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

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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
ProChoice Cairns
Red Pavilion
Cairns Matters
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
Collective Shout
The Junk Wave
KC Fortune Services
IWD Women's Honour Roll Committee, Hepburn, Victoria
Victims of Crime Assistance League Inc NSW
Spinifex Press
Women’s Law Centre (WA)
Artemis Legal
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


Margaret Atkin
Hazel Lees
Fiona Henderson
Val Schier
Di Forsyth
Leigh Dall'Osto
Amber Dunlop
Carla Gorton
Juanita Van Dam
Megan Bayliss
Katrin Costa
Jane Younghusband
Elida Faith
Janine Aitken
Carole Ford
Anne Holden
Mandy Shircore
Miriam Torzillo
Ashleigh McGinn
Sue Williams
Barbara J Hingston
Sally McManus
Karen Frewin
Katie Thomas
Jane Leach
Caroline Gowan
Marion Oke
Jane Doyle
Donna-Maree O'Connor
Francis Burke
Sharon Large
Sylvia Pattison
Helen Hookings
Jacquie Halliday
Suzanne Wargo
Brigid Coombe
Nonie Harris
Barbary Clarke
Lorene Gottschalk
Marie Hume
Kevin Leverington
Deb Ball
Kate Lavender
Suzanne Bellamy
Kylie Virtue
Ryl Harrison
Adrienne Isnard
Hilary Pye
Michael Flood
Mary Crooks
Rose Barnes
Allie Bailey
Chris Sitka
Judy Andrews
Jenny Warfe
Frances Allen-Spralja
Marie Chatterton
Jessica Newman
Glenda Gartrell
Barbara Marshall
Judith O‘Connor
Maryanne Nestor
Glenda & Clive Watson
Suzanne LankerNerida Brown
Connie La-Pietra
Spider Redgold, Sydney
Jac Taylor
Natalie Davenport
Caroline de Costa
Vicki Swinbank
Jen Taylor
Kathy Chambers
Maree Hawken
Victoria Ellis
Georgi Stone
Deborah Walsh
Margaret Walker
Madge Sceriha
Coralie McLean
Sheila Jeffreys
Helen Lobato
Renate Klein
Susan Hawthorne
Melinda Tankard Reist
Jean Loren
Edith Pringle
Liane Timmermann
Heather Bond
Ginni Hall
Chantal Oxenham
Elodie Oxenham
Sheree Kinlyside
Meg Davis
Rose Pickard
Penny Chapman
Liz Smith
Shanice Smyth
Kierra-Lee Schmiedel
Brooke Calo
Dr Michelle Rowe
Fenella Dermody
Janet Sorby
Dawn Atkinson
Maryellen Galbally
Colleen Drew
Janet Bell
Dorothy Greshenko
Margaret Bail
Anne Walsh
Jan Melville
Clarice Ballenden
Rosemary & Richard Read
Ilsa Evans
Carmel O’Brien
Jean Lovell
Laura Bahnisch
Juliana Venning, NZ
Kathryn Rendell
Beth Tinning
Marilyn Hoey
Amy Windsor
Angela Burrows
Elsa Langlais
Catherine Clarke
Jen Mitchell
Hilary Adlam
Julia Donohoe
Jeane Griffiths
Vicki Heal
Naomi Knight
Holly Giblin
Ailsa Rayner
Kat Pinder
S. Caroline Taylor
Pauline Woodbridge
Betty McLellan
Debra Miles
Jannette Stevens
Gillian Yearsley
Tina Rumsey
Don Henderson
Farley Kelly
Susan Lenehan
Sue Hilder
Gwenda Davey

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