The question MP Zali Steggall posed in Parliament that every woman is asking themselves.

This post discusses domestic violence.

Despite a range of domestic and family violence funding initiatives announced in the 2024 federal budget, advocates and support organisations have been left disappointed with the lack of urgency, and a failure to meaningfully invest in frontline services. 

While a range of measures were announced, aimed at early intervention to prevent domestic, family and sexual violence, advocates say the government failed to include measures to immediately protect women and children. 

During Question Time, Independent Member for Warringah, Zali Steggall, responded to the national budget by highlighting the glaring double standards in the government's willingness to push through measures to immediately protect victims of crime. 

"When two young men died, the New South Wales government introduced mandatory sentences for one-punch attacks," she said. 

"When it was terrorism, laws were changed to jail people on the apprehended risk of crimes.

"But when the Australian men kill Australian women, the government's national plan is to take ten years." 

She posted the question: "Will you be tough on this domestic terrorism by leading an overhaul of national sentencing laws?" 

Immediate action. 

In 2012, 22-year-old David Cassai was celebrating New Year’s Eve in the coastal Victorian town of Rye when he was struck by another partygoer — just once. He fell, his head smashing onto a concrete pavement. Cassai suffered catastrophic brain injuries and died later that day. Earlier that year, 18-year-old Thomas Kelly was walking through Sydney’s Kings Cross with his girlfriend when, out of nowhere, he was struck in an unprovoked one-punch attack. Kelly’s life support was switched off two days later.


In 2014, another 18-year-old, Daniel Christie, was punched once in the face with a closed fist. Christie fell backwards, hitting his head on the road and losing consciousness. He died 11 days later.

Following these senseless deaths, Cassai’s, Kelly’s and Christie’s devastated families worked tirelessly for change —engaging with the media, running their own campaigns — and they succeeded, prompting Sydne's controversial lockout laws, where bars and clubs were required to shut their doors to new patrons from 1.30am and stop serving drinks at 3am. In 2014, the Stop: One Punch Can Kill campaign successfully petitioned the Victorian Government to introduce a ‘coward’s punch manslaughter’ law that includes a mandatory ten-year minimum non-parole period. But perhaps more important was the cultural change. What was once known as a ‘king hit’ — an unexpected and forceful blow, often from behind — is now widely described as a ‘coward punch’.

But they didn’t do it alone. 

In 2012, champion boxer Danny Green threw his support behind the cause, launching his Stop the Coward Punch campaign, which continues to raise awareness and educate the community about the devastating consequences that can result from a single punch. His involvement was instrumental in the cultural and community shift around attitudes towards the coward punch. That he was a professional boxer only made the campaign more credible, particularly among young people. 


The campaign was widely supported by the media. There were simply too many deaths. Things needed to change. And they did. 

My son is 14-years-old and doesn’t even know what a 'king hit' is. He routinely refers to this type of attack as a 'coward punch', and among his peers, it’s certainly not something to brag about. This campaign was effective. It created actual and long-lasting generational change. 

Some may argue the impact of semantics, but language matters. Language has the power to change attitudes, to generate a cultural shift. And once that happens, the dominoes begin to fall.

“Changing language and attitudes is critical in generating change,” says Leneen Forde Chair in Child and Family Research, Professor Silke Meyer. 

According to Professor Meyer, part of the reason the coward punch campaign was so successful, was the creation of public fear through the narrative that "this could happen to anyone, at any time". 

"While the odds of this happening to any of us are statistically low, community advocacy and media reporting create an environment where we all feel we are likely to become a victim and thus need to act - or at least support action.”


A recent study revealed that between 1990 and 2020, 170 people died as a result of coward punches. Many more victim-survivors live with permanent physical injury and significant mental health challenges. Others suffered financially and socially. It’s a worthy cause. It had to change. 

And yet this year, a woman is being murdered by a current or former partner every four days. For years, male violence has killed an average of one woman every week. Countless more women experience concussion and other serious physical injuries due to domestic and family violence (DFV). Many are held financially hostage. Others are socially isolated and experience severe psychological consequences from their abuse, that can occur both during a relationship and after it ends. Children are impacted. Children are murdered. 

"It won't happen to me".

Despite the hard work of victim-survivors and victims' families, of activists within the sector, and a small smattering of men I can count on one hand, attitudes aren’t changing.

