Scott Morrison 00:00
It’s not a new problem. And it’s not a simple problem. But Australia does have a problem. While much has changed over the years, too much has stayed the same. And that’s on all of us. Every Australian has a responsibility. I, as prime minister, have a responsibility. I, as an Australian has a responsibility. Parents, schools, sports club, the media, every person, every company, every government has a responsibility. I don’t believe we can talk about women’s safety without talking about men. About the way some men think they own women, about the way women are subjected to disrespect, coercion and violence. This must continue to change. Because if not now, when?
What an excellent question from our prime minister. Because here we were, after a turbulent gut-wrenching start to the year with rape allegations in our federal parliament leading thousands of women onto the streets in protest. And months later, as the Prime Minister delivered this keynote to the Women’s Safety Summit, none of the inquiries he’d set up to investigate those rape allegations had come up with results. The government had refused to legislate the key recommendation in the Respect@Work inquiry, designed to keep not just women but everybody safe at work. There was a laundry list by now of failings from the Morrison government. And yet still, he was asking for women to trust him, and to believe he really wanted things to change. But this year, women in Australia relearned the age-old lesson that if they want to be safe, they will have to fight for it.
Mary Crooks 01:56
It might surprise a lot of Australians to know that the push for women to get the vote in the late 19th century, so about 130 years ago, that that push to win the vote was not so much inspired by an appetite for democratic participation – although that was in there – but it was hugely motivated by the desire to do something about violence, violence in the homes, violence on the streets, violence towards women. So this dark, dark side to our society and to our culture, has been with us since colonization.
This is Mary Crooks, Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust, and a collaborator in this podcast series. She has been working on the issue of men’s violence against women and children for much of her adult life and she, like so many women this year, is fed up with waiting.
Mary Crooks 02:58
We can’t afford any longer to leave the campaigns, the pressuring on budgets, the pressuring of our politicians, we can’t afford to basically leave that to hard-working people in the domestic violence sector, to hard-working lawyers and parts of the criminal justice system. We have to actually understand that every one of us if we want to see an end to this violence and abuse that dogs us as a society, we have to actually come to terms with the power we have within us all. The agency that every one of us has in some way, because we’re all members of families, we’re all members of peer groups, we’re all parts of workplaces.
Here’s the thing: the profound and grinding work of responding to domestic abuse has been underway for decades, countless lives have been saved, and futures secured by the actions of friends and family, neighbours, educators, social workers, crisis and refuge workers, police, lawyers, doctors, nurses, colleagues, the list is endless. But so is the abuse and we’re still struggling with huge rates of coercive control and violence against women and children. And the rates that we actually see don’t even show the full picture. Every four years, Vic Health conducts a survey into community attitudes about men’s violence towards women. When the last study was conducted in 2017, one in five people still believed that a lot of what is called domestic violence is really just a normal reaction to daily stress and frustration and just over 40% agreed that women often fabricate cases of domestic violence to improve their prospects in family law cases. Attitudes like this and those that support the right of men to be dominant in their relationships remain stubbornly high. What’s it going to take to change this?
Mary Crooks 05:12
One of the dominant themes in my work life from my vantage point, for example, at the Victorian Women’s Trust, I have seen so many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of examples of ordinary folk doing amazing things down in their communities at the grassroots level. I could start off being theoretical. But I’m actually speaking with my mind and heart joined forces here, because I’ve seen overwhelming evidence of the ability of ordinary folk to step up to the plate, and effect change. I guess, what we need in the violence arena, I think though, we’ve got to be as a nation, much more clear sighted, we’ve got to understand the roots of the problem, we’ve got to get beyond feeling strange and awkward about the fact that there are citizen members of our society who, who perpetuate violence and abuse. We’ve got to actually come to terms honestly, with all of that, hold a mirror, hold a mirror up to ourselves, as a nation, understand these deficits, and the shortfalls.
Mary’s talking about the power we all have to combat violent, abusive and controlling behaviour. Real significant and lasting change will come mainly from us, ourselves, as we challenge and erode the coercive controlling dominator models of behaviour, which are at the root of this problem and at the heart of our society. I’ve spoken a lot over the last few years about the kinds of interventions and changes I would like to see in Australia. But it’s really easy to get attached to ideas, and more than ever, I think we need as many fresh perspectives on this problem as possible. So for the final two episodes of The Trap, I’ve handed over the reins to the experts at the Victorian Women’s Trust. For weeks, Mary Crooks and the Trust’s Special Projects Officer, Leah McPherson, have been doing the heavy lifting, preparing these last two episodes. In this episode, we’ll be looking at how we can use our own power and agency to address violence and abuse. And next week, in our final episode, we’ll be speaking with people who are using their personal and professional power to make changes in their workplaces, within our courts and criminal justice systems, and across politics. My name is Jess Hill, and it’s good to be back with you. This is The Trap.
