Australia is in the midst of a public health crisis. Men’s violence against women and children has reached epidemic proportions. It manifests in rape, battering, abuse and even murder.
White Ribbon statistics indicate that up to one in three women will be a victim of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. In 2012 Victoria Police Commissioner Ken Lay revealed that officers respond to domestic violence calls every ten minutes.
A woman is murdered by a current or former partner in Australia every week. Domestic Violence NSW has made an impassioned plea via a petition to Prime Minister Tony Abbott “to recognise domestic and family violence as a national emergency” and take action.
Despite the prevalence of men’s violence against women, there is little if any discussion about why some men beat, rape, abuse and murder them. Instead, the national dialogue surrounding the issue shifts attention from male perpetrators and onto female victims.
We ask, ‘Why don’t they leave?’ instead of ‘Why do some men kill women?’ In focusing on the behavior of victims rather than male perpetrators, the burden of responsibility for men’s violence- and for stopping it- is placed on women.
The language commonly used to describe male violence is itself watered down- named domestic violence, family violence- terms that fail to identify the gendered nature of this violence. This glosses over the reality that perpetrators are overwhelmingly men and victims primarily women and children.
When violent crimes against women and children are reported, headlines tend to state the sex of the victims while downplaying the sex of perpetrators. This serves only to keep the focus on the victims.
A few recent examples of media reports on men’s violence against women highlight the way male perpetrators are made invisible and female victims highlighted:
A man stabbed his pregnant female partner to death after she left him. A newspaper reported “Woman stabbed to death in Sunshine”.A man beat his female partner to death with a brick. The headline read “Woman killed after brutal brick attack”.
A young man breached a restraining order and stabbed his girlfriend. A newspaper reported this as “Teenagers in domestic violence attack”.A man beat a woman to death in her home after attempting to rape her while her four-year old child was in the house. The newspaper headline read “Guilty plea to murder on parole”. These are just a handful of examples that reflect a distinct pattern in reporting on men’s violence.
Of course, this issue isn’t unique to Australia. A similar and particularly memorable example was last month in the US, when a young man stabbed a young woman to death at their Connecticut school after she refused his invitation to prom. He stabbed her in the neck, the chest and the face. The headline read “Connecticut high school girl killed in apparent prom dispute”.
When the media use passive language, the gendered nature of men’s violence against women is softened or made non-existent. If we as a society are to move towards eradicating men’s violence against women, we must first name the problem accurately.
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