How And Where We Talk About Domestic Violence Has A Huge Impact On All Of Us

Words really, really matter.

This week, a group of doctors and other health professionals – collectively called Doctors Against Violence Towards Women –  came forward with their story that they’d been campaigning for the establishment of Australia’s first domestic violence trauma centre.

The trauma centre would be built in New South Wales, and offer ongoing care for victims of domestic violence. It’s an important step, because while frontline services do amazing work with the funding and resources they have, long-term support is not as easily available.

As I was reading about this centre, one word stuck out to me: trauma. Of course surviving domestic violence is a traumatic experience, but I had the sudden realisation that I’d never really heard it described as such.

Karen Williams, a psychiatrist with Doctors Against Violence Towards Women, told the ABC that she “saw 13 women last week and none of them had been referred to me with trauma.

“They had been referred to me with anxiety or depression, but all 13 of them had histories of abuse.”  

The effects of surviving an abusive relationship or growing up in a violent household are deep and lifelong – that’s a well documented fact. So why aren’t we giving the experience the label it deserves?

The way we speak about domestic violence is important. It might seem trivial, but language is powerful, and has a real impact.

In 2015, a report was released that showed lawyers had been using language that minimised the role of domestic violence perpetrators, and even sometimes tipped into victim blaming. Cases where a man had a long history of abusing a woman were described as ‘volatile’ or ‘stormy’ relationships.

A man who had been convicted of stalking was described to the court as “making a nuisance of himself”, and another court was told that a man who SET HIS GIRLFRIEND ON FIRE did it out of simple “jealous anger”.

Imagine, just for a moment, what that would do to your ability to function in the world. Tell me that isn’t the definition of traumatic.

We need to remember this when we’re having these conversations. We need to start saying things like ‘he chose to abuse her’ and stop saying ‘she provoked him’. Start asking ‘why does he beat her?’ instead of ‘why does she stay?’. Start saying ‘one woman a week is murdered’ instead of ‘one woman a week dies’ when talking about deaths linked to violence.

To do otherwise takes the onus off the perpetrator. And please, for the love of God, stop saying ‘real men don’t hit women’.

It’s not just how we have these conversations that should change either, it’s where we should be having them.

Until very recently women only spoke about these issues among themselves, quietly, and then just continued on with their lives – it’s only been in the last few decades that conversations about domestic abuse have made their way into the public arena.

It needs to go further than just women, though: we need discussions around domestic violence to extend into men’s spaces. Men’s Sheds, the change rooms after a footy match, barber shops – these are the places that we need to see change from the ground up.

“Locker room talk” – the shorthand for the things men say when there are no women around – needs to be redefined. That Trump-esque “grab them by the pussy” crap just isn’t going to fly any more.

If we’re going to tackle domestic violence statistics in this country, we need to start by having the right conversations, and we need to be giving those conversations the language and impact that they deserve.

Women Take On All Your Safety Measures And We Still End Up Dead, So What Next?

Don't walk alone at night. Carry your keys as a weapon. Don't wear anything revealing...

In the early hours of January 16, exchange student Aiia Maasarwe was making her way home in Melbourne, talking to her sister on FaceTime. By now you probably know how this story ended – and if you don’t, you can probably guess. She didn’t make it home. A 20-year-old man has now been charged with rape and murder.

The detail I can’t get out of my head is that Aiia was on her phone. Calling somebody while walking home is one of the most common things women do to stay safe; the idea being that it’ll be obvious we have someone who cares about us and knows where we are to any potential attacker.

How many times have I called my mum as I cross a field to make it home after dark? How many times have I been on the line with a friend, listening out for the sound of her keys to tell me that she made it home? Were none of us even a little bit safer?

Hundreds of Australians dressed in black gathered in Melbourne on the steps of Victorian State Parliament on January 18 for a silent vigil in memory of Aiia Maasarwe.

Aiia Maasarwe was FaceTiming her sister.

Eurydice Dixon was texting her partner.

Jill Meagher had just called her brother.

And yet the messages we hear from authorities over and over again are that we need to keep ourselves safe.

They tell us we should make sure you have your phone on you. But look at what’s happened.

Don’t walk home at night and stay in well lit area. But we aren’t safe walking during daylight hours either.

Make sure you take a well-used route, but also make sure you change up your routine so nobody learns it.

