As part of #16daysofactivism, a global campaign to highlight gender-based violence, Domestic Violence NSW (DV NSW) hosted a panel of journalists and rights advocates to address the difficulties in reporting sexual assault and domestic and family violence on November 29.
Jenna Price from the University of Technology in Sydney and co-creator of Destroy the Joint’s “Counting Dead Women” project spoke alongside artist, advocate and survivor of family violence Amani Haydar, author and journalist Jess Hill, journalist and advocate against gender-based violence Nour Haydar, and Renata Field from the Voices for Change Media Advocacy Project.
They all raised important points including: the legal impediments, including defamation laws, to reporting DV cases; the probability of retraumatising the person who has been assaulted by covering their story and making the perpetrator visible; the problems getting editors and subeditors to break from gender stereotypes and salacious reporting, including in headlines; the need to report on all DV cases, not just deaths; the need to show women’s resistance, not just their pain; and how to report and connect the experiences of Indigenous women with the violence they often experience from the state.
Time constraints meant the issues could only be touched on, but when several survivors of domestic violence from the audience spoke up about their chilling experiences it was a reminder that with specialist assistance women are resisting and will continue to resist.
#16daysofactivism began on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and while the #MeToo, #TimesUp and #NotOneMore campaigns have raised awareness of the crimes, a new United Nations study found that domestic and family violence against women is rising.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime study said a total of 87,000 women were “intentionally killed” in 2017 and more than half — 50,000 or 58% — were killed by people they would normally trust, such as partners or family members. This represents a rise from the 48,000 women intentionally killed in 2012.
It found that women bear the brunt of intimate partner violence, and stated that in nearly a quarter of the world (49 of 195 countries), there are no laws prohibiting domestic violence.
It examined cases of women killed by their partners, “honour killings” and dowry-related killings in countries in the Middle East, East Asian and South Asian countries. It found that around the world, every hour six women are killed by someone they know.
The highest rate of women killed by intimate partners in 2017 was in Africa, followed by the Americas, Oceania, Europe and Asia.
In Australia, 63 women have been killed so far this year, compared to 54 in 2017, according to Counting Dead Women Australia, a campaign initiative that started in 2012 to raise awareness about violence against women and remember those who have been killed.
Awareness and murders both rising
But, as the data shows, heightened awareness of the problem of violence against women is not leading to a reduction in the crimes. The process is uneven. Cultural shifts do not take place in a linear fashion, and they can easily be reversed if the necessary structural changes to eliminate gender inequality are not in place.
This was highlighted by the contradictory findings of a survey of community attitudes towards violence against women released on November 30 by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety.
The 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) found that while most people do not endorse violence against women — including verbal abuse and bullying — and support gender equity, nonetheless there continues to be a decline in those who understand that men are more likely than women to perpetrate domestic violence.
The NCAS report said that among attitudes condoning violence against women, the highest level of agreement was with “the idea that women use claims of violence to gain tactical advantage in their relationships with men”.
It also said that there was a “concerning proportion” of people who believe that gender inequality is “exaggerated or no longer a problem”.
The NCAS report confirms the high incidences of violence against women in general: it found that one in four women have experienced intimate partner violence since the age of 15, and one in five have experienced sexual assault. It found that one in five women have experienced stalking and more than half have experienced sexual harassment.
It also said that while all women can potentially be harmed, violence against women it is more prevalent and/or more severe and prolonged among young women, women with disabilities and women with more limited access to education, housing, income and employment.
The report noted that many factors contribute to gender violence, but singled out the media, communities, institutions and schools that excuse or downplay violence as problems.
But it concludes that there are enough positives to suggest that Australia is “on track” to change people’s understanding of how violence against women is also connected to attitudes to gender equality.
Importantly, it urges more effort “to ensure that these changes are ultimately reflected in reductions in violence and that the gains are not lost to negative influences”.
Tackling causes of violence
Changing attitudes and behaviour and will require a lot more than just education. Only when we address the causes of gender inequality, which give rise to and reinforce misogynist attitudes towards women and girls will we be on a pathway to reduce and eliminate gendered violence.
Those working in the field, such as DV NSW, want parties contesting the NSW elections next March to commit to make NSW a “Safe State”.
It has pin-pointed urgent funding priorities including an increase in funding for specialist domestic and family violence and crisis response services; funding for women for court advocacy and women’s health centres including the NSW Rape Crisis Centre; support for pregnant women and those in their first 100 days after birth; special support for LGBTI people experiencing sexual, domestic and family violence; specialist support for children and young people who have experienced violence and to give those people experiencing violence the choice and support to remain safely in their home.
If these measures were made policy, DV NSW says that the state would be much safer for women and children.