Let’s just take a minute to remind ourselves where we’ve been in this series. We started with how the trap gets laid. We went right to the heart of coercive control. How it works, how it feels, and how it makes itself invisible, both to victims and to the wider world.
Carmel O’Brien 08:20
I don’t talk about abuse so much as I talk about control. Some red flags are so out of normal conscious awareness and also aren’t taught. And they’re not always there right at the beginning,
We learned that young people are the highest-risk age group for coercive control. And how the way kids are socialized makes them so vulnerable to becoming controlling or controlled. In that episode, Chanel Contos said it plain.
Men in these situations gain their social power from how much sex they have, how much money they have, and how good they are at sport or like physically fighting, it’s the same way that girls get their social status from how much boys like them.
Then we asked the central question, why do some men behave like this? How does a boy go from being loving and compassionate, to cruel and controlling? To get to the root of this, we interrogated trauma, not just the kind caused by overt abuse, but the kind of trauma produced by patriarchy.
You take one whole human being, you split them in half, you go all the qualities to the left are feminine, all the qualities to the right or masculine, the masculine is exalted, the feminine is devalued. The essential relationship between masculine and feminine in Western culture is contempt.
It’s a patriarchal culture that rewards men for expressing anger and punishes them for showing fear. The distortions this can produce in men as they grow up is really the entire subject of this podcast.
I know when I hit that plateau of anger, I actually feel calm. Like I get that angry I’m actually at peace with myself. That’s the feeling of, okay, I’m in control now. So I’ve got the power.
The need of these men is profound, to be respected no matter what, to never be abandoned, or to simply have control over another person in a way that will somehow make them feel okay. The trap this sets for women and for their kids is one that is incredibly hard to escape physically and psychologically. When women do manage to break out of the trap of their relationship, they too often discover that the systems that are meant to protect them often fail them and prove it’s unsafe for them to leave.
Using system targeting systems is part of that pattern, that overall pattern of coercive control, Family Court, child protection and its criminal justice system. And they each have their own vulnerabilities to perpetrators manipulating them.
This is why it’s so vital that police move past the notion that incremental improvements in the way they respond to domestic abuse is enough. Many women will never call police, but enough do, and if they don’t call their neighbours, friends and family might. Domestic abuse is core business for police, consuming 40 to 60% of their time in Victoria. And yet still, too often, police do not recognize the signs of control and abuse, they’ll mis-identify the victim as a perpetrator, or they simply don’t seem to care. This undermines the excellent work done by other police who do take the time and who can be the difference between life and death. The dark heart of this issue is the perpetrators that are concealed within police ranks, and the exponential danger faced by their spouses and kids, when the brotherhood steps in to protect their own.
Because police are the people in the blue uniform in movies, saving the day stopping criminals, they’re more like the criminals that are in a gang that protect each other and cover up. People are dying because of it. People having to live without their parents, they need to change the system.
Perhaps the most archaic and dangerous of all these systems, though, is our family law system. No other system can order a child to live with the abuser they’ve just fled or bankrupt the victim survivor trying to protect them.
If she’s got children, she cannot leave unless he’s been physically abusive to the child and there’s evidence of that, then he’s entitled to 50/50.
When we helicopter above all of this, and look at the society and culture that has produced it, we see all those same dynamics of power, control, and manipulation, all those dynamics that exist in abusive intimate relationships, they’re mirrored in our national institutions and politics. In 21st century Australia, we live in a culture where power over others instead of power shared, is the dominant force. So here we are, with two final episodes left of The Trap. For the past few weeks, we’ve taken some time to look back at the responses we’ve received to get a better sense of how to finish this series. And we’ve had such incredible feedback. Listeners have told us that they feel seen and validated. Others have discovered that they themselves have been or are being right now abused and had no idea. One woman even left her abusive partner after twenty years of blaming herself. The survivors she heard in this series gave her the clear sight to see that the abuse was not her fault. We’ve had a lot of contact from men too who feel they’ve come to understand this issue and even themselves in a whole new light. And so many of you have said you want to know what you can do to help. Well, Mary Crooks has some ideas. She’s been working at the intersections of personal power, public policy and social change for a long time.
