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Australia’s problem with male violence is getting worse. So, what’s the solution?

Brisbane, Australia CNN —  It wasn’t another news story about the death of a woman at the hands of her partner that convinced Daniel McCormack he had to be part of the solution.

It was Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss, who during a stand-up routine in 2019 revealed he hadn’t done enough to prevent a friend from raping a woman and urged men to “get involved.”

“I hate saying that it was a man that opened my eyes on this issue,” said McCormack, as he held a sign saying, “Protect women. Call out your mates” at a protest in Brisbane.

This weekend McCormack was among tens of thousands of people who marched in rallies across Australia to demand action on gendered violence, committed overwhelmingly by men against women.

Late Monday, new figures showed a 28% jump in intimate partner homicide in 2022-23, compared to the previous year – ending what had been a decades-long trend of decline.

“It is a sizable increase, and to some extent, one that we weren’t expecting,” said Samantha Bricknell, research manager at the Australian Institute of Criminology.

“Across the 30-odd years that we’ve been collating data on homicide in Australia, there has been an overall decrease in intimate partner homicide.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called it a “national crisis,” and on Wednesday will convene a cabinet meeting to discuss how the government can best intervene.

Many – including the prime minister – believe it’s a cultural issue, perpetuated by deeply ingrained attitudes over generations that will take time to fix.

But protesters say much more needs to be done – if Australia waits for intergenerational, societal change, too many women will die.

A mass stabbing raises questions

Australia has long had a problem with male violence against women, and while media reports on alleged murders lament the loss of another life, they don’t typically mobilize mass protests.

That changed this month when a man armed with a knife terrorized shoppers at a shopping center in the suburb of Bondi in Sydney, killing six people – mostly women – before he was shot dead by police.

As the country reeled in shock, the New South Wales police commissioner said closed circuit television footage showed it was “obvious” the attacker had targeted women.

Two days later, when a 16-year-old boy allegedly stabbed a Christian Orthodox bishop in the city, the assault was almost immediately labeled a “terror incident.”

It triggered a conversation about why a deliberate assault on women wasn’t considered a terror attack, for promoting misogynist or incel ideology – or more broadly, the hatred of women.

Australian security authorities pointed to the lack of evidence in the Bondi case that the perpetrator was motivated to further a cause, and the conversation appeared to move on.

But in the days that followed, more women were killed – their deaths unrelated but linked by their relationship to their alleged killers.

In the past week alone, they included a 28-year-old mother allegedly killed by her partner, who was already facing charges of raping and stalking her but had been released on bail; a 49-year-old woman allegedly killed in her home by someone she knew; and a 30-year-old women whose body was found in a house fire allegedly lit by a man known to her.

The deaths took the toll to 27 women allegedly killed by a partner or former partner so far this year, according to the Counting Dead Women project.

That’s an average of one every four days.

An ineffective response

Australia’s rates of domestic homicide are on par with similar countries – the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand – but Hayley Boxall, a research fellow with the Australian National University, says the difference is that Australians are talking about it.

“This isn’t an Australian problem unfortunately; it’s a global problem,” she said. “We are unique in that we’re having bigger conversations than I think a lot of other jurisdictions are in terms of how we respond.”

That conversation went from the streets on the weekend – where protesters yelled “We won’t take it anymore!” – to breakfast television on Monday, when Albanese made several appearances to tout the government’s response and promises of more.

He said the government had committed 2.3 billion Australian dollars ($1.5 billion) across two budgets to the problem, including more social housing for women fleeing abuse. Employees can access 10 days’ paid leave each year for family and domestic violence and the government is rolling out a 10-year national strategy for gender equity.

“Clearly,” Albanese conceded, “We need to do more.”

Boxall says Australia’s response to domestic violence is being shaped by a “very pervasive cultural narrative” that people who abuse never stop abusing – a notion contradicted by international research.

“I think we’ve kind of decided that they can’t stop, and so we’re throwing a lot of our efforts into primary prevention,” she said, referring to respectful relationship and gender equity programs.

“The reality is no matter how much respectful relationship training you do, no matter how much policy investment you make towards addressing gender equity, there will always be men who are violent towards women. And so, we need to have an escalated response where we can actually respond to that risk when we detect it,” Boxall said.

She said that would include “surveillance, intensive case management [and] intensive safety planning” for high-risk cases to prevent more murders – and a different model to stop violence being perpetuated in households, in some cases before the legal system becomes involved.

“We don’t have good programs for men with mental illness and personality disorders who use these types of violence. We don’t have a lot of really accessible drug and alcohol treatment programs for men who use violence. We don’t have necessarily very good homicide prevention programs,” she said.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a jurisdiction I can point to and say they’re doing it really, really well.”

Rates of intimate partner homicide fell in Australia during the Covid pandemic – similar to falls seen in England and Wales – according to Bricknell, from the Australian Institute of Criminology.

“If you look at the intimate partner homicide breakdown, both First Nations women and non-Indigenous women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner versus any other person that they know, or indeed a stranger,” Bricknell said. Figures for First Nations women are particularly high.

She said the recent surge could just be a post-Covid bounce, or sign of a deeper problem.

At the Brisbane protest, Emily Garnett led the marchers in cries of “5-6-7-8, no more violence, no more hate.” She told CNN afterward she felt a need to speak up for women who are struggling.

“It’s such a sensitive topic, not just for myself, but for everyone out there,” she said. “If you keep making noise and you keep showing up, you’d hope there’ll be some sort of change.”

McCormack said he’s using a quieter voice to call out men who use casual misogynistic language.

“I’ve found a simple comment such as, ‘Come on mate, you know that’s not OK,’ or just simply saying, ‘That’s not on,’ or ‘You can do better,’” make a difference, McCormack said.

“You can see on their face and in their demeanor – they understood they could have done better, that what they did isn’t OK,” he added.

“It’s important for mates to hold mates accountable.”


CNN, 2024



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