Violence against women is everyone’s business

In BlogX, Good Reads, Justice by Luke Pearson

Author: Dominic Guerrera

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Dominic Guerrera has been working in Aboriginal Health for 14 years, specifically around Aboriginal Sexual Health. He is of the Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna nations and is currently undertaking a Masters in Women’s Studies at Flinders University. 

Dear Aboriginal Men, my brothers, my cousins, my uncles, my grandfathers, elders and countrymen; we need to talk about violence against Aboriginal women and other women.

I spent 6 years as an Aboriginal sexual health educator between 2010 and 2016, I taught a 3-5 day comprehensive sexual health course that covered topics from STIs, gender, sexuality, contraception and pregnancy options. 

For all the stigma that each of these topics has attached and thrown at them the most challenging topic to teach, every single time, was Gendered Violence. 

Despite showing all the evidence, stories from Aboriginal women and stories about Aboriginal women who could no longer speak up because they were dead, some participants would still push back, look to shift the blame and even justify why violence and harassment towards women was acceptable. 

I use to facilitate an exercise we based around the work of Jackson Katz and his book The Macho Paradox, I remember it because of its powerful messages. I would begin by splitting the whiteboard into two sections and then ask for only the women in the room to answer the following question ‘what are all the things you do to keep yourself safe from sexual violence in your daily lives?’ Within 5-7 minutes’ half of the whiteboard would be filled with answers – everything from not walking alone, not driving with the doors unlocked, watching drinks, not going to the bathroom alone when out, leaving male shoes outside the front door, literally locking themselves into bedrooms to sleep, owning pets for security, calling family and friends to let them know where they were, carrying weapons, sleeping with weapons, everything possible, they would name it.

This protection happened in every part of their lives, work, home, travelling, social, shopping and even when looking after their health when visiting a doctor – women have learnt to install countless safety and security measures to protect themselves from men wanting to sexually assault them.

Once the women were completed, I then would ask the men to answer the same question and in 6 years, in probably over 100 educations sessions – NOT ONCE DID A SINGLE MAN LIST ANYTHING HE DID TO PROTECT HIMSELF FROM SEXUAL ASSAULT IN HIS DAILY LIFE.

This activity was important to point out the glaring obvious questions; Why do we burden women with the responsibility of protecting themselves, when we don’t talk to men and boys about not committing the sexual assaults in the first place? For some this conversation does happen, but for a lot it doesn’t. We also need to talk to men and boys about how women are placed in society, how they are represented and portrayed in media, advertising, pop culture and porn. It’s about having the skills to be able to identify misogyny and the courage to call it out.

We also need to stop excusing the criminal behaviour of perpetrators and stop blaming the victims. A short skirt is not an excuse for a man to rape and murder a woman, that’s really an excuse for not wanting to confront the issue of violence against women.

What is probably most surprising, is that even if a woman does everything within her powers to protect herself, people will still find a way to blame her. 

I have a few questions I want answers to, why did he rape or murder her in the first place? Who is excusing, defending or deflecting for him and why?

Why do people get so defensive when the perpetrator is a footballer or sports star, you know, those who rest on the pinnacles of masculinity. Sometimes the conversations in the training room would be red hot, but I didn’t care, it needed to be challenged, it need to be called out, dragged from the dark corners where its allowed to fester.

Sadly, that course barely exists today, it’s being facilitated by a part time worker who has been forced to take on not only the Aboriginal sexual health course, but also the culturally and linguistically diverse course, the youth course and the disability course – All of which had dedicated full time workers running them only a few years ago.

I feel for this worker who busts their ass to do something with the very little of what they are allowed to have, and I feel for the communities and sectors who are missing out on important education. Education and health promotion, well skilled and empathetic workforces, community awareness, spaces to have honest and challenging conversations are too important and are necessary in challenging violence against women.

I also learned a lot during that time, I challenged myself to grow the fuck up; challenged myself to look at the ways I was contributing to the violence and oppression of women (because every man does, in some way or another, I don’t care how much of a nice guy you are, begin with thinking about the language others use in your presence that goes unchallenged.

It hard to face the deepest inner parts of yourself, to really look within and own your part of the destruction and pain caused. But it’s better to do that, than to project that pain as violence onto women. We as men need to own up, acknowledge the truth and start actively working within ourselves and our communities to end violence against women and most importantly be the driving force to stop other men from being and becoming violent oppressors as well. 

I encourage us all to heal, get therapy, counselling, gather with other men and work through it. Listen to women (especially those around you), talk to other men who have started this journey, become the positive force you know your community needs. Influence young men around you.

I also ask you to step and be brave and speak out publicly, move past the hesitations to do so. I get it, we fear the negative stereotyping, we don’t want to contribute to the ongoing demonising of Aboriginal men as if we are all perpetrators, bad fathers and violent partners. But we cannot let that fear further entrench a silence about the important conversations we need to have with each other and with ourselves.

There are countless outside factors at play here, from colonisation, to trauma, to inadequate funding, media misrepresentation, policing etc, and we need to have these conversations too, but we must also embrace the role that men have to play in eradicating violence against women within our own lives, our families, and communities.

The burden of ending violence against women, cannot sit on the shoulders of women alone, we must carry some, if not most of the load including education, raising awareness, challenging behaviours and calling out for and enacting the change we need.

Remember, this is not just about individual actions and incidents, its about a whole of community change to how we view, respect and treat Aboriginal and other women.

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