Mary Crooks 14:31
And the one that has attracted me a long, long time ago, was that very, very famous quote by Margaret Mead, when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed”, she says “it’s the only thing that ever has”. I believe that but I believe we have to understand our power and agency in a series of, of forms, we have great power as individuals, there’s no doubt. There wouldn’t be a day goes by when an individual can’t in some way, do something that makes the world a better place. But there’s also no doubt that when two people, or three, or four people come together, then the power is magnified, the power to take action to work together is magnified. And it takes the pressure off just the one person. There’s no doubt in my mind, and I’ve seen it over my professional lifetime especially, that when you get a group of 10 people, when you get a group of 20 people, then you can effect a lot more activity and a lot more successful pushing for certain agendas. When communities come together, and mobilize around issues, we’ve seen that work to effect. When societies come together and mobilize around issues, then there’s no holding that society back. So there’s no questioning, we all have power and agency, but we’re likely to amplify that power and agency when we come together as a small group, as a larger group, as a community.
What Mary’s talking about here echoes what the Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, has said so many times: each person who takes action, each person who speaks out becomes a domino in a long chain. As one domino knocks over the next, it creates a chain reaction and even if you feel like the change you’re making is small, it moves the next domino which moves the next. If you take one domino out of the chain, that can put a break in the momentum. Every single person, and every action is important and vital. You don’t need to wait for the perfect time, or the perfect idea to start. The only place to start from is where you are.
So my name is Matt, I’m 56 years old, I live on the south coast of Western Australia and I spend a good deal of time in the bush, got three kids and my partner.
This is Matt, he emailed us early in the series to say how his perception of our culture has changed, particularly after listening to episode three, where we first started to unpack the concept of patriarchy. Our producer Leah McPherson, called Matt to find out what it was that really got to him about that episode.
The way the podcast explained the idea of patriarchy, that that had never been a idea that I was really comfortable with. Different people I’d speak to would have a different sense of that word, but Jess just seem to really go to the heart of, or really put some bones on on that idea for me, and, and I guess the way she explained it, that there’s a kind of binary in the way we see men and women, and there’s a bunch of emotions and ways of expressing yourself that are seen to belong to women.
Matt grew up in the 70s and 80s, when conversations about masculinity and patriarchy just weren’t really happening in mainstream Australia.
That whole perspective that, that somehow if you were harboring emotions that were other than frustration, anger, irritation, or kind-of jubilation over some victory, you know, you are somehow a suspect, as a male. In growing up I felt a lot of pressure to, you know, suppress or put aside your feelings and for me, that was to be kind of really stoic, which is just another way of putting your feelings to one side.
If we want our kids to grow up in a world where they feel they can be themselves, where they can live as fully embodied emotional individuals we need to reckon with how we’ve internalized these gendered expectations, and how we might be transmitting them even unthinkingly to our kids.
My kids are mostly grown and, and if I was a younger father today, I think, you know, one of the things I might be a bit more focused on is, is really just making sure I don’t ever sanction my kids for expressing, you know, an emotion. That I don’t make some emotions off limits, and I don’t think I did with my kids growing up, I never said things to them, like, you know, don’t be gay or don’t be a girl to my boys. I’ve always seen those things as either sexist or homophobic but, you know, perhaps be a bit more focused on paying attention to the emotions my boys express, and I’d probably do a bit more to kind of model, you know, try and model that in myself, I might have modeled, maybe more a range of emotions rather than just, you know, stoicism or a bit of frustration or joy. There might have been a bit more empathy, care, expressions of, of love. I don’t think I’ve done badly that way but I might have been more conscious of it.
The more we know and understand the culture we live in, the better we get at seeing how we can change and overcome the shitty parts, especially in ourselves. Matt says that by deepening his understanding, he’s now better placed to not just notice sexism, misogyny, controlling behaviors, but also to act when he sees them. In Matt’s case, that started with another male friend suggesting that he read my book.
It was a man that originally recommended See What You Made Me Do to me. And when I read it, I thought, it was a total surprise to me that that guy would have recommended it to me because I didn’t see him in that way at all. And it totally transformed the way I saw him and the kind of conversations we’ve been able to have since. We both feel much safer to talk about stuff that would normally be off-limits, you know, just collegial water cooler-type conversations amongst men. And that’s, that’s cool. So I can just have the conversations around me and just make this part of the language. Christmas is not far away, you can be you can be sure this will be a Christmas conversation.
As Matt’s experience shows, we don’t actually have to look that far to see individuals using their power and taking action in their own way. It’s exciting to see people of all ages discover their power to act. Chanel Contos, who we first met in episode two is a shining example of this.
I’ve been in the news recently because I started a petition that calls for more holistic and earlier consent education in regards to sex across Australian schools. And this was in response to a Instagram poll I posted amongst my immediate following at the time that asked have you or has anyone close to you ever been sexually assaulted by someone who went to an single-sex boys school in Sydney.
