opinion

The case that shows exactly what Joe Hildebrand got wrong about violence against women.

Content Warning: This post discusses violence against women, and may be triggering to some readers.

In February 2017, Shahab Ahmed stabbed Khondkar Fariha Elahi 14 times in the bedroom of their Parramatta unit after finding explicit text messages on her phone.

As his wife laid dying on the floor, begging for forgiveness, Ahmed waited until she stopped breathing before he used her thumb to unlock her phone and call an ambulance.

Today, after two years in custody, Ahmed was sentenced to 27 years in prison for the “cruel and deliberate” attack on his wife.

But even after Ahmed was sentenced, his laywer, Upol Amin, had this to say about his client:

“Nothing good ever comes out of extramarital affairs,” he told reporters outside court.

“It’s been an unfortunate set of circumstances for Mr Ahmed. Not only did he lose his best friend, he lost his wife, the love of his life.”

Once again, just like the narrative that came after the murders of four lone women in Melbourne – Natalina Angok, Aiia Maasarwe, Eurydice Dixon and most recently, Courtney Herron – Khondkar Fariha Elahi has been made the cause of her own death.

Shahab-Ahmed
Shahab Ahmed was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

If a lawyer in 2019 is standing outside court and saying that a woman's death is essentially her fault, we have a problem. And a big one at that.

We speak for a woman, who doesn't even have a voice anymore, and suggest that her decision to have an extramarital affair is the reason why she was stabbed 14 times by the man she should have been able to trust the most in the world.

We suggest that she is to blame for her own death.

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And ultimately, we look just about everywhere except at the man who did it.

But Khondkar Fariha Elahi is not alone.

In fact, her case is just one of many.

Since the beginning of 2019, Impact for Women reports 24 women have been killed in Australia.

In many of these cases, the victim has been made the cause of her own murder in the public eye.

In the case of Courtney Herron, a 25-year-old homeless woman who was left to die in a Melbourne park following a "horrendous beating", victim-blamers were quick to swoop in on the news reports on social media.

courtney herron melbourne
Courtney Herron was found dead in Melbourne's Royal Park.

She was blamed for attending a party. She was blamed for walking alone at night. She was blamed for being homeless and she was blamed for struggling with drug addiction.

"Druggie and homeless. Enough said," one man wrote on Facebook.

"Drug use often ends this way," another commented.

Time and time again, we've heard the same theories as to why a woman "had it coming". Theories about how the behaviour of women led to their death at the hands of men.

"She shouldn't have been walking alone at night."

"She shouldn't have been wearing such a short skirt."

"She shouldn't have been drinking."

"She shouldn't have been wearing earphones."

And the list goes on.

But while social media users were quick to jump on the victim-blaming bandwagon, the message from police in response to Courtney's murder was clear.

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"What is it in our community that allows some men to think that it's still okay to attack women or take from women what they want?" Victorian Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said on Saturday.

You can watch a snippet of Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius' statement in the video below, post continues after video.

“This was a young woman who had challenges in life and we as a community should be protecting these people and we didn’t,” he said. “We failed.”

The message was vastly different from the one police gave the public following Eurydice Dixon's murder – that women should "take responsibility for your own safety”.

But it was one that journalist Joe Hildebrand didn't agree with.

“I don’t see how me reflecting on myself is going to stop women being bashed or murdered," Hildebrand said, responding to the Assistant Police Commissioner's statement that "violence against women is absolutely about men's behaviour".

In a follow-up column expanding his opinion on news.com.au, Hildebrand argued that most men shouldn't have to share the responsibility for perpetuating sexism.

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"No reasonable man disagrees that women deserve respect – on the contrary, it is obvious to any decent man that they do, which is why the vast majority of men do it," he wrote.

"Good men don't need to be told and bad men won't listen."

It's an argument we've heard too often to count, echoed in comments sections with statements like:

"Not all men."

"Not me, I'm a good guy."

"I'm not like that."

"There's two sides to every story."

But you see, it's not about "not all men" – it's about how we justify men's violence towards women.

In his column, Joe Hildebrand essentially argued that Courtney Herron's death isn't symptomatic of a broader problem in our society.

He argued that in the broad scheme of things, murder is "incredibly rare and at a record low" in Australia.

He argued that there are good men and bad men in this world. He argued that "no reasonable man disagrees that women deserve respect".

But in reality, people just don't fit into 'good' and 'bad' categories.

As Clementine Ford wrote in her response to Hildebrand for 10 Daily"Men don't choose to kill their wives or girlfriends because they were born with the 'bad men' gene – they choose this court of action because patriarchy has convinced they they are entitled to".

After all, there are 'good men' that victim blame. There are 'good men' that claim women are the cause for their own murders. There are 'good men' that don't speak up when their friends say something sexist. There are 'good men' who harass women on the street.

And while these examples might not be on par with violence against women, they are contributing to the narrative.

It's not just the responsibility of the "bad men" to change the narrative and respect women.

It's the responsibility of all of us.

This story has been edited to correctly reflect the quotes of journalist Joe Hildebrand. 

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.

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