According to ANROWS’ most recent survey, less than half of Australians believe domestic and family violence could happen in their own suburb or town. And if the recent tragedies have shown us anything, it’s that male violence against women doesn’t discriminate. It’s happening everywhere. Women everywhere are dying at the hands of men they know. Men they trust. Perpetrators come from all walks of life. Some have known their victims for years, even decades. Others dated their victims for a few short weeks. There is no way to predict which man is going to kill a woman he feels entitled to. 


“The myth of 'this primarily happens to poor women, women of colour, women with mental health problems, women who are intoxicated, women who make poor relationship choices' still persists in our communities,” says Professor Meyer. “And issues that only affect 'others' generate very little traction in terms of attitudinal change and community mobilisation.”

The research shows almost half of all Australians believe domestic and family violence is perpetrated by men and women equally, which is far from the truth. In 2009, less than a quarter of Australians believed this, showing things have become worse in this regard. While these findings are both concerning and disappointing, they’re not surprising. At a party recently, following a week of horrific domestic violence murders, two men I respect argued with me that domestic violence is not gendered. The conversation gave me pause. Do they genuinely believe what they’re saying? 

“The evidence demonstrates the significant importance of awareness and prevention in creating change,” says Jolene Elatt, Chief Executive Officer of domestic abuse resource and training institute, DART Group. 

“Our language plays a significant role in shifting what is considered a ‘woman’s issue, to a men’s issue’. Media has a significant role to play in the choice of language used and the messages we pass on to society, particularly our young boys and men.”


Professor Meyer agrees. 

“DFV disproportionately affects women and children. It disproportionately kills women and children. And the responsibility for this violence disproportionately lies with men. It's an inconvenient conversation for many Australians," she says. 

“I'm sure we'd see far greater campaigning for change, greater sector investment and violence prevention, if more than 50 to 60 men were killed each year by a female partner or ex-partner.”

It’s not for lack of trying by those within the DFV space. They work tirelessly. But aside from a few notable exceptions, including activist, Tarang Chawla (whose sister, Niki, was murdered by her husband in 2015) and White Ribbon Director Allan Ball, conversations around domestic and family violence are largely limited to women. We’re preaching to the converted. We have no 'Danny Green'. Instead, we fight against high profile men, like Andrew Tate, who speak directly to the next generation of potential perpetrators. 

Community attitudes matter.

“Over the years we have seen some domestic abuse campaigns that have been successful however there is no longevity to the campaign," says Ellat. 

“Therefore, what we end up seeing, where there is lack of consistent government investment in campaigning, is survivors and family members who step up and advocate for change.

“We need to start working across generational shifts. Shifts that we have seen successful with campaigns like slip slop slap, buckle up, drink driving, driving tired and one punch.”


From a legal perspective, there has been some success. In 2022, Queensland became the first Australian state to announce it would make coercive control a criminal offence. Coercive control is defined by a range of varying behaviours, many of which are technically legal, such as monitoring a person’s movements, installing spyware, denigrating verbal abuse, emotional abuse, isolating someone from family or friends, financial abuse and depriving someone of basic needs.

Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk promised to introduce legislation that made coercive control — a proven precursor to violence and murder — a criminal offence by the end of 2023, and did so. The laws will come into effect in 2025. From 2024, coercive control will be a criminal offence in New South Wales too. The families of DFV victims were instrumental in the landmark decisions, working tirelessly through their own pain to drive change that will undoubtedly save lives in the future. 

But it’s not stopping the killing. And it’s not changing community attitudes towards domestic violence and those who perpetrate it. 

“In order to create long-term change we must work to challenge attitudes nationally. Our campaigns must be targeted over various cohorts across various ages.”

Both anecdotal evidence and academic research suggest that the existence of these types of campaigns does make a difference, starting with community attitudes.


“We must work towards simple and easy-to-understand campaigns, campaigns that are catchy and incorporate consistent messaging across different ages. Campaigns that include people in influential positions as we have seen with one punch campaigns," says Ellat. 

As long as more than half of Australians think DFV only happens to other people, Professor Meyer says it will remain difficult to generate action beyond those who work in the space or have lived experience.

“And I think our biggest gap is getting men involved. There are so many opportunities for men to contribute to ending violence against women and children rather than backing away from the conversation with a 'but not all men' response.”

Feature Image: Getty. 

If this post brings up 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. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

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.