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.

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.

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.

2 thoughts on “Rape, Intimate Partner Violence and The Too Hard Basket

  1. Kate,
    At the risk of a family breakup, I respectfully disagree with your conclusion. Anybody who knows me, knows that I abhor violence of any kind, particularly when it is directed against somebody who is weaker, but the answer does not lie in more legislation.
    As we all know, like Sydney’s second airport, hard issues are hard to solve but that does not abrogate our responsibility to solve them. In my mind, the “coward punch”, whilst despicable, is a symptom of something much deeper in our society. I 100% agree that the violence issue, particularly violence against women, needs to be fixed and to be honest, I have no panacea or even strategy to fix it. Just a few thoughts.
    Thought Number 1
    Why do they do it? Its easy to say that its fuelled by alcohol but what drives the behaviour (did you get the pun?) Boredom surely plays a part. Testosterone is no doubt a contributing factor, but young men have been bored and over sexed for eons. Peer pressure! that’s another valid factor. But why do peers pressurise these young people to do something that is so despicable? Are we breeding a mindless society that merely follows the latest sensation? Bother, I should not have said that. (No apologies whatsoever to the artist formally known as Justin something)
    There has to be more to it!
    Thought Number 2
    Let us start with respect or lack thereof. Do kids do this because they see no value in the world they live in. Its hackneyed, but are they really striking out against a society that they feel, has abandoned them?
    Thought Number 3
    Its easy for me as a sexagenarian (work that one out) to see the past as nirvana and attempt to apply past practice to present dilemmas but this is rubbish. I never want to hear anybody say: “it was better in my day” “Kids have no respect” or even “Spare the rod and spoil the child”
    At the risk of sounding like a politician, we do need today’s solutions for todays problems.
    Thought Number 4 Team Sports
    Team sports do force people to be a part of something positive. I do not ascribe to forcing children to play a particular sport (unless its Rugby Union) but surely there is a lesson in encouraging kids to be part of a positive (positive living) outdoor or indoor activity that involves working with other people to achieve something. When you think of it, many schools and parents seem to focus on individual achievement.
    Thought number 5 Community
    This is where its at, but how?
    I leave you to progress these thoughts from here.

  2. I don’t disagree with most of what you say – but my argument isn’t necessarily for more legislation, (though there may be some welcome improvements made to the current legislation). I do believe, however, that the penalties for rape and domestic abuse are woefully low. Aside from the obvious argument that these individuals must be punished in a manner more suited to the crime, (a few months in gaol is nothing compared to the lifetime of misery the victim is subjected to), the fact is that rapists and abusers have very high incidences of re-offending, and often they commit a vast array of new and increasingly violent crimes.

    The penalties for these type of offences are far, far too low to reflect the damage they cause and the risk to society at large for further criminal activity. The most famous example is obviously Jill Meagher, who was raped and murdered by a man who had previously been charged with 22 offences. Daniel Morcombe’s killer also had a previous history of violence towards children and had been charged with a number of offences – but both of them were freed and their victims paid the price. What do we expect to happen when we free a man that has been charged with violent and sexually based crimes more than 20 times? Obviously he will re-offend. It’s simply a matter of time. This is unacceptable.

    This is a cultural issue because it is in the too hard basket, but based on the change in culture towards alcohol fuelled violence over the last few years I believe it can be done. That was once too hard as well. And whether it was increased legislation or simply someone making the point that enough is enough, a change has certainly be made.

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