I want to have a chat about priorities.
While most Australians have been on holiday over summer, I’ve been working. I worked Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day, the whole Megillah.
So for the last four weeks I’ve been consuming more news than most people would recommend. And over that time I’ve noticed something about what we pay attention to and how we respond.
The most covered story (other than how Australia is very good at cricket again) has been the rise of drunken violence and in particular life-altering and fatal injuries caused by single-punch assaults.
Everyone’s talking about it. Every news bulletin is doing a feature story on it, talkback radio is full of it. The Daily Telegraph jumped on an existing bandwagon and ran a front-page campaign to stop calling them ‘king hits’ and start calling coward’s punches. It feels as though the nation is starting to pay attention and feel like this problem is officially out of control and something needs to be done.
Another story receiving a lot of media coverage was in WA, where there has been an intolerable spate of shark attacks that has take the lives of three people in two years. The Barnett government has swung into action and proposed shark lynchings, with no corroborating evidence that they will work, merely to be seen to doing something about it.
That’s three deaths in two years. In the ocean. Where sharks live and we visit. Three deaths. And the result? Government sponsored action.
Then I remembered something.
A woman dies every week at the hands of her partner. One a week.
Well, actually a little over one a week. Somewhere around seventy women die every year at the hands of a person they are meant to trust. In the same time that there has been ‘a’ shark attack and ‘some’ street violence, there has continued a steady pace of women dying at the hands of their partners.
One a week. Seventy a year. Continuously.
If this were a bus route killing pedestrians, there would be an inquiry. If it were a level crossing causing accidents, it would be closed and politicians would lose their jobs over it.
If it were shark attacks off the coast of WA, I can barely imagine the scale of lynchings that would be organised. What’s seventy times a lynching? Whatever IT is, that is what would be happening.
If it were coward’s punch assaults killing one person a week on the streets of Kings Cross, martial law would be declared. Police in riot gear would be sent in to keep order. The state government would invent new crimes and harsher punishments to send a message that this will not be tolerated.
But that’s just one small part of the picture.
One in 3 women over the age of fifteen reports having experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. If that’s not you or anyone close to you, you’re lucky. Where are you reading this? Are you at work? Or on a train? Look to the woman on your left, now look to the woman on your right. One of you will experience physical or sexual violence in your lifetime.
And that’s just the incidents that get reported. A Bureau of Statistics report form 1996 found that only 19% of women who were physically assaulted contacted the police.
And what about the costs? KPMG have estimated that the cost of violence against women last year was $14.7B. Something that is not only unnecessary, but abhorrent, illegal, brutal and unacceptable is costing us all $14.7B a year. Our politicians spend a lot of time talking about deficits. What about that defecit? What about the financial, physical, moral and emotional deficit we face ever year because of violence perpetrated only against women.
Now let me try to head off a few angry comments before they happen. I’m not saying that ‘coward’s punches’ aren’t a problem. They are. They are a serious problem that needs a serious discussion. We as a nation have a drinking problem. And as anyone that has overcome a drinking problem will tell you, the important first step is acknowledging you have a problem.
But it feels to me that talking about drunken street violence is a little easier for us to focus on because it feels ‘new’. The news media (of which I admit I’m a part) can point to a ‘shocking rise’ and a ‘disturbing new trend’ with echoes of ‘these kids today’ reports of the sixties.
That makes it easier to try to find simple reasons for it – young people drink more now, they binge, they take different drugs, they drink more caffeine, they weren’t smacked as children and as a result have no discipline.
Ringing in to talkback radio and saying these things make people feel like their doing something and helping fight a new scourge. What is needed is a culture change.
Like the UK, we have a bad attitude when it comes to alcohol. But we can change the culture in the same way he changed the culture that surrounded drink driving. A methodical approach over time.
But what are we doing about the woman who dies every week at the hands of her partner? How are we addressing that cultural issue?
Well, let’s start with language. We rebadged ‘king hits’ as ‘coward’s punches’ because the language that we use for things is important. How we talk about things can start to change the culture that surrounds them.
For a long time, the term ‘domestic violence’? has softened and normalised what is really going on. A more accurate term is ‘men’s violence against women’. Not ‘violence against women’, because that takes the responsibility for it away from those who need to be made responsible. ‘Violence’ is a disembodied thing that just ‘happens’ like a recession or an economy. The problem we have in this country, that is costing us a woman a week and $14.7B a year, is ‘men’s violence against women’.
What else can we do?
In my job, I have decided to change my priorities. I will push for our media not just to focus on the sensational news of the day, but also to shine a light on the epidemic that is costing us our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives.
Also, like many who support White Ribbon, I have sworn an oath never to commit, excuse or remain silent about men’s violence against women. So how about we all talk to all the men in our lives life. Ask them if they’ve taken the oath. Ask them how they can help fight a problem bigger than shark attacks or coward’s punches.
Because in the end, this is about priorities.
Charlie Pickering is a comedian, writer and broadcaster. After quitting his job as a lawyer, he began a career in standup and is currently host of The Project on Channel 10. You can find his website here.
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