I’m a collector of stories. The tales I gather are heart-breaking, raw, devastating chronicles of domestic violence survival.
Since February, I’ve criss-crossed Queensland, meeting, photographing and gathering the words of women who have endured every kind of physical, sexual and emotional abuse that you can imagine.
I have sat with mothers who have lost their unborn babies after their abusers have beaten them.
I have watched proud, strong females weep as they relived the first time they were raped.
I have been lost for words as complete strangers described what it’s like to have someone crush your windpipe until you waiver on that very fine line between life and death.
I’ve seen police officers, nurses, social workers, single mothers, personal trainers, grandmothers, business women… women from every walk of life blush with embarrassment as they told me what THEY did to set their abusers off.
And at the heart of all of these stories are violent, misogynistic, selfish, narcissistic men with absolutely no respect for women and every belief that they were never to blame for their abusive behaviour.
I run The RED HEART Campaign, which shares stories of domestic violence survival, supports women in domestic violence crisis and publishes the latest news and information relating to the epidemic that has killed more than approximately 30 Australian women so far this year.
This means I spend a lot of time reading about domestic violence.
Late last week, while looking for articles to post on the Campaign site, I stumbled onto a social media offering by writer Clementine Ford.
A screenshot of a Facebook post caught my eye. It was from the secret Facebook page Blokes Advice.
“Righto lads I need a hand putting this minga in her place,” I read. “Now what I’m asking is (for you) to send her the most fucked up shit you can think of.”
My stomach turned and my heart dropped as I saw the author inciting his readers to send images of their genitals to the woman in a supplied picture. The man had even supplied the woman’s phone number.
After a little more rummaging around and I found more posts of the same nature from BA members. All of them had common themes - encouraging others to commit rape and domestic violence.
Each post displayed precisely the same disrespect and devaluation of women that gives legitimacy to every one of the abusers in the domestic violence survival stories I’ve collected over the past year.
On Monday evening I started a Change.Org petition, “Facebook - It’s time to shut Blokes Advice down”.
So far, more than 4000 people have signed the petition and eventually it will be sent to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Since the petition went live, Blokes Advice members have vented their disgust and rage on The RED HEART Campaign site and on my personal Facebook feed. Quite a few have sent death threats, including “gonna bash ya head in with a nine-iron” and “bash ya dead”.
Most of the threats clearly reference Blokes Advice "legend” and supposed founder “Simmsy”, whose own Facebook profile proudly proclaims: “Don’t even ask cunt, youll (sic) get a 9 iron around the head”.
The BA members who don’t post death threats bombard the campaign page instead with reasons to keep Blokes Advice going.
There’s the “it’s just a few bad eggs” and the “we raise money for charities” excuses.
They also claim to support men who are suffering depression and those who are experiencing family breakdown.
They have also argued “we’ve got 200,000 members and only 10 admins so how are they supposed to police everything on the site”.
This is often backed up with “it’s a secret group for men to let off steam, so you women have no right to come snooping around”.
Most of these defences were raised by journalist and Blokes Advice member Matthew Dunn in his comment piece, “I am a member of Blokes Advice and it’s only a minority ruining it for everyone”, on news.com.au.
While I have no issues with supporting men in crisis, I believe the rest of these excuses do not justify maintaining a group where cruel hate-filed banter about women is the norm.
My first issue is with the “bad minority” argument.
The posts that I have seen were submitted under a range of names. And they had many commentators serving up “on ya mate” type responses. These responders were not men calling out other men for clearly dangerous and misogynistic behaviour.
They were validating it. And to me, validating bad behaviour is as bad as committing the actual offence itself.
It’s also clear from the responses, the posts were on the site for some time, indicating admins at the very least did not see them as being problematic.
This leads into the “we only have 10 admins for 200,000 followers” excuse. My Facebook page has around 20,000 followers and there are just two of us policing the site.
I’m no maths genius but I’d say the RED HEART ratio of admin to followers is about the same as Blokes Advice.
Yet we manage to remove offensive posts - victim blaming, racism or homophobia - from the site within minutes of it appearing. Myself and my fellow admin work full-time and have families to spend time, with but we still keep the site kind, welcoming and informative.
The “but we raise money and do other good things” argument is a real doozy.
This is kind of like saying there’s thousands of Ku Klux Klan followers but only a few actually hang people who have dark skin and if you close us down the rest of us won’t be able to raise a few bucks for sick kids and support blokes with depression.
Sorry. But you don’t have to belong to a women-hating group to donate money or lend a hand to someone in need.
What really gets me mad is the “it’s a secret group so fuck off cunts” defence.
Why is it necessary to have a closed space for men to make these types of comments?
Why is it better that men incite rape or domestic violence behind closed doors instead of in public? This type of activity just should not be happening. Period.
Urging your mates to send photos of their cocks to strange women is not right, behind a screen of secrecy or in public.
Telling blokes to beat their wives with a nine-iron is unacceptable in any forum. Full stop.
At the end of the day, Blokes Advice has major issues and it’s clear its moderators are not falling over themselves to fix it.
They faced intense public scrutiny in May when the group first formed. Back then, they were hauled across the coals for promoting the same behaviour as they are accused of doing now.
They did not learn their lesson then, and I doubt they will learnt their lesson now.
Ask yourself this: If you see a bunch of footy players from one particular team abusing a woman and the rest of their teammates egging them on, what would you expect the league to do?
Most people would want that team out of the league as a show of support for the victim and a clear lesson that vile behaviour that incites violence against women is not tolerated in a modern Australia.
SHERELE MOODY is the founder of The RED HEART Campaign, which shares stories of domestic violence survival. She is also a journalist working for APN Australian Regional Media.
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