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For the past quarter of a century, the United Nations has declared November 25 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
It has done so in a world where one-third of all women will experience violence at some point in their lifetime, most often at the hands of a male partner or family member.
Female community members are three times more likely than their male counterparts to be abused by an intimate partner.
And violence is not just physical.
It is any act that causes or could cause harm – including psychological suffering – in public or in private, including threats and coercion.
It is a scourge from which Australia is far from immune.
Here, one-third of girls aged 15 and under have already been the victim of physical violence.
One-fifth of the country’s female population has endured sexual violence.
Sixty-eight women in Australia have been killed because of men’s violence in 2016 alone.
But despite its prevalence, Centre for Non-Violence prevention and development manager Robyn Trainor said family violence still remained a largely invisible issue.
It was for this reason that the UN initiative, which coincides with White Ribbon Day – a male-led initiative to change community attitudes which result in women being emotionally and physically abused – was significant.
“It’s about everyone taking action, because it is not acceptable to have these high rates of violence against women and girls,” Ms Trainor said.
“We need to address it together.
“We need to look at how to create gender equality, how we can challenge people's community attitudes and beliefs that support and condone violence against women and girls.”
The root cause, Ms Trainor said, was gender inequality, something not helped by our gendered view of the world.
“It's across the board: fashion, advertising, toys, a whole range of messages we’re exposed to through social media.
It's more gendered than its ever been.
But those things have to be challenged to create a shift.”
She believed some men were threatened by the idea if equality because they mistakenly believed it would mean having to sacrifice their own quality of life.
But Ms Trainor said this need not be the case.
“We're not talking about disempowering men,” she said.
“It's about creating that same level of equality across the board.
“Why is it there's still not wage equality, why is it the stereotypes and expectations of women are different than what they are for boys and men, why is it women start to think about their safety on the streets from a young age when it’s men who are more likely to be targetted in this way?
“Even if men don't use that power in terms of being violent, they're still privileged by that power.
“You are part of the problem if you're not challenging other men's attitudes or accepting that level of inequality that exists in your families or homes or workplaces.”
November 25 is also the beginning of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which ends on the UN’s Human Rights Day on December 10.
The campaign’s theme colour is orange, a symbol of hope, and there was indeed some cause for optimism in the sector, Ms Trainor said.
In Bendigo and across the state, reports of domestic violence were increasing, which Ms Trainor said showed a growing confidence in law enforcement’s ability to handle matters seriously.
Bendigo police now have their own specialist unit for responding to reports of family violence.
While Annie North Women’s Refuge chief executive officer Julie Oberin welcomed news of more reporting, she also said the increase in women speaking out about abuse meant more pressure would be placed on front line services, on the courts and on police, none of which were well enough resourced.
While the Victorian government had implemented all recommendations of the recent Royal Commission into Family Violence, and yesterday announced its ten-year implementation plan, other states and territories needed to up their game, she said.
“Otherwise we’re telling women there's services and support there for you when there actually might not be,” Ms Oberin said.
These women, for whom her service provided emergency care and accomodation, were “at the pointy end of crisis”, and risk serious harm or even death if they were to return to the home from which they fled.
Money spent in the sector would not reap change quickly, Ms Oberin said, encouraging the community to think of the funding as an investment.
“We might have to do this work for 10, 15, 20 years until the way society blames victims, excuses perpetrators, changes,” she said.
“But primary prevention works are critical because we need to stop it before it happens.”
What can you do if a victim speaks up?
What is the most important thing to do if someone tells you they are the victim of family violence or sexual assault?
“Believe them,” Centre for Non-Violence prevention and development manager Robyn Trainor said.
“That can make a real difference in terms of them feeling hurt or feeling supported.”
A woman who received a disbelieving response to her first disclosure of abuse would also be less likely to raise the topic again, Ms Trainor said.
Choosing not to trust an account of family violence could instead be seen as excusing the perpetrator and shifting blame onto the victim.
And those victims could be anyone, Ms Trainor said, imploring confidantes not to heed stereotypes of “what people who experience family violence look like, or where they've come from, or what type of parent they are”.
Annie North chief executive officer said refusing to believe a woman’s account of abuse or even blaming her for the harm she had been dealt was a common thread between people who sought out her refuge.