Chanel’s first step was posting a poll on social media. Her aim was simple and small. She wanted to instigate change within the private school she attended in Sydney. That one simple act ended up snowballing into a paradigm-shifting cultural event. Her petition has since received over 30,000 signatures, calling for more holistic education on sex and consent in schools.
It was definitely overwhelming. I did not expect it to go viral. I knew it would get traction. And I knew that there was a need for this to be spoken about. The sheer number of testimonies didn’t surprise me at all, because I know how pervasive this rape culture is. But I am impressed by how many people felt comfortable coming forward and sharing their story. But yeah, it was kind of an accidental go-viral moment. I mean, it was, yeah it just happened so fast. My initial plan was to just go directly to the principals of these schools with the testimonies and you know, try to create change from there. But yeah, this has gone Australia-wide now, which is amazing.
Chanel has received and read more than 6700 testimonies of sexual assault. Her decision to take one action has resulted in her now holding a big, loud, legitimate megaphone to broadcast the experiences of young women to those in power, and to agitate for urgent change within Australian schools, and across our culture.
We also need to talk about enthusiastic consent, and we need to make it normal and desirable for a girl to want sex because the narrative we portray means that girls are meant to like, resist sex, and men are meant to chase after them. And then it just enables this behaviour when men are persistent and you know, can be coercive and push those boundaries. Girls get shamed for consensual acts. You know, we’re doing it all wrong, because we should be, we should be shaming people who force people into non-consensual acts and celebrating people who have consensual sex. And it’s just not good enough to teach students that no means no, because it’s not just no means no, we need to get to a situation where only yes means yes, we need queer sex education involved in the curriculum from as early as any other heteronormative sex education. We need to set the pretense that we live in a rape culture society, we need to explain the forces of toxic masculinity and what it is, we need to explain what slut shaming is to again, get rid of this taboo about female pleasure and, you know, females tearing each other down, and we need to be aware that it’s okay to enjoy sex. It’s actually good to enjoy sex because when you’re ready to have sex, you will enjoy it then and that’s, that’s the important part. You know, we need to talk about the fact that our society is inherently victim blaming, and we need to talk about sexual coercion.
Through the process of collecting and processing more than six and a half thousand stories of sexual abuse, Chanel has developed a clear campaign and a set of changes that she now wants to see happen in schools. Since her petition, Chanel has influenced the Victorian Government to add mandatory consent education to their curriculum, Queensland is currently reviewing their consent education program. The call for more holistic sexual education has been given cross-party unanimous support in the New South Wales Parliament, and a series of independent schools opted into the Victorian Government’s Respectful Relationships Program. The entire Australian sex education curriculum is being reviewed right now due to the immediate action of Chanel and her peers, which all started from one Instagram poll. The impact has been profound, tangible, and inspiring. This is real change in progress. When we released episode three of The Trap, which considered among other things, the influence of trauma on producing abusive personalities, we received mixed feedback. Many of you said it was your favourite episode, hard as it was to listen to. Some said that analysis like this can be akin to letting abusive men off the hook. But if we are to stop men’s violence against women, we have got to better understand why they do it, and how to engage them. To paraphrase author and psychiatrist James Gilligan, simply condemning men’s violence is about as useful as condemning heart disease. If we’re looking for a way in with men, it’s hard to go past sporting clubs. This is one of the central sites of mateship in Australia, where violent and abusive attitudes can either be challenged, or concealed and left to fester. When action is taken in a sporting club, it doesn’t just affect the players, it can have a huge impact on thousands of others, from fans to the wider community.
Peter Robinson 26:57
Sometimes growing up, you only know life from your own experience in the environment you grow up, you grow up in. And I often think that, you know, men that do act out in violence and they’re the perpetrator, that at some stage, they were the victim, and they’ve been able to carry this around, and sometimes they only, they may only think that’s the way they go about dealing with an issue, whatever it may be with their partner and that.
This is Peter Robinson. He arrived at Melbourne Storm NRL club for a three-month trial period 24 years ago. He played 75 games for the club, and is now their player welfare and education manager. Peter has a proud Indigenous heritage and his mob is Muruwari.
Peter Robinson 27:39
I’m curious and I come across this Latin word a fair while ago, and I don’t like using big flash words, but it’s called, it’s called alexithymia and that word means the inability to put your feelings and emotions into words. So these guys sometimes can’t even articulate what they’re experiencing. And when they do get triggered, sometimes it’s, it goes straight to rage. So it’s about trying to give them some, some words that they can label what they’re feeling, and, and supporting them with that and, and doing that in a safe way but making sure they understand, you know, accountability and responsibility.
