Open letter: Violent speech has no place in public debate
The open letter below was developed in consultation with feminist activists and is supported by the Coalition for a Feminist Agenda and Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination. To add your name or organisation to the statement visit http://weaveinc.org.au/
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To our political leaders, political and media commentators, journalists and opinion formers in print, visual and audio media.
We take this step in expressing our concerns regarding the emergence of a troubling public and political discourse that is reflective of a broader, serious public health and social issue- violence against women. Violent hate speech directed at women political leaders reveals a concerning acceptance of abusive tactics in public life.
We accept that:
• our democracy permits and supports robust and healthy debate on the issues that are important; and that
• at times the debate, comments, opinion pieces, and political statements may contain passionate, descriptive and evocative language.
However, we do not accept that the language used should ever express sentiments which are reflective of violence against women.
Over the past twelve months at least we have heard or read about comments and statements in a variety of media directed at Julia Gillard the first female Prime Minister of Australia that deeply concerns us. Influential commentators and leaders have suggested placing her in a bag and drowning her at sea (Alan Jones June 2011, July 2011), kicking her to death (Grahame Morris Feb 2012) and having a “target on her head” (Tony Abbott March 2011), “burn the witch” placards (Carbon Tax Rally March 2011) and the persistent use of the language “liar” and “bitch”.
Comments such as these may well be described as “off the cuff”, “the rough and tumble of politics” however, we find these comments disturbing and troubling.
Violence against women is not a trivial matter. In Australia 1 in 4 women will experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and cost the Australian economy approximately $13.6 billion per year. On average, 76 women are killed annually in Australia at the hands of their current or former partners.
Federal and state governments have committed significant energy and funding to programs, community education campaigns, first line responses such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline; legislative reforms and frameworks in efforts to effectively reduce and respond to domestic violence.
We cannot lightly dismiss the particular language that is symptomatic of the language of violence against women. We are concerned and troubled that this language has on the most part gone unchallenged and accepted as part and parcel of the political landscape.
We reject that notion.
We are concerned and troubled about the message that the use of this language and the failure to properly challenge it may communicate to women who are currently enduring similar verbal assault; and we are deeply concerned and troubled about the message the use of this language and the failure to properly challenge it may communicate to men who use similar language towards their partners.
We challenge you — our political leaders, political and media commentators, journalists and opinion formers in print, visual and audio media to refuse to engage in using the language that reflects violence towards women when criticising, questioning and debating in the political context.
We expect robust, dynamic and informed conversations by our leaders in politics and the community.
We do not expect our leaders in politics and the community to draw on a discourse which diminishes the woman or women it targets or the men and women who may use it.
Signatories to the Open Letter
Working Women’s Centre SA Inc
Women’s Legal Services NSW
Australian Women's Health Network
White Ribbon Foundation
Women’s Electoral Lobby NSW
No To Violence Male Family Violence -Prevention Association Inc
Men’s Referral Service Inc.
Domestic Violence Resource Centre (Vic)
Queensland Women’s Health Network
Coalition of Women’s Domestic Violence Services of SA
National Council of Single Mothers & their Children
Macleod Accommodation Support Service
Cairns Women's Network
NSW Women’s Refuge Movement
Australian Lesbian Health Coalition
Women's Centre Cairns
Yarredi Services, Port Lincoln
Southern Adelaide Domestic Violence Service
Ninko Kurtangga Patpangga (By Your Side in the South)]
Women's Health & Safety Primary
HealthCare Services SA
Lennox Heads Women's Group
Scott & Beaumont
Townsville Feminist Collective
The Women's Studies Resource Centre SA Inc
Domestic Violence Legal Worker Network (WA)
Child Health and Development Centre (Qld)
Single Mum Australia
Family Planning Queensland
Central Domestic Violence Service (SA)
Council of Single Mothers and Their Children Inc. Victoria
Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria)
North Queensland Combined Women's Services
North Queensland Domestic Violence Resource Service
James Cook University Centre for Women's Studies
Coalition for a Feminist Agenda
Domestic Violence Prevention Centre Gold Coast Inc
National Abuse Free Contact Campaign
Victorian Women's Trust
NSW Domestic Violence Coalition
The Junk Wave
KC Fortune Services
IWD Women's Honour Roll Committee, Hepburn, Victoria
Victims of Crime Assistance League Inc NSW
Women’s Law Centre (WA)
Women’s Council for Domestic & Family Violence Services (WA)
Justice for Children Australia
Australian Women Against Violence Alliance
Top End Women’s Legal Service Inc
Women’s Legal Services Australia
Juanita Van Dam
Barbara J Hingston
Glenda & Clive Watson
Suzanne LankerNerida Brown
Spider Redgold, Sydney
Caroline de Costa
Melinda Tankard Reist
Dr Michelle Rowe
Rosemary & Richard Read
Juliana Venning, NZ
S. Caroline Taylor