Carry your keys as a weapon. Don’t walk too close to a row of parked cars. Always be alert. Don’t wear clothes that are too revealing. Make eye contact with people as they pass by. Don’t get too drunk. Tell the Uber driver you’re going to your boyfriend’s house. Wear a fake engagement ring if you work in a bar. Never sleep with the window open if you live on the ground floor. Put men’s shoes outside your front door if you live alone.

We do. And we still end up dead.

There is no silver bullet solution that women can use to guarantee they make it home. The only way for this to end is for the people behind these attacks to stop murdering women, regardless of the safety precautions they may or may not have taken. It’s with the heaviest heart that I say I don’t hold out much hope for that.

Seventy-nine women and twenty-two children were murdered in Australia in 2018 – far more than the generally accepted statistic of one a week. It took just over two weeks for Aiia’s death to begin the tally for 2019. There are more to come.

Aiia’s name isn’t the last one we’ll hear. Soon enough, we’ll have another name of another woman who met a brutal end etched into our consciousness. I wonder what she’s doing right now? I wonder if I know her? It’s only a matter of time.

It’s About Time Men Understood How Damn Scared Women Are

Women don't need to be reminded to "stay safe". Men need to grasp just how much energy already goes into trying, and into accepting that our best efforts are still sometimes not enough.

Early Wednesday morning, Eurydice Dixon was walking home after a stand up comedy gig in the centre of Melbourne. She texted her friend “I’m almost home safe, hbu [how about you]?”.

At 2:40am, her body was found on a soccer field.

The man who turned himself into police is a 19-year-old who didn’t know Eurydice. She’d become a victim of the nightmare that every woman on the planet has had: snatched off the street, to be raped and murdered by a complete stranger.

The police trotted out a response we’ve heard a thousand times over.

“The message we would provide to all members of the community is to take responsibility for your safety,” said Superintendent David Clayton. “If you’ve got a mobile phone carry it and if you’ve got any concerns, call police.”

I could almost hear the collective scream of women across Australia, myself included. Carry a mobile phone? Take responsibility for your safety? Have you MET a woman?

Dixon’s death happened minutes from her home. She did everything she was “supposed” to.

I really believe men are beginning to understand that women take a lot more precautions regarding their safety than they do, but I think the sheer extent as to which this is true evades a lot of people – not just tone-deaf police spokespeople.

I remember the first time I walked home late at night with my boyfriend, and insisted that I walk on the side of the footpath furthest away from the rows of parked cars along the street. I had to explain that “I don’t want to get murdered”.

I remember a male friend laughing at me when he noticed me give his car a once-over for strange people that might be hiding in the backseat. “I don’t want to get murdered”.

Just today, talking to a colleague about Eurydice Dixon, I told him about the time a group of men pulled up beside me while I was walking home, and demanded I get into the car.

“Holy shit, that actually happens? What did you do?”

“I ran for my life. I didn’t want to get murdered.”

I remember nights walking home in the dark, with my mum on the phone. She almost began crying once, when she asked where I was and I told her I was crossing the soccer field by my apartment: “I’m sorry, Tess, I just don’t want you to get murdered.”

I wonder how many times she’s told my brother the same thing.

The ‘Right To The Night’ Report was released by Plan International in 2016, and managed to put some statistics to our fear. Of the surveyed women – who were aged 15 to 19 – an entire third of them agreed to the statement “girls should not be out in public places after dark”.

Almost as many – 23% – agreed with “girls should not travel alone on public transport”, and 67% disagreed with the statement “it’s not a big deal if guys cat-call girls on the street”. Throw that statistic out there next time a guy on the internet tells you to ‘take it as a compliment’.

I wish I had a silver bullet solution that would stop violent men killing women simply because they saw an opportunity to do so. But the fact is, I don’t. 

The Right To The Night Report had a few suggestions: tougher penalties for violent men, girls feeling able to report violence without being afraid, and improving lighting in public areas.

They’re fine places to start, but they’re going to take time, and the ultimate solution – getting men to stop hurting us – seems to have been accepted as impossible. And what the hell do we do in the meantime?

My mum has had to watch me grow up and learn to be scared of strange men in the dark. Her mum had to watch her learn the same thing. I’m not a mother, but the little girls I babysat when I was a teenager know that fear now, and that hurts. I know that one day they’ll be crying to me about how unfair it all is, just like I cried to the women I trusted. 

Until we see concrete evidence that things are changing, we’re just going to have to continue living in the hope that our lives are spared for one more night.

Vale, Eurydice Dixon. You deserved better.

If any part of this story brings up issues for you, please contact Lifeline on 131114 or call 1800 RESPECT. Both are free and available 24/7.

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