Justin Toro and Ashlee Savins. Photo: Supplied
Over the past few years, Australia has witnessed an increase in discussions of men's violence against women. The visibility of this epidemic has been amply demonstrated via projects like Destroy the Joint's Counting Dead Women and campaigns such as Sexual Violence Won't Be Silenced. More Australians than ever are able to comfortably quote statistics around violence, such as the frequently referenced findings of Counting Dead Women that show two women are killed by current or former intimate partners in Australia almost weekly. Although we still have a lot further to go in terms of truly liberating all of society from the rigid gender roles that perpetuate violence and inequality, we are making an encouraging amount of progress.
So it's disappointing to hear that there are still victims of intimate partner assaults who are being turned away by the very services that pledge to protect them.
News broke this week of a young Sydney woman turned away by NSW Police after being allegedly assaulted by her boyfriend. Ashlee Savins was at her home in St Mary's last Friday night when Justin Toro (who does not live with her) allegedly punched her in the face twice and struck her in the side of the head. Photographs taken by Ashlee's housemate afterwards show the extremely distressed 19 year old with blood smeared across the bottom half of her face and a front tooth that's been half broken off.
Ms Savins' housemate posted photos of her bloodied face to Facebook, demanding action. Photo: Supplied
Ashlee filed an initial report to the local police while being assessed at the hospital. However, the next morning she was told that nothing could be done because Toro was claiming the injuries were sustained after she fell on her face. This was despite Ashlee having recorded evidence by way of shared Facebook messages that showed Toro not only begging her not to report him because it would ruin his life, but telling her that being unable to forgive him for it was a sign of her own 'negativity'.
In light of that, it's appalling to hear that Ashlee was basically told by police officers that this was a case of 'he said, she said' and nothing could be proven. As many commenters have pointed out, would such a laissez faire response have been given to Ashlee if she'd been a young man king-hit out on the Cross one night? It's very doubtful.
None of this would have come to light were it not for Ashlee's housemate, Ellie Sutton. After Ashlee's disappointing interaction with the officers at St Mary's police station, Ellie wrote a public post on Facebook including photographs of Ashlee's injuries and descriptions of the aftermath.
The response was huge, and the post has since been shared over 1500 times. It received even further attention when someone using the name 'Durian Rider' (real name Harley Johnstone, and who is evidently some kind of YouTube 'personality') posted a shouty, all-caps comment saying this was "100% her fault" because Ashlee was a 'dumb bitch' for returning to a violent relationship (Ellie had pointed out that this wasn't the first time Justin had used violence). He then said he hoped she had "learned her lesson" to not be such a "fucking doormat loser".
There's a whole mess of problems here, from Toro's attempts to manipulate Ashlee into forgiving him to the lacklustre police response (which only escalated after receiving a snowball of complaints from Facebook users) and Durian Rider's appalling, ignorant victim blaming attitude.
Firstly, it's classic behaviour for a perpetrator of violence to try to cajole their victim into staying silent to protect the one at fault. Women have long been expected to absorb the brunt of men's anger in exchange for preserving their reputations, and this pressure often comes from a circle of people far beyond the sole perpetrator.
That leads us to the attitude of the St Mary's police officers with whom Ashlee first spoke.
It's disturbing indeed to think that police stations around the country might be taking this kind of dismissive attitude with victims of domestic and family violence because - why? Because the problem is too big? Because it's just another domestic and who can say what happened to 'provoke' it? Because we just can't be bothered?
It seems unlikely that the one person this would happen to is the same that would make a very visible complaint about it on a social media platform. So how many other women and children are being kept in dangerous, abusive situations because the people they have been taught to trust as law enforcers have failed to protect them from the people they've been encouraged to trust with a relationship?
And finally, we end up at the sadly predictable presence of victim blaming demonstrated by Durian Rider. Listen, the sooner people who know absolutely nothing about the dynamics of violence could stop weighing on things they don't understand, the better. No one is a 'dumb bitch' for being victimised by an abusive person. No one is even remotely at fault (let alone completely) because someone else CHOOSES to punch them in the face, push them around, beat them, verbally abuse them, ridicule them, assault them or subject them to ongoing violence. Durian Rider and his ilk are clearly unaware that the most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship is in the period immediately after leaving - this is when she or her children or her pets are most at risk of being murdered by her abuser.
Ashlee Savins did not ask for Justin Toro to punch her twice in the face, leaving her bloodied and with a broken tooth, just as I did not ask to ever be made aware of the existence of Durian Rider and his repulsive, ignorant views. And yet here we are.
If anything good has come from this situation, it's the knowledge that there are more people willing to stand up against violence even if those people aren't always the ones working in law enforcement. Ashlee Savins may not have had the support of her local police - but she's found it in thousands of social media users who believe her and know it's not her fault.