Domestic violence is an atrocity affiliated with sobering accounts of unassuming females abused emotionally, sexually or physically by seemingly normal males they have had some kind of relationship with.
These tragic narratives are statistically supported. UN Women – an organisation within the United Nations dedicated to promoting worldwide gender equality, estimate that one in three women around the world experience some form of domestic violence during their lives.
Surprisingly, this statistic is not exclusively the fault of developing countries with a history of gendered violence and inequality.
In Australia, new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull brought to the public’s attention that one in three Australian women over the age of 15 have experienced domestic violence. According to UN women, this “epidemic”cost the nation $13.5 billion in 2009– a cost comprised of money withheld from victims by abusers, and money spent on emergency aid for these people.
$13.6 billion is more than double what Australia currently spends on Foreign Aid, Australia being the eighth largest aid donor worldwide.
“Violence against women is one of the great shames of Australia. It is a national disgrace,” said Turnbull during an impassioned speech on domestic violence in Australia last week.
The Prime Minister also announced that the Federal Government would spend $30 million on a “Womens Safety Package,” to challenge and prevent circumstances of domestic violence committed against females.
“A disrespect for women is at the heart of all domestic violence,” he said.
The policy has been hailed as a “game-changer” by newly installed Minister for Women Michaelia Cash- and considering that only last month the Minister for Women had been a man previously accused of misogyny, it is certainly a sign of progress.
However, this new discourse on domestic violence against women arguably subjects women to a similar position of helpless vulnerability that they experience as victims of abuse.
While it can’t be ignored that women are over-represented in reported cases of domestic violence, confronting the issue by simply “keeping women safe” constructs a representation of women as precious, fragile entities in need of special protection. This arguably rationalises abuse against women, whose fragility is enough to provoke acts of abuse against them – hence the desperate need for certain measures to assure their protection.
Turnbull’s policy, along with a myriad of other anti-domestic violence campaigns and initiatives around the world perpetuates this representation of women.
The “women’s safety package” will work to provide government-funded mobile phones to victims of domestic violence in order to survey their safety and monitor whether or not their attackers contact them again. Women in immediate danger will also be stowed away from the world in new safe houses being built around the country – placing their safety in the hands of higher authority, technically leaving them in the position of helplessness they were placed in when initially abused. They are denied the same agencies their abusers denied them; their future planned and monitored by institutes in order to keep them safe from further abuse.
And what about those who commit these acts violence against women?
Perpetrators of domestic violence are hardly mentioned in Turnbull’s policy to keep women safe. The policy offers abusers counselling after the act has happened, and promises to also monitor them.
This completely ignores the contexts and mentalities that provoke “normal” men to incite violence on women.
Turnbull believes it is a disrespect for women, but I believe that underlying any act of violence against another person is a sense of arrogance all people are somewhat guilty of. This arrogance makes it acceptable for a person to act without any regard for the feelings of others for their own personal benefit.
This mentality not only manifests in violent acts, but in the kind of people that are willing to betray the trust and loyalty of others for personal gain – from people more than willing to blame other work colleagues for their own failings, to those who challenge the leader of their political party they have previously pledged loyalty to.
Turnbull’s policy certainly means well, and should not be dismissed as a mere political stunt. But similar to discourse on bullying in high schools, the focus on domestic violence needs to shift from victims to the perpetrators. Protecting victims will not make the problem go away.