Tara Moss: 'we can't let trolls hijack the domestic violence conversation'

Author and domestic violence campaigner Tara Moss.

Author and domestic violence campaigner Tara Moss. Photo: Gary Schafer

Tara Moss understand the risks that come with speaking out publicly about male violence against women, particularly online.

"The trouble with electronic communications is that it comes straight into your back pocket," she told Daily Life.

"I would recommend that people who are having trouble with trolls don't check email and twitter when you're on your own or in a bad place. When it happens, it's severe. I will report, I will block, I will sometimes take an image, and then I just try to push it out of my mind."

But,despite this, she says it is very important women stay in those online spaces and continue having those conversations.

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"We don't want to leave the internet to the bullies because what we are saying is important," she said. "Rape threats and death threats are not OK and are actually illegal… and we must support everyone we see going through this."

"We cannot allow good advocates to be bullied out of public spaces"

At NSW Parliament House this morning, Moss will launch the Full Stop Foundation

She was approached for the role after appearing on Q&A where she spoke eloquently about the "toxic silence" that protects the perpetrators of sexual violence and blames the victims

Full Stop is a targeted program designed to expand the work Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia (R&DVSA) is already doing into a strong and effective action against sexual and domestic violence.

Moss told Daily Life "Full Stop Foundation is different, it's is not a research project, it's a research-based project; and it's not an awareness raising project, although it will raise awareness, it's a project based on action."

R&DVSA manages the 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) hotline, which is a call centre that took more than 55,000 calls last year from people needing help and support for violence-related trauma.

Moss says that during her book tour she had hundreds of women sharing their stories with her, and that she directed many of the women who were still in crisis to 1800 RESPECT. The feedback she's had from those women has been hugely positive; "they've told me it's really pulled them back from some dark places".

"The hotline and online version is so vital. They only use professionally trained counsellors. Some of these situations are very serious and they really need a well-trained person to deal with it. Often the women are very scared, but they're just not ready to go to the police. This service is a bit more of a baby step and they're able to get support and advice and start to build a plan. Having that support can make all the difference in the world.

But it isn't cheap or easy to get people who can handle these kind of calls. Thre are often very complex traumas involved and calls can go on for 90 minutes or more.

At the moment there are some calls going unanswered, which is just unacceptable, but it all comes down to funding."

R&DVSA and The Full Stop Foundation gets most of its funding from grants, training courses, fundraising activities and donations (you can donate here) but they desperately need more. Not just so they can answer the calls from people in crisis, but to fund the equally important behavioural change programs. As Moss says, "behavioural change is the area we need to invest in, that will show results in the long term".

"We really need to take advantage of the awareness that we have now. If we don't do it now it could take decades to get back here again."

Full Stop has three targeted programs, the first one, Hey Sis, is a sexual assault network for Aboriginal women. It's not designed to impose a system on Aboriginal communities from the outside. It works with and is led by Aboriginal women who want to make their own spaces safer.  

Ethical Leadership is an extension of the Sex and Ethics program instigated by Moira Carmody, a professor at Sydney University, and Karen Willis from R&DVSA. Moss describes it as a "primary prevention program for sexual assault through education. It takes courses into workplaces and uses them to make a difference to men and how they understand violence." This really does have an effect. All the men who participated in the NRL Respectful Relationship Sex & Ethics Program reported 6 months after the course ended they were still using the skills they learned.

The secondary prevention program, Changing Violent Behaviours, works with men who have committed violence and are looking for help to change. Moss says, "traditionally this kind of assistance has taken place in prisons and we want to reach people before it gets to that stage", but there has to be some trained and experienced help available to the men who want to break out of the cycle of violence.

The advocacy Tara Moss brings to The Full Stop Foundation will help it save lives.

Support for victims too scared to go to police. Support for Aboriginal women seeking community based change. Support for men who want to change but need help understanding how to do it. We have spent a long time getting public awareness to the point that such things are possible. Too long. But we have public, corporate and government support no. We know we must act. These programs will make a real difference and all it takes is money. When you think about the destruction violence wrecks in so many lives, when you think about what people on the frontline of this work have to do, just finding money seems so very easy.

Governments spend money on things that voters find important. Write, email, text, visit, call your local MP, state and federal, and tell them you want funding for domestic violence services. If they hear it enough times, eventually they will listen, eventually things will change. And maybe one day we won't have to keep talking about how many women are murdered each week by men who said they loved them.