Peter speaks passionately and persuasively about these rugby league players he works with, and he clearly cares about them a great deal. Beyond maximizing their athletic performance, Peter and other staff are focused on setting up their young men for purposeful lives once their playing careers are over. What Peter’s doing goes directly to the heart of dismantling the patriarchal culture we explored in episode three. He encourages and supports men to tap into and express the full spectrum of human emotion so that they in turn, can learn how to safely express their feelings and take more responsibility for their actions.
Peter Robinson 28:59
And you know, part of that work comes back to the Melbourne Storm and our players when we do our small group work, and we talk about, it’s no longer the risk of sharing, it’s the risk if we don’t share, because we’ve learned over time to suppress all this stuff that’s gone in our lives, and it’s going to come to the surface at some stage. So it’s healthy to get that off our chest so we can walk a bit freer when we walk out that door. You need to challenge the behavior to change the habit, and give them other tools to replace that with and having the awareness as well, no matter how old we get, we all we’re always going to be challenged with the stuff whether it’s we move forward and we get jealous or we, you know, particularly us men, we, we have this, we have this knack of suppressing so much in our lives. And we push it down, and sometimes that plays out in the wrong times. And I think, yeah, I think you got to take a risk and becoming vulnerable really helps with that.
When men act as mentors and teachers, and show other men different ways to be in the world they can be one of the most powerful instruments we have to stop men’s violence and break the patriarchal model of power over. For young men going into adulthood this kind of direction could be the thing that stops them spiraling into abuse. But what about men who have already spiraled?
Joplin Higgins 30:17
I understand that if we do not engage men in the conversation, if we do not create programs that address the behaviour of perpetrators, then we can’t treat this, we can’t stem this problem that is within our community, because we can talk to the victims as much as we want and we can educate victims. But if we don’t stop the perpetrators and engage them, then why are we doing it? It just will never stop. And not just for the perpetrator and the victim in that particular scenario, the children that are therefore seeing this behavior, have the effects of the childhood trauma from this behaviour, and then potentially go on to A) be a victim of family violence or a further perpetrator of family violence.
This is Joplin Higgins, she runs a law firm in the Hunter Valley, working predominantly in family law, and for victim survivors of domestic violence.
Joplin Higgins 31:20
So I’ve been practicing since 2007, I probably carry each year about 500 cases, at any one time, you know, at least 90% of my cases have some element of family violence.
For the last few years, Joplin has been researching men’s behaviour change programs across Australia and internationally. Much like Phil Jones, the men’s behaviour change program facilitator we met in episode three, Joplin believes that the programs we have here don’t go for nearly long enough.
Joplin Higgins 32:01
The issue in Australia is that we’re doing programs that, that are really only between six and 18 weeks long. That is not enough time to engage a perpetrator and it’s also not enough time to create an effective change in their behaviours. To change someone’s behavior, they need to be in an intensive course and not just one evening a week for two hours. It needs to be constant contact with that program for at least 32 weeks and 52 weeks for us really to affect change. And all of the evidence in the United States and and in other nations, says that the longer the program, the more likely it is that we’ll have a successful engagement with the perpetrator, and that there’ll be no reoffending within the following five years. So in America, for example, they are engaging with the perpetrator three times a week, at a minimum, they’re also engaging with the victim throughout that whole time as well. They’re engaging with the children, as well. So it’s not just about the perpetrator. It’s it’s engagement of the whole family, even if they’ve separated and they’re no longer together.
Joplin is talking about men’s behavior programs that use a trauma-informed approach. This approach presumes that many abusive men have experienced trauma at some point in their lives, usually in their childhood. Trauma is not an excuse, and it does not by default, create an abusive personality. As we’ve heard, abuse is commonly the combination of trauma or deeply-buried shame, combined with toxic levels of entitlement. It’s important to consider how this plays out in the lives of individual men. Because when we’re trying to look at interventions, we can’t just think about men in general, but what each individual man will need to do to overcome his need for control.
Joplin Higgins 34:25
It’s actually therapy for the perpetrator, to understand if there is a deep rooted cause of the reason why they perpetrate violence. Now, in saying that, a lot of people think that that is providing an excuse for a, for a perpetrator. And it simply isn’t. It simply is the fact that many of these children that we talk about that we try to protect now, from family violence, sometimes go on to perpetrate the behaviour that they have once witnessed, or there’s a sexual abuse in their childhood or there’s alcoholism or drug use or financial abuse. We have to be able to acknowledge for the perpetrators that sometimes there’s a deep-rooted cause. And how do we peel that back to be able to treat that, and therefore treat the behaviours, which are sometimes formed due to those traumas.
