The dire need for self-reflection: A response to Joe Hildebrand

Hundreds gathered in Melbourne's Royal Park to mourn the latest victim of extreme violence Courtney Herron.

“I don’t see how reflecting on myself is going to stop women being bashed or murdered,” media personality Joe Hildebrand said in the wake of the murder of Courtney Herron in Melbourne on May 25.

The extreme violence directed at women are at the root of contemporary debates with the #NotAllMen faction which, by definition, declines to engage in thoughtful reflection.

We have, thankfully, moved on from abandoning sufferers of domestic violence to action such as the establishment of the Royal Commission into Family Violence a step forward in the long road to tackling the incomprehensible amount of women who have been or are currently being abused by their partner.

At times like these, I believe the most fundamental and progressive thing we can do is to reflect on our own behavior, and of those around us, while asking why does this keep happening and what can I do to stop it?

In his op-ed, Hildebrand correctly states that men are more violent than women, committing many more homicides and assaults than women do.

However, he then inexplicably flips to focusing on the murder rates committed by men, with deliberately reductive math, resulting in the assertion that only “0.0042% of the male population” murder a woman over a two-year period in Australia.

Hildebrand then states that men commit murder despite the threat of criminal punishment and, therefore, asking murderers to reflect upon their attitudes is a fruitless endeavour.

There are two main issues with his argument. Domestic violence appears in many forms other than murder — financial, social and emotional, to name a few. To reduce the problem to homicide alone, as Hildebrand does, is a gross misrepresentation of the issue.

Secondly, Hildebrand fails to understand the cultural and societal basis of violence against women. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, gender inequality is a key determinant of violence against women, ahead of economic considerations, including social norms and attitudes.

Hildebrand may be right that asking murderers to reflect on their attitudes may not be an effective way of reducing the murder and abuse of women by their male partners.

However the World Health Organization did find that perpetrator programs have generated positive behavioural and attitudinal change, suggesting that reflection and intervention does have a role to play in changing behaviour.

Hildebrand went on to blame the “failure” of the Victorian criminal justice system for the brutal murders of Jill Meagher, Aiia Maasarwe and Eurydice Dixon, and suggested mental health as an alibi in Courtney Herron’s brutal murder.

He claimed he doesn’t disagree or feel threatened by the reflection idea, but that “you don’t have to stretch your mind too far to realise how absurd [reflection is]”.

I would challenge Hildebrand, as well as those who agree with this assertion that some kind of fear may be a contributing factor to this steadfast refusal to engage in inner contemplation.

Hildebrand continues his case for #NotAllMen, and against reflection, by asking if the police asked Muslims and young African males accused of terrorism and gang violence to reflect on their behaviour?

Not publicly, for sure. However, the police and many other groups are working with them to do just that. The African and Muslim communities, along with the Catholic community, are working to address the inexcusable actions of a small number of people. But how did this collaborative action begin? With the act of reflection. Through this we can begin to address the factors that contribute to acts of violence.

In the case of violence against women, social norms and attitudes need to be addressed. It requires all of us to take time to reflect and, upon doing so, act.

Hildebrand’s closes arguing that domestic violence is more prevalent among those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. Yes, domestic violence occurs at much higher rates among this community, and I commend Hildebrand for some common sense approaches to addressing housing and health disadvantages.

However, his flat-out rejection of the need to reflect means he forgoes the chance to consider factors that may contribute to the greater incidences of violence in disadvantaged communities.

Hildebrand’s audience would benefit if he were to engage in some critical reflection before opining. His refusal to do this means he does not contemplate the underlying factors that contribute to the murder of women by men, instead reinforcing the false narrative that men, or any other group for that manner, have nothing to gain from retrospective action.

#YesAllMen has a role to play in calling out the attitudes and behaviours that lead to men viewing women as lesser beings, and which can often lead to violence against them.

[Jesse Boyd is a social worker in Melbourne and a cofounder of BreakBoundaries, a working group focusing on projects concerning the prevention of violence against women.]

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