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Cave men walk the earth

By Todd Harper - posted Wednesday, 15 August 2007

A man drags a woman by the hair down a busy street in Melbourne's CBD.

Three people are shot when they try to stop the violence.

Every day somewhere around the country violence is perpetrated by men on women. Some is reported. Most goes unreported. Secrets go to the grave.


Nearly 220 years ago, white Australia was born in an era of rampant violence against women, children and man against man. The rules of rum, the gun and prevailing attitudes of women as a commodity to be bought or sold often overshadowed the rule of law.

In the past 30 years, there have been leaps and bounds in the way we deal with violence against women. Few would remember that men could rape their wives, even when they lived apart. It was not until 1991 that the High Court of Australia confirmed the legal right of women to refuse sex within marriage and that men who raped their wives could be prosecuted. In spite of this a study by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation in 2004 was disturbing.

The report found that violence by men against their partner was the leading contributor to preventable death, disability and illness in Victorian women. The study was of women aged from 15 to 44 and across all cultural groups.

Male violence against women causes more health problems in this age group than smoking and obesity. The cost of domestic violence to Australia is huge and was estimated at $8.1 billion in 2002-03 by Access Economics. The cost to governments and health services is $1.34 billion. The community has to pay $1.19 billion in costs such as counselling. Employers are forced to pay upwards of $175 million.

Perpetrators lose $555 million, whereas women and their kids bear the shocking brunt. The cost to the victims and children comes in at $4.9 billion. This is made up mostly of health and other costs such as pain and suffering. But this mounting evidence has led to some encouraging developments.

In 2004, Victoria Police introduced a new code of practice that focuses on safety and support for victims and children. The Victorian Government has committed $35 million to reforming systems that respond to those affected by violence. VicHealth is launching a comprehensive and wide-ranging initiative to prevent violence before it happens by changing attitudes, beliefs and entrenched behaviour.


More than 97 per cent of Victorians agree that violence against women is a crime.

But there is a lot of work to be done. It is a fundamental human right that every woman be able to live a life free from violence. In calling for action to prevent violence against women, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture”.

“Most societies prohibit such violence, yet the reality is that, too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned.”

We all have obligations to prevent violence against our mothers, daughters, sisters and our partners. Covering up or condoning such behaviour is not an option for any of us.

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First published in the Herald Sun on July 11, 2007.

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About the Author

Todd Harper began as Chief Executive Officer VicHealth, in April 2007, following many years in tobacco control. Prior to taking on his current role, Todd was Quit Victoria’s Executive Director from 1999 to 2007.

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