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Karl Stefanovic may usually be a joker, but this time? He's deadly serious.

Karl Stefanovic: Hitting a woman is the ultimate coward’s punch.

There’s been a lot of buzz recently about the newly crafted “coward punch” laws introduced to the New South Wales Parliament and is being considered by other state governments across the country.

The bill came into effect as a result of the death of Daniel Christie (18) on January 11, and Thomas Kelly (also 18) in 2012. In supporting the bill, opposition leader John Robertson said, “We will support the Government’s one punch laws. The Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do something about alcohol-fuelled violence.”

No matter that the incidence of alcohol-fuelled violence is at its lowest level in a decade, our legislators have responded with speed and high moral bearing in response to the public outcry. And rightly so, in my opinion. Whether the legislation will prevent another attack or stop a mother having to bury her child after a moment’s madness is doubtful, but I applaud the motivation. It’s what our elected representatives should be doing: everything in their power to stop the violence. Then it’s up to us. Personal responsibility and all that.

During the debate about the legislation, I gave serious thought to the ramifications of changing or strengthening law to protect an innocent victim. In most cases, this is someone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what about the perpetrator? Then it dawned on me. A coward by definition is a person who lacks courage in facing danger or difficulty. What about the violence perpetrated by some men against women. What do we call that? What do we call the man who strikes a woman?

When I was growing up on the outskirts of Brisbane in the 70s, Australia was a different place. I’m not definitive about the term’s origins, but I’m fairly certain there was a singlet given the nickname “the wife beater”. We didn’t invent the name, in fact the internet says it may have come from Marlon Brando’s character in A Streetcar Named Desire. He was violent and wore a white singlet. “Wife beater”.

Daniel Christie, victim of a ‘Coward Punch’.

Regardless, the name seemed to stick in Australia. Can you imagine how anyone could call an item of clothing a ‘wife beater’ and think it was funny? Like I said, they were different times, although there are still parts of Australia where the term ‘wife beater’ is accepted Aussie slang. More importantly, this is a country where violence against women seems accepted.

Is there anything funny about that?

If you Google ‘domestic violence against women’, the Australian government has some interesting information available online. Interesting and disturbing. Under a subsection, it lists the “at risk” groups as “younger women”, “indigenous women”, “women living in rural and remote areas”, “women with a disability”, and “women from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds”.

There are subsections? What?

The statistics are damning. In this peace-loving island paradise of ours, 36 per cent of all homicides take place domestically, three quarters perpetrated by a man. ABS data indicates one in three Australian women having experienced physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives.

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Look around where you work. One in three. Look around the shop you are in. One in three. Look around the bus or train. One in three. Look around your university lecture. One in three. Look on your Facebook page. One in three. Look in your daughter’s classroom. One in three will experience it.

Now is our time to stop this. By “our” I mean Australian men.

The Sydney Morning Herald front page on ‘the women we failed’: domestic violence victims who died at the hands of their partner.

Rightly or wrongly, migrants are perceived by some to have a poor record when it comes to a culture of violence, but I grew up in an immigrant household where violence against women was not tolerated. My father’s message was blunt, powerful and effective. NEVER HIT A WOMAN.

I was sufficiently scared of the old man, in a father-son kind of way, to heed the warning and as a result grew up believing it was forbidden and, more significantly, wrong. Most importantly, my dad lived by the example and was never violent towards my mother.

I also believed that if my dad ever found out I had hit a woman, I in turn would cop a right royal flogging. We know now violence begets violence, but with young men the message from their dads or male role models is crucial. I can honestly say the thought of striking a woman has never even entered my mind.

I know and have interviewed many children and their parents who have grown up without positive role models. They circle in a cycle of violence with no way of pushing the rinse button.

They have no moral compass when it comes to physical abuse. The law tells them it’s wrong but the punishment rarely matches the crime. The behaviour has already been programmed.

But, I also know that the cycle can be broken. It takes one generation to alter previous generation’s bad habits. The message is so simple. If you hit a woman you ARE a coward. In the truest sense of the word.

Our politicians and legislators must now stand up and provide legislation as quickly, skilfully and broadly as the one punch changes. Even more broadly, men in general need to stand up and say enough is enough. We will not tolerate women being hit and beaten.

So to our sons, brothers, fathers and grandfathers, please have the conversation. Turn to each other and say it. I know there are all kinds of violence, and some violence can be far worse than physical. But let’s start with one message to our sons, backed by the law. If they get the message about hitting another bloke in a pub, then surely they can get the message about hitting a woman in their own home.

Can there be anything more cowardly than that?

If you would like to express your desire for reform, you can contact Prime Minister Tony Abbott using this Contact your PM, or tweet him at @TonyAbbottMHR. You can contact Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, using this contact form or on Twitter at @SenatorCash.

Please share this post to spread an important message. Because something needs to change. 

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