Unbeknownst to many, Friday November 25th marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This day comes shortly after National White Ribbon Day on Friday 18th of November, which aims to call on men and boys to work towards prevention of violence against women and girls. International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is the first of a 16-day campaign promoting increased awareness and activism from all, to reduce and prevent gendered violence.
What is gender-based violence?
Gender-based violence is unfortunately seen in many different forms and contexts, including but not limited to physical abuse, sexual assault or advances, financial exploitation, verbal or cyber harassment, psychological abuse and manipulation, threats, coercion, and stalking, in public or private domains. Violence against women and girls is a serious human rights violation that unfortunately continues to occur across the globe at alarming rates.
There has been an increasing need for more information and understanding of the issues that underlie and perpetuate gendered violence, and Jess Hill’s Stella Prize winning book See What You Made Me Do (also adapted into a documentary series), is one such resource. Hill’s research investigates the lives of people who have experienced gendered abuse, and asks what we can do today to start reducing domestic and gendered violence.
Throughout this blog, I will often refer to men as perpetrators and women as victims of gendered violence. This is in line with The White Ribbon movement, which stresses that collectively and on average, men constitute a more dominant and traditionally privileged group in our society than women. Specifically, one in six Australian women compared to one in 16 men has experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner she was intimate with. This is not to say men are not vulnerable to violent perpetrators. They certainly are, albeit less frequently than women and children. It is also worth noting that irrespective of the victim’s gender, violence-based crimes are much more likely to be committed by male perpetrators, in particular sexual assault crimes, with 97% of sexual assault crimes over the past decade in Australia being perpetrated by males.
It’s not just a heterosexual, cis-gendered issue either
Non-binary individuals are also subject to high levels of emotional and physical abuse, and there have been recent calls to promote and work towards a more holistic approach to eradicating gendered-violence. You can read more on updates regarding efforts to reduce violence against LGBTQIA+ communities here and here. For the purpose of this article, however, I will be focusing on White Ribbon’s definition of gendered violence, and that which is discussed at large in Hill’s book See What You Made Me Do. That is, I will be focusing specifically on the pervasive male/female gender imbalance.
What’s gender got to do with it?
Hill’s work offers a fresh and long overdue approach to tackling the National Issue of gendered violence. She argues we need to stop asking ‘why does she stay?’, and instead start asking ‘why does he do it?’. This appraisal of the issue, according to Hill, is the only way we are going to see widespread systemic change. This is why the White Ribbon foundation is eager to engage and educate boys and men of all ages to support the cause.
This is also why the title of Hill’s book is so relevant – Hill explains the title was derived from the hundreds of interviews she conducted with victims, whereby the quote ‘see what you made me do’, emerged as a salient theme in victim’s stories. The title speaks to perpetrators’ tendencies to blame female victims, as well as shining light on perpetrators’ often genuine, yet misguided, beliefs that they themselves are actually the victims.
You might be wondering how a perpetrator could feel this way and what is allowing them to make this claim? Indeed, why is gendered violence so widespread? Why do we see this happening in intimate relationships all over the world? Why would someone want to subjugate someone they love? According to Hill, gendered violence manifests from a combination of entitlement, and a sense of loss of control in any aspect of life. In this way, the perpetrator often believes the victim is at fault and deserving of punishment, because she is believed to have undermined him by depriving him of the power and control he feels entitled to, based on expectations set by his upbringing and environment. The perpetrator thus may begin to feel his self-image has been undermined, often leading to profound feelings of shame, fear, or embarrassment.
This is, so to speak, the danger zone. Men without the resources or tools to process their emotions safely (and the permission to feel and process their emotions rather than be shamed by them), may turn to violence or manipulation as an attempt to regain their sense of power, control, and sense of self. The cycle that emerges is one of great psychological and often physical damage to victims, leaving them feeling unsafe, afraid, and immobilised.
Where does it happen?
It is an all too popular misconception that gendered violence is something that happens only behind closed doors. Violence of this nature is happening all around us every day, in school yards, supermarkets, sporting events, workplaces and homes – we just don’t always know how to recognise it. The physical emblems of gendered violence like bruising, wounds and injury may be easier to recognise, but even then, only if these are visible in public. These wounds do not occur in isolation, either. Social, emotional and financial abuse is insidious in our communities and go largely unreported due to inabilities to identify signs of abuse, stigma, shame, fear and more.
What’s being done about it?
White Ribbon Australia proposes three types of prevention strategies for eradicating gendered violence. The level of intervention – primary, secondary, and tertiary – depends on the severity of the perpetrator’s violent attitudes and/or behaviours. It is also worth noting that these prevention strategies are best delivered in the places people regularly work, live and play.
Primary prevention strategies involve community programs and organisations aiming to address implicit attitudes boys and men may harbour, which could put them at risk of engaging in gendered violence later in life. This may involve education in schools and workplaces around gender equality, as well as addressing the thoughts and feelings commonly at the roots of violent behaviour. It aims to reduce the likelihood of men resorting to violence at all, and encourages alternative, healthy coping mechanisms for understanding and processing emotions.
Secondary prevention strategies seek to recognise the early signs of violence in the community and stop violence from escalating when it emerges. These strategies are used to protect victims or potential victims by making it as easy and as safe as possible for victims to speak up, or leave their situation. This level of prevention also focuses on engaging the perpetrator in behaviour change programs, working towards increasing their awareness of the issue and development of alternative actions.
Finally, tertiary prevention is used for severe instances of gendered violence and typically employs direct intervention, to stop the perpetrator and end the recurrence of violent behaviour. Tertiary prevention usually involves protection service plans and criminal justice responses. White Ribbon Australia is an example of a primary prevention strategy that hopes to reduce the demand for secondary and tertiary responses.
Every day should be seen as an opportunity to end gendered violence
While the 25th of November marks an important day for our society to stand together, I hope we can all agree that this is a cause that deserves consideration every day, and in every interaction. Here at Peaceful Mind Psychology, we have qualified psychologists who are passionate about this cause, and work with both perpetrators and victims of gendered violence. So, please, if any of this resonates with you or someone you know and care about, we encourage you to reach out and ask for help. If you’re unsure if your relationship is healthy, you can read more about healthy relationships here, and about when you should consider seeking help for your relationship here.
The White Ribbon cause is eager to shatter the traditional male archetype of unrelentingly strong, stoic, and non-emotional, which the patriarchy has written into our history books to date and negatively affects all members of the community, regardless of gender. We can all do our part in re-writing history and making our community safer for all of us, regardless of gender. This can be by compassionately addressing the unhelpful attitudes or behaviours you may harbour yourself, learning about how to recognise the signs and symptoms of gendered violence around us, and advocating for change in your own networks. This may be a gendered issue, but it is not a gendered solution.
You can find a copy of Jess Hill’s book See What You Made Me Do at most public libraries, and the documentary version is available on SBS On Demand. Our Watch, 1800 RESPECT, and The Orange Door are all excellent resources if you would like more information and resources on understanding and preventing violence against women and children.