The need for abusive men to take responsibility, and to stop abusing is urgent. And the need for these programs seems almost overwhelming. It’s not really feasible in a country as vast as Australia to deliver all of these programs in person. Perfect can’t be the enemy of good when it comes to confronting these abusive behaviors.
Joplin Higgins 36:02
The United States has really jumped on the online participation and there’s been a lot of errors made since since COVID. They’re doing all of their courses online for the last two years. And they’re doing their, you know, their group learning online. And they say that whilst it’s not as good because sometimes you can’t read the body language, and you can’t actually see what some of the triggers are, that it’s still enabling the perpetrator to engage. So therefore, it has to be seen as a positive.
Peter Robinson 36:42
And Dardi Munwurro in Aboriginal language means “strong spirit”
We talked earlier with Peter Robinson about his work at Melbourne Storm, Peter is also involved with an organization called Dardi Munwurro. It incorporates elements of indigenous culture, like the wisdom of elders, accountability to the wider group, and sharing stories in men’s circles, alongside health care, addiction services, housing and other support.
Peter Robinson 37:07
So the work that they do, they they assist and help men who are violent, essentially. And it’s a wonderful program. It’s a wonderful, not so much a program, it’s an organization that does so much with the men in community and their mentality is, you know, support the men and challenge the behaviour. And they have this amazing knack to support a man but also hold them accountable for their actions as well. In terms of Aboriginal culture, you know, violence is never part of that. Our arms and our hands aren’t for hitting and hurting, they’re made for holding and hugging.
Dardi Munwurro uses all the elements of best practice that Joplin identified in her research: intensive engagement with the perpetrator and his family, referral and access to a broad range of other health and support services. And importantly, these programs go for the long term.
Peter Robinson 38:00
Yeah, no one of the main features of Ngarra Jarranounith is that the men um, the men leave the house, and they come and live in for a period of time so the, you know, the mums and the kids don’t have to uproot and leave, leave their environment as well. And it’s a wraparound model as well, where there’s support for the, like a reunification worker, and there’s support for the mums and the kids. And it’s very well supported. And there’s also you know, Dardi Munwurro has also created a, you know, a space for for women as well to come and share and heal and talk about what they’re experiencing as well. It’s a wraparound program to help give these guys some other tools in their toolbox of life so when they are triggered, in certain ways, in their, in their everyday life that they can deal with, they enable themselves in another way other than being violent. So we just try and create this safe place for healing, safe place to have conversation. And I think the cultural elements that we bring to the space, I think that makes, makes a huge difference. You know, we sit in circles, we speak with a message stick, we have our elders. You know I think when you can combine all those things together with really good men, really strong men, I think that’s the best chance for change.
Creating opportunities for men to support other men can be an incredibly powerful force for change.
Peter Robinson 39:23
I know I’m always going to need good men around me to pick me up so I can share, because I know when I’m speaking in that, in that men’s group, it’s hard to articulate how powerful that is. Because when you speak, you’re holding the space and the men around you are holding you accountable as well. And I think that’s the real gold and people say what’s it like sitting in a men’s space and I say well you can’t explain how special it is when you got 20 odd men that are coming there for the same reason, that have been carrying so much around with them that they’re just waiting to, to unpack what’s going on for them. It’s hard to articulate how powerful that conversation takes place and and then you got someone that’s checking in after ya, mate I know you spoke about this, I’m not going to tell you how to go about it, but this is what I experienced and this is how I got me self out of this position.
Peter Robinson 40:12
You know, I never come to the space having all the answers because I’ve got to do the work me self, you know, I’m a dad, and I’m a son, a father, a husband. So I’m always, constantly, you know, curious about, you know, me self as well and how I carry myself. Sometimes you don’t really know someone until they’re under fatigue and pressure to work out who’s got, what people got qualities and how they, as I said, carry themselves.
When men are able to see their elders, their fathers, uncles, brothers and friends, express loving compassion, support and emotion, it’s like it gives them an opportunity to adapt their own behaviours, to start thinking about a different way to be in the world. And especially when you consider the cultural trauma of colonization, having these programs centre Aboriginal practices is an extremely important part of the healing process for themselves and for future generations.
Peter Robinson 41:14
My experience of that four month program is it’s not only successful, but I think it’s, it’s sustainable. But that four month program, the works ongoing, and that’s gonna be ongoing for you know, forever, and then they become men that can pass on their lessons and teachings and, and they can mentor the next young man coming through that’s challenged with this behaviour as well. And I think that’s a real healthy aspect and I think it’s a real, you know it’s a great initiative and community to have to have men who are not afraid to talk about how they’re feeling.
