Tasers And Pepper Spray Are Not The Answer
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll know that Australia has a problem with violent crimes against women.
According to real-time updates from Impact For Women, 40 women have been killed in Australia this year, with 35 of those murders being committed by men.
Many of you will recall the awful rape and murder of comedian Eurydice Dixon, whose memorial was further defiled, allegedly by Andrew Nolch as “an attack on feminism”. Just a few days later, police allege a woman was abducted and raped in Carlton, while an 11-year-old girl was abducted and sexually assaulted in Newcastle. Just this month, Amanda Harris from Cranbourne North was thought to have suffered stab wounds and was burned to death, allegedly by her partner. A couple of days ago, police believe they found the body of Sydney woman, Qi Yu, who was allegedly murdered by her male flatmate, Shuo Dong.
Obviously we have an issue here - so why is it that the onus is being put on women? Why is it that not only men, but our own police departments are saying things like:
"...people need to be aware of their own personal security and just be mindful of their surroundings.” - Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper
"Police are urging women to walk in groups and stay in well-lit areas.” - Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec
"This is an area of high community activity … so just make sure you have situational awareness, that you’re aware of your surroundings.” - Local Superintendent David Clayton
"I suggest to people, particularly females, they shouldn't be alone in parks.” - Detective Inspector Mick Hughes
As women, we’re told: don’t go out alone. Don’t drink. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t walk with your headphones in. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t travel in the dark. Don’t show too much skin. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.
So, what can we learn from all of this?
It’s clear there’s still an ingrained belief by some that violence against women is a direct result of women’s behaviour: walking alone at night, not looking after our drink, not being aware of our surroundings, or some may even blame promiscuity, the way we dress, being a “bitch”, you get the idea.
Worse still, the notion that we should utilise pepper spray and tasers to defend ourselves further fuels the belief that if women are the cause of the problem, the onus must be on us to find a solution.
Of course, anyone who looks at the statistics regarding violence against women will know that this line of reasoning is utterly false. Violence against women is a systemic issue: on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. Australian women are most likely to experience physical and sexual violence in their home, at the hands of a male current or ex-partner. It’s most common for women to experience violence from a male ex-partner. This doesn’t exactly jive with the image of women wandering the streets “asking for it” from anybody and everybody, does it?
Secondly, of women who had experienced violence from an ex-partner, 87 percent never contacted police, according to the 2016 ABS Personal Safety Survey. It goes to show that many women fear for their lives or blame themselves to the point where they don’t seek help when they need it most.
The #NotAllMen debate only serves as a further distraction. The term has been floating around for more than a decade – a backlash against criticisms of men’s violent behaviour based on the notion that “not all men are like that”. This is simply a derailment tactic that seeks to deflect attention away from the issue at hand.
Changing Beliefs At Their Root
We know there’s a huge disparity between perception and reality when it comes to violence against women. The question is, what can we do about it?
Further education is critical. A 2018 survey of college halls and residences of Australian universities found that only one in four residences said they would run sexual violence prevention training. Many universities’ student advice pages are still centred around avoiding situations that put women in danger of being a victim of violence: don’t walk alone at night, protect your drink, don’t drink too much. Until recently, Melbourne University advised students to "offer to pay half the bill [on dates] so that you won't feel under any obligation to return the favour".
The stranger danger rhetoric is a band-aid fix, not a solution. We need to look at implementing programs to help young people understand consent and respect and provide them with useful skills and strategies to navigate relationships.
According to Our Watch CEO, Patty Kinnersly, "Universities, as education institutions, workplaces and community hubs, are well placed to help prevent violence against women through challenging the attitudes, behaviours and inequality that drives it."
A study from Edwards, Bradshaw and Hinsz interviewed a range of collegiate males and 31.7% said they would "act on intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse if they could get away with it".
It's clear education needs to start much earlier than university.
We learn about the human body in Healthy Harold at primary school; why shouldn’t this extend to learning about respect for ourselves and others, and ownership of our own bodies? For boys and young men especially, we need to teach the meaning of consent and how to deal with rejection.
For students of all ages and genders, there must be a discourse about mutual respect, love, tenderness, values, self-respect and control.
Rather than putting the onus on the recipient to say “No”, we should instead be teaching our children about the process of seeking enthusiastic consent. What’s more, studies have shown that consent classes work. Rape prevention organisation, No Means No Worldwide, introduced consent classes to schools in Kenya and Malawi. Since the programs have started, the organisation reports that there has been a “51 percent decrease in the incidence of rape among female participants, while 50 precent of girls reportedly stopped a rapist a year after training. There has also been a 73 percent success rate of boys who intervened to prevent an assault.”
Changing Beliefs From The Top
Political leaders must start discussing the culture of toxic masculinity that permeates our culture, rather than deflecting blame for gendered violence on women.
We need to look at policy reforms to fix the broken justice system for victims of violence. A report released in 2017 from the Crime Statistics Agency found that in 2009 and 2010, more than 3,500 rapes were reported to Victoria Police, and only 3% ended in a court conviction.
That’s not good enough.
Vancouver Police’s Don’t Be That Guy campaign is proof that targeted strategies for violence reduction are effective. The ad campaign moved the discussion away from how women can make themselves less vulnerable, instead focussing on reaching men with the message, "Sex without consent = sexual assault. Don't Be That Guy."
Posters for the campaign went up around Vancouver in 2011 and led to a 10 percent drop in sexual offences over a year. The reversal was also attributed to better training for police officers and more effective investigation and enforcement. Again, rather than putting the burden on women to say “no” to and fight off men, we need to shift the focus to men being required to seek consent.
Look, I get it. Change won’t happen overnight. But policy reforms and better education can and do lead to reductions in violent crimes against women.
It’s up to us to make sure our educators and policymakers are taking the issue seriously because there is so much more we can do than just ask women to be more careful. We simply cannot wait. It’s women’s lives that are at stake.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by violence, support is available by contacting 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
Feature Image: Amanda Harris, Eurydice Dixon, Qi Yu. (Image: Facebook, NSW Police)
Shivani Gopal is the founder and CEO of The Remarkable Woman, a movement to break the glass ceiling and close the gender pay gap for women forever. The Remarkable Woman provides women with access to mentors, professional courses and gender pay gap discounts while building a community of empowered women to change the world into a more remarkable place.