17 Sep, 2014 Last updated: 16 Apr, 2015

Opinion piece by campaigner against domestic violence and former AFL footballer Luke Ablett

This opinion piece was published in The Herald Sun newspaper on 17 September 2014.

We have all heard those sexist jokes about a woman’s place being in the kitchen or in the bedroom, those comments that lay the blame on rape victims. That, "she should never have gone home with him if she didn’t want to have sex"; or excuses made for violent men, like "he'd just had a bit too much to drink", or, "he's actually a nice guy".

I know I have heard these comments, and for years I just dismissed them as harmless jokes, nothing to be taken too seriously. But research shows us that men’s violence against women (MVAW) exists on a continuum, with basic attitudes to MVAW at one end, and serious forms of violence at the other. What this means is that all those comments and jokes directly contribute at a social level to violence against women. So, for all those people who abhor violence, this is how we can make a change.

Make no mistake, the fact that one woman is murdered every week in Australia, that one in three Australian women will be assaulted at some point in their lifetime, or that women still aren’t safe on our streets or in their homes, are directly linked to those “harmless” jokes and attitudes.

Today VicHealth launches the 2013 National Community Attitudes to Violence against Women Survey. This is the third instalment of this survey since 1995 and looks at the attitudes of around 17,500 Australians, their readiness to blame the victim, to excuse perpetrators of violence as well as feelings about gender equality and gender roles. Unfortunately, despite great work being done in this area, not all the results were positive.

Overall, the survey found that the vast majority of people consider violence against women to be completely unacceptable. This is obviously a good start, but still, almost one in four people think that domestic violence is a private matter, to be handled in the home. We need to break this silence if we are to challenge and change the attitudes that contribute to men’s violence against women.

It’s extremely disturbing that even in 2014, when many assume that there is no longer a need for feminism or a women’s rights movement, that one in five Australians agree that a woman is partly responsible for rape if she is intoxicated. And one in six support the horrible notion that women say ‘no’ to sex when they mean ‘yes’.

This is victim blaming, pure and simple. And it’s astounding that it still persists in 2014, in so-called civilised society.

One of the myths around men’s violence against women is that it is perpetrated by the "other". That it’s those people "over there", that "It’s not my problem", that "it’s certainly not my fault" and "it’s none of my business". There are two major problems with these assumptions.

The first is that men’s violence against women is our problem; it affects all of us. You might not know it, but you almost certainly know a woman who has been in a violent relationship. You almost certainly know a woman who has been harassed on the street, groped at a bar, or pressured into sex. You might not know the details, but to think it doesn’t affect you is naïve.

The second problem is the assumption that you or your friends don’t contribute to the problem. You may not realise it, but every time you make a sexist remark about a woman, you contribute to a culture that is willing to turn a blind eye to violence, or worse, shift the blame to the victim.

Every time you suggest that a woman is incapable of a job because she is a woman, you contribute to it. Every time you catcall a woman on the street, every time you tell a woman that if she wasn't drunk she wouldn't have been raped, every time you minimise or excuse a man's violence, you contribute to it.

Many people have spoken about the need for more men to become involved in the battle to eradicate men's violence against women, and I would like to reaffirm that request. The stark reality is that almost all violence, against men and women, is perpetrated by men. We need to acknowledge this fact. Moreover, the survey that we launch today shows that overall, men had more concerning attitudes towards violence against women than women.

This might not be surprising, but it should be disappointing. Most men, however, aren't violent, and these men must understand the power they have to challenge and change the social norms, attitudes and myths that contribute to a culture that supports violence in their social groups, in their sporting clubs, and in their workplaces.

Men's violence against women is fundamentally caused by gender inequality, and those who refuse to accept women and girls as their equal. Only by challenging this reality can violence be prevented. If you think it’s not your place to become involved, look around you. The people affected by violence are everywhere, including you.

- Luke Ablett

Watch the Attitudes to gender equality and violence against women infographic: