far reaching consequences, most specifically for the children that are caught in the middle. There is certainly scope to discuss the culture of violence in other forms, I just haven’t chosen to do so in this article

In the last few years the media has highlighted an increasing level of violence on the streets of Sydney, culminating in then Premier Barry O’Farrell introducing new legislation that aims to reduce the incidence of ‘cowards punches.’ Some of these new laws have been popular and some have met with opposition, but perhaps the greatest legacy of the young men who have been victims of one-punch violence is that the discussion has started. This is no mean feat.

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While the Australian culture is sometimes difficult to define, one of its underlying currents has always been a subtle lackadaisical masculinity. Arguably, this has lead to a sub culture of drinking and the acceptance of violence associated with the consumption of alcohol. Because it is rooted in the fabric of Australian culture, the issue is incredibly complex and Mr O’Farrell was brave to tackle it. At its best the new legislation may save lives. At its worst, it may have little effect, but at least the line has been drawn in the sand. The culture of binge drinking and violence that we once silently accepted will hopefully begin the gradual course towards change.

Unlike one punch violence, when it comes to violence against women, or specifically male violence against women, we seem to be stuck in the too hard basket. I read this week again another father has allegedly taken the life of his children in an act of revenge against their mother. This tragedy follows a string of cases which have left children either motherless, orphaned or taken excruciatingly too soon. And too often, when the back story is revealed, the facts point to a history of what we used to call domestic violence. Only there is nothing domestic about violence.

I understand there are many factors which may contribute to the perceived apathy amongst the community. Rape and intimate partner violence are notoriously difficult to prove in a justice system that assumes the innocence of the accused party until such time as the evidence proves otherwise in a court of law. More often than not there are no witnesses. In many cases it is one party’s word against another’s and if we are to operate from an assumption of innocence as the fundamentals of our justice system dictate we must, then it is difficult to definitively assign guilt under these circumstances. In some cases of intimate partner violence there may be medical reports, but too often the abused has little or no support network and are therefore too afraid to press charges – they understand they are putting themselves at great risk if they challenge their abuser. When children are involved, this becomes more complex and far riskier. I know this is not a simple issue. I know there are no easy answers, and I know ‘not getting involved’ is deeply entrenched in our culture.

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But there have been ample opportunities for the public to become outraged. Day after day, week after week, more cases of intimate partner violence against women, and often against children, are reported. Why are we so much more accepting of male violence against women than we are of male violence against other unknown males, such as is the case with one punch victims? Alternatively, are we accepting or simply just projecting a sense of apathy due to our deeper feeling of impotence? Is it easier to question the victim rather than the abuser? Are we, as a society, afraid to confront the abusers?

This is not about victim blaming – I think that term simplifies an incredibly complicated issue. I think when society is faced with an event this tragic we tend to ask questions about what we know we can easily control, rather than what we cannot. When a woman is raped we may want to seek fierce vengeance against the abuser – if there is no one yet to answer for the unspeakable damage done to a victim’s life, our collective sense of justice is challenged and we resort to conjuring up ways in which we can protect ourselves and our loved ones in future. Don’t let your kids out at night, don’t wear those clothes, don’t walk alone. But that doesn’t actually solve the problem at hand.

It will be difficult to set the wheels in motion to change the culture of acceptance of violence against women that will, God willing, result in a greater, more significant change. But it must be done, for the sake of our society as a whole. We must begin to challenge this kind of abuse and the place in society of those that perpetrate it. It can be done if we are brave enough.

We need tougher penalties for crimes like rape and spousal abuse. We need to draw that line in the sand, like we did with one punch crimes. And men in particular need to be the ones with the loudest voice if we are to effect real cultural change. We need to understand that rape and male abuse against females are life altering events in a woman’s life that leave her horrifically scarred for life. It never really goes away. We need to proactively search for solutions – thoroughly and immediately. We need to identify potential abusers before they cross the point of no return. We need to build victims up so they can stand on their feet again and stand up to their abuser. We cannot spend another minute wondering how victims can prevent abuse from happening. They can’t but as a society we can. It is no longer good enough to hope it doesn’t happen to someone we know. Chances are it will, and it’s not okay.

It has happened to women I know, and it is not okay. This article is dedicated to the women brave enough to tell their stories. And to the women who are the inspiration for this story – your bravery in the face of judgement and apathy is astounding.

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