“They might’ve blamed her, or excused him, and they (the victim) don't tell anyone again until it's a crisis,” Ms Oberin said.
“They feel so ashamed because society still stigmatises violence against women.”
There were also steps workplaces and community groups could take to make their organisations safer for women.
The website for Australian anti-violence advocacy group Our Watch outlines the following steps for workplaces to address the impacts of family violence on their employees:
- Supporting employees who are victims of violence outside the workplace
- Taking action to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace
- Creating a culture where employees feel confident to take bystander action if they see or hear about incidents of violence
- Addressing the underlying causes of violence against women by promoting gender equality in the workplace
The last step could involve a gender audit that highlights ways in which organisational policies and practices might have had a negative impact on women, men and gender equality, the website recommended.
But Ms Trainor made clear some survivors of family violence did not wish to be painted as victims.
“They want to present a more positive identity.
“Even though they've had tragic and horrific experiences, they've manged to stay strong.”
How big is the gender gap?
Women and girls might make up more than half of the Australian population yet serious inequalities still exist between them and their male colleagues.
In the workplace, women take home an average of $283.20 less than men each week thanks to a gender pay gap of about 18 per cent.
At that rate, it would take the average woman 66 days longer to earn the same amount of money as the average male worker.
Women are also responsible for twice as much unpaid childcare work than men are, completing an average of 8.5 hours per day (men did just four hours).
These statistics saw Australia ranked 36th on a global index of gender equality in 2015, placed below other democracies like the US and UK.
Where to go for help
Victims of sexual assault or domestic and family violence can contact 24-hour helpline 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
The phone service is also available to family and friends of people experiencing abuse.
Australia also has an all-day child protection crisis line, which can be reached at 13 12 78.
Support in Bendigo can be accessed from the Centre For Non-Violence by phoning 1800 884 038. The number is toll free between 9am and 5pm.
In an emergency, dial 000.
What happens after I ask for help?
Whether it be police or a support service that responds to a victim’s call for help, their priority will be to ensure they are safe and supported.
Centre for Non-Violence chief executive officer Margaret Augerinos said assessing the safety risks would be the immediate course of action.
Using that information, a plan could be put in place to keep the woman, and possibly children, safe and provide appropriate support.
For some women, that might be support to live safely in their homes, Ms Augerinos said.
“Other women might not be able to return home,” she said.
In some circumstances, the victim/s might have left home and be in need of support to move on with their lives.
Meeting these needs might involve one service, or several, depending on the situation.
Police made 2600 referrals to the Centre for Non-Violence in the past financial year, Ms Augerinos said.
But referrals can come from a range of sources, including the 1800 RESPECT hotline.
Victims might decide to contact a service directly to seek support.
In some instances, the services might approach the victim.
During the past financial year, Centre for Non-Violence staff talked to 750 victims at the region’s courts about the services the centre could provide.
“That’s the tip of the iceberg,” Ms Augerinos said.
Stamping out gender-based violence
Bendigo Walks Against Violence will take a new route this year, as the event gains momentum in the community.
The walk will start at noon today at Ulumbarra Theatre and traverse Park Road to Bridge Street, near Rosalind Park.
It will continue on to Pall Mall, towards the Alexandra Fountain; travelling up Mitchell Street to Hargreaves Mall, and finish at the Bendigo Library Gardens, where there will be a free barbecue and entertainment.
Between 700 and 800 people participated in last year’s walk.
The City of Greater Bendigo expects this year’s event to be even bigger.
Author J M Yates and psychotherapist Hugh Martin will open the event by addressing the crowd.
16 days of opposing violence
Bendigo residents are being asked to unite against violence for the next 16 days as part of statewide and global campaigns for women’s and children’s safety.
The state government’s Victoria against Violence and UN’s Orange the World initiatives will mark 16 days of activism after International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Throughout the campaigns, the Centre for Non-Violence will collect messages from community members about family violence, including words from survivors that prevention manager Robyn Trainor said implored other victims not to suffer in silence.
“Because of the isolation that women experience, they can feel very alone,” she said.
People are also encouraged to wear orange – the colour of hope – during the 16-day period.