In regional and rural Australia, women and kids going through domestic abuse are up against so many barriers. Finding help is so much harder. There are few counselors and crisis accommodation is scarce. Affordable housing can be incredibly hard to access. Communities are much smaller. Local police officers are likely to know the victims and perpetrators of family violence personally, and directly confronting men’s violent behavior can come with significant personal risk. So let’s go to Northwest Victoria and hear from Kim, a young woman who was assaulted by her ex partner who was a country footballer. Kim has since founded a campaign, It’s Never Okay.
My name is Kim O’Reilly, I’m originally from Mildura. I work in retail and have for about 15 years. I’ve got a wonderful family I’m very close to, miss them during this COVID lockdown.
Kim was beaten unconscious by her ex partner in January 2019. It had been building for almost 12 months, in which he’d been progressively abusive, manipulative and violent towards her.
I was quite badly assaulted to the point where I needed hospitalization and I was taken away to Melbourne for surgery to have titanium plates put into my face due to my broken eye socket.
Kim’s abuser received a six year prison sentence and a two year alcohol exclusion order. Judge Michael O’Connell, who presided over the case, handed down a relatively heavy sentence and made clear in his sentencing remarks that the violence and abuse that Kim had endured was wholly unacceptable in our society. We can’t underestimate the importance of judges, especially male judges, showing insight and sensitivity on the question of gendered violence.
‘Cause it was quite powerful what he had said during his sentencing remarks, it actually felt when he gave the sentence that someone was on my side. So it was quite a really, really powerful and a really strengthening moment for me.
In her victim impact statement, Kim wrote vividly about how her ex-partner’s violence changed her life.
And it’s as follows: Every morning I opened my eyes, I run my fingers over the left side of my face, hoping to be able to feel some side of improvement, just more disappointment. I get up and look in the mirror and still see that crooked smile. That smile isn’t mine. Only time will tell if that feeling will return and that I, the idea that he has hurt me so badly beyond repair, I need a place to put in my face to hold the broken pieces together, it shatters me. That will be there forever. Looking at myself every day, no matter how much time passes, my reflection, looking in a mirror, a photo or video is a reminder of what happened to me. And most of all, it’s a reminder of him. It will be staring back at me for all of my days.
Kim’s abuser appealed his sentence and a different judge bailed him into his father’s custody.
And within four days of him being bailed he was allowed to play football for Dimboola football club. So they had a big game to celebrate him and his father. That feeling that I had, I didn’t want anyone else to feel it.
The local football clubs circled the wagons and closed in to support Kim’s ex-partner and his family, leaving Kim, her family and other women in the small Dimboola community, feeling a great sense of injustice and exclusion.
During that time, I was still going through rehab physio, so I was still struggling quite heavily, six months into recovery. So he was allowed to play football and I guess it struck a nerve that he was allowed to come out and get on with his life because during the time that I was in hospital, his ex-partner also came forward to say that he had done some horrible things to her. So he was out on bail for two women.
So in this small rural community, where everyone knew about the attack on Kim, about her hospitalization, his conviction and his subsequent sentencing, Kim decided to take action herself.
I think just because you can kick a football or hit a golf ball, I don’t think that you should be treated any better than anyone that can’t do that. Anyone that’s getting paid, anyone that’s not getting paid, it, it doesn’t matter, we’re all the same, and we should be treated all the same. So the consequences are the same. So the name of the campaign we came up with, It’s Never Okay, because it was something that we’re repeatedly saying. The point of it is to basically cut out violence across all sporting industries and hopefully it will trickle down into the communities, especially in smaller rural areas, where domestic violence, unfortunately, is quite high and also is quite hidden. So we think with this big sports influence and this power that it has in Australia, that if we change the culture in this male dominated area, it will hopefully influence the smaller communities and the bigger communities and we’re not going to tolerate it. It’s it’s no, if you do this, you’re down. So with the policy, we expect all club members, including coaches and volunteers to sign the policy to say that, you know, from then on, when they sign the policy, they’re going to do better. And there’s 4 tiers of consequences if you’re charged with certain situations. And until you are, say, investigated, you are stood down for a minimum of two weeks. That is basically the rules to follow. They need to have an education night and it needs to be repeated every year.
