Why domestic violence is the most important issue this International Women's Day

Simon Gittany's girlfriend Rachelle Louise during her interview on <i>Sunday Night</i>.

Simon Gittany's girlfriend Rachelle Louise during her interview on Sunday Night.

We seem to move heaven and earth to prevent alcohol-fuelled violence in our streets and clubs but tackling violence in our homes is consigned to the too-hard basket.

Research shows that violence against women is inextricably linked to entrenched views about masculinity and entitlement. It’s pervasive, even when we’re pretty sure we believe in equality we find it hard to make calls on whether abuse in a relationship is conflict or mutual or something more sinister.

Just a couple of weeks ago we saw Rachelle Louise, the girlfriend of convicted murderer Simon Gittany, say on national television that she thought it was ok for her boyfriend to stand in the doorway to prevent her from leaving when he didn’t like her to,


"He's never stopped me like physically restrained me from leaving, but he's stopped me from leaving, like, stood at the door.”

Louise explained that she thought that the footage of Gittany dragging Lisa Harnum back into their apartment moments before her death with his hand over her mouth had to be considered in context because “he was acting instinctively”.

Whilst Twitter went crazy when Louise made these comments, it’s easy to see why these excuses might seem reasonable to her. We know that men who abuse tend to blame other people, alcohol or circumstances for their violence. And its not just abusers who have that attitude.

A 2009 National Survey on Community Attitudes to Violence Against Women found that 18% of Australians thought that ‘relationship violence can be excused if it results from temporary anger’. Similarly 1 in 5 categorised ‘yelling abuse at a partner’ and ‘controlling a partner by denying them money’ as either ‘not that serious’ or ‘not serious at all’.

We are living in a world that says that there are some kinds of abuse that are less damaging

(presumably those that don’t leave bruises or scars) and that in some circumstances its actually ok to control your partner's choices. And before I get 15 blokes commenting that men can be victims of violence too… yes, of course they can-whether heterosexual, gay or trans* men. I acknowledge that there are some heterosexual women who abuse and that it’s hard for men to ask for help and to access support. But the vast majority of people who die in Australia every year at the hands of their partner are heterosexual women. And those men who are abused by their partners are victims of the same set of sexist values that says blokes can’t be abused.

Last week I attended a crowded International Women’s Day event at the Human Rights Commission, listening to young Australian women sharing their hopes for the future. They told diverse stories; coming from Sierra Leone as a refugee, being the youngest woman in a senior position at Qantas, initiatives for concrete change for women in their local communities. In amongst all the talk I was most struck by the remark by 11 year old Ella. When asked what right was the most important to her, she responded

“To me, the most important right is to feel safe”.

If we challenge violence against women and the paradigm in which it sits so uncomfortably then we’re also ultimately saying no to violence on the streets of the Cross, we are teaching our kids that it’s ok to be gay and that we won’t bash it out of them, we are creating a world where 11 year old Ella and her friends can grow up feeling safe - in relationships, school, outside nightclubs and in corporate elevators.

There is so much more to domestic violence than many people understand. Physical, sexual, emotional, mental, financial and verbal abuse are all forms of domestic violence. Just because you don’t have a bruise, it doesn’t mean it’s ok. Just because your partner was intoxicated – it doesn’t mean its ok. There is never, ever an excuse for this kind of behaviour.

That’s why I’ll be talking about violence against women on March 8.

Moo Baulch is the Project Manager at Domestic Violence NSW. For more information visit www.dvnsw.org.au


For 24 hour help, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). Or see your state and territory helplines here