'Men, if you're not part of the domestic violence solution, you're part of the problem.'

This story discusses domestic violence and sexual assault. 

It's been a horrific time for Australian women.

First came the mass stabbing of six people — five of them women — at the Bondi Junction shopping centre. 

Then the judgment in Bruce Lehrmann's failed defamation case against Network Ten, in which he was found, on the balance of probabilities, to have raped Brittany Higgins.

It's completely unacceptable that so many women are feeling unsafe in our country

Men of Australia, cultural change starts with you: if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. The first thing you can do is start a conversation with women in your lives about this.

I recently had such a conversation with my sister, Jess*, whose permission I have to share this story. She was sexually assaulted in 1996. It crushed her for years. After reporting it to police, justice was finally done some 19 years later when another brave young woman came forward. 

With the help of a DNA sample, the hard-working police collected enough evidence to charge the perpetrator, who faced trial, was found guilty, and got the jail sentence he deserved. Jess's bravery inspired other witnesses to come forward, increasing his term to 21 years and keeping other women safe from this unremorseful rapist. 

Impotent to lift her bone-eating grief we all shared, our parents and siblings despaired at their daughter and sister being robbed of a decade of what should have been the prime of her life.  


On Monday, Jess called me to have a chat. What she really wanted was to prevent women becoming victims in the first place by asking men to support the cultural changes we need to see.

She also asked me to watch Australian Story, which was airing that night on the ABC. The program highlighted the journey of Anna Coutts-Trotter, a survivor of sexual abuse and the daughter of my friend and colleague, environment minister Tanya Plibersek. My sister was so proud of Anna for speaking up.

Watch: Women And Violence: The Hidden Numbers. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Like Tanya's family, ours was forever changed by our beloved Jess's ordeal through the courts, which forced her to relive her trauma over almost two decades to protect other women like her.

It's a blight on all Australians that Jess’s story has become an everyday occurrence in this country. 

When we hear that 1 in 5 women and 2.2 million adults have been the targets of sexual or family violence, such figures no longer shock us into taking action. Our brains simply can't compute that amount of savage cruelty from the people we thought we knew and loved. While many people of good will, including men, feel triggered by this, their instinct is to change the channel—not fight.


And that's wrong. Instead of accepting this narrative of learned helplessness, the bitter fruit of a deep social malaise, we must follow the leadership of brave women like Jess and Anna and not rest until we root out domestic, sexual, and family violence from Australian society and burn the dregs.

That work starts with men taking responsibility and understanding that the standard they walk past is the standard they accept. There is no legitimate excuse for turning a blind eye to this scourge.

Secondly, we need to teach younger generations to identity the threat and join in the fight. Disturbingly, a 2021 survey found that 1,669 young Australians showed no improvement in attitudes that condone limiting women's autonomy and undermine women’s leadership in public life—those stubborn old canards that help maintain the sky-high rate of domestic violence in Australia.

Thirdly, we must trust the victims. Evidence shows that false reporting of sexual assault is rare. However, there are surprisingly high levels of community mistrust in women's reports of sexual violence and emotional abuse. Government-funded programs should seek to discredit that attitude.

Finally, we need to get a whole lot better at exposing the taboos out of which violence grows. As with Australian Story’s 'Out of the Chaos' episode, victim-led truth-telling processes that empower the survivors to prevent new victims from swelling the statistics will be potent catalysts of change.

When opening a federally funded domestic violence refuge in my electorate of Darwin recently, I said that men needed to contribute to conversations that help drive down the sexual violence rate. That can mean modelling respect for women and gender equity to young boys in their behaviour. But it mainly means listening to what disproportionately female victims like Jess say is needed.  


The first step towards cultural change is realising that we have a problem. Australia has not been the lucky country for a long time for many women—and never will be until we right this wrong. It's time to get after this big issue affecting so many mothers and daughters of our great southern land.

Luke Gosling OAM is the Federal Member for Solomon (Darwin and Palmerston).

Feature image: AAP/STEVEN MARKHAM.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here

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