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Gender Based Violence and the Australian Way

How would Australians like their identity and particularly that of men to be viewed? Brave, ironic, slow to anger, defender of the vulnerable and supportive of his partner: a modern-day version of the best bush hero. Sadly, as statistics from the research group Counting Dead Women show this is not the case for everyone, with 26 women killed in incidents of violence in 2024, 11 more than the same time last year.  According to the Australian Institute of health and Welfare Statistics in May 2024 almost 1 in 5 (17% or 1.7 million) women and 1 in 18 (5.5% or 527,000) men have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a current or previous partner since the age of 15. It seems to be getting worse.

How Do we Understand This?

While the lovable larrikin of traditional Australian lore has appealing qualities, he carries attitudes and values that underpin the beginning of white settlement. This was a country that saw the dispossession of traditional owners in the most violent ways and began its most recent history as a place of punishment where women were brought as commodities for men. Little wonder that the online influencers of today that encourage negative stereotypes and violence towards women find fertile ground. Without addressing this level, it seems unlikely that sustained change will be possible.

What Will Bring Change?

Breaking the Silence

Speaking the truth about our history and the current violence must be the first step towards a different whole community view of this issue. Rallies held around the country against gender-based violence, attended by both men and women calling for greater action are a positive first step towards change. These rallies have been attended by key political figures who have lent their voices to the outrage and agreed that action rather than another Royal Commission is needed.

Government Policy

Addressing an issue that is so firmly embedded in a nation’s psyche must address each level of system.

In October 2022 the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032 was released highlighting ‘how all parts of society, including governments, businesses and workplaces, media, schools and educational institutions, the family, domestic and sexual violence sector, communities and all individuals, must work together to achieve the shared vision of ending gender-based violence in one generation.’ The goal was towards ending violence towards women and children over the next ten years. Four domains of action are identified including prevention by working to change social drivers of violence, early intervention by identifying and supporting those who are at high risk for perpetrating violence, response by providing services and supports and recovery and healing for those who have been hurt.

From the Macro to the Micro

While these are noble and necessary goals it seems unlikely that they will be achieved unless relationships are transformed at the most basic level. For practitioners who work with couples and families this requires willingness to  address abusive attitudes and behaviours in the room in a way that is not shaming, abusive or destructive of the therapeutic relationship. To do so requires clarity that these changes lie at the heart of better relationships for all and courage and skill to raise them. If everyone, at every level of our society could do one small part, change is possible for the benefit of all.

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