Despite the trauma, Kim has experienced, the ongoing surgeries and slow recovery, the support from her family and friends has helped her overcome obstacles in order to continue taking action. Every few weeks, Kim and her crew come together, develop ideas, distribute jobs between them, and a building some serious campaign momentum
Sunraysia Football League has taken it on in my hometown. Also, the Sunraysia Cricket Association in Mildura has taken it on which is fantastic. With the Sunraysia Football League, there was a little bit of pushback from a couple of clubs. With the Cricket Association, there was no, no questions to ask, which is fantastic. We have spoken to AFL you know, we are talking to big people, we want big movements and big change. So I guess you’ve got to reach those people. I understand that’s going to take time, but I’m impatient so I want to get the job done now. We have spoken to a lot of smaller communities, clubs, as well, and leagues. And I think we’ve actually got probably more, a lot more positive feedback from those people and a lot quicker feedback than we have from the bigger AFL and whatnot. So I think that’s fantastic because it just shows that, you know, in those areas where the domestic violence rates are higher, and the education is lower, that they actually do want to change and they actually want to educate, which I think is needed, we’re gonna get there. And you know, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel for change for this. And I think that’s an amazing thing that’s started and we want to get it finished.
When Kim tells her story, she speaks so clearly about the strength she’s gathered from other people, from Judge O’Connell’s belief in her and the strength of the sentence he gave her abuser. That buoyed her to take action because she knew she had the support of powerful people within our institutions. Her friends and family, and their commitment to her recovery and to their campaign is also a source of strength to overcome the obstacles and keep taking steps forward. This is the power we all have to make a difference. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to know what the best course of action might be.
Carmel O’Brien 49:51
When something goes wrong in a relationship, often it’s the woman who’s held responsible almost as if women are responsible for the emotional health of a relationship. This is, leads to a whole lot of victim blaming in the family violence sector, in the minds of the survivors and in minds of the abusers.
Carmel O’Brien is a registered psychologist. For 30 years she has worked inside institutions dealing with the ramifications of family violence, like child protection, women’s prisons, relationship counseling, and running family violence programs. Carmel’s book Blame Changer examines family violence, and clarifies the myths and misconceptions that are still so widely held about it.
Carmel O’Brien 50:34
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that, in my experience, women who are victims of serious intimate partner violence, the ones that are in the most trouble are often the ones whose partners are living in a very male dominated field. Some of the worst cases I’ve ever seen, have been partners of lawyers, of doctors, and of people who are in the armed forces and of people who are police, members of the police force. So that’s where that attitude, that dangerous gender inequality attitudes, can seep into a private relationship, and feed all kinds of toxic ideas.
Carmel has six actions we can take in our own lives, to increase gender equality, and reduce men’s violence against women and children.
Carmel O’Brien 51:33
I think that one of the ways to break down toxic attitudes is to listen and learn from other people, particularly from survivors. When I’m asked this question about what we can do, you know, in a public audience, sometimes I say, well, the first thing you need, we all need to do is allow women to finish their sentences. I think it’s really important that we become aware of our own sources of privilege, that we don’t assume that other people will have the same needs, desires, ways of life, priorities that we do. I think that listening to women talking about their experiences is very important. And part of that listening is remembering not to jump in with some kind of solution that we’ve thought up that might work for us. Because it’s probably unlikely that it’s going to be the solution for them. I think speaking out about sexism is really important, you know, having a, an awareness of sexist remarks and sexist jokes and calling them out. One of the ways that, for instance, people can have better gender equality, is to make sure that the basic chores in your household are divided between the men and women in the household. It’s as simple as that. The caring of children, the domestic chores, there’s been quite a few articles written about the domestic burden that’s increased for women during the pandemic, for instance, which is a sign that we haven’t got gender equality yet. I think in supporting people who disclose something to you, it’s very important to know how to offer support rather than judgment. Not to tell them why something’s happening, just to ask them what they need help with. Not judging a relationship that you’re not in. If a relationship is in trouble, it’s really important to listen and to ask common sense questions
Okay, so that’s a big one, listening and offering support, but not jumping in with solutions. What may seem like a common sense, straightforward solution for a friend in an abusive relationship might actually be extremely dangerous for that person. So instead of rushing in to fix things, spend time listening, asking questions, and offering support.
Carmel O’Brien 54:01
And also, if you hear from anybody that they are being hurt in a relationship, then I think it’s really important that you tell them you will be there for the long haul, that when they work out what’s the next step that they’d like to take, to please ask you, if you can, you know if they need any help, rather than to say you need to do this, or you need to go here or you need to speak to so and so. And what I found is that if people get the right support, and if they know you’ll be there for them, they will make these good decisions for themselves when it’s safe to do so. I have worked with women whose families or friends have given up on them, have said, well, I’ve helped you get out three times now and if you can’t stay out, just you’re on your own. That’s very sad, and I do understand why people get burned out. But I think part of the reason they get burned out is that they’re trying to get someone else to live up to their expectations, rather than trying to give a person the help that that they need
When it comes to people who have caused harm. And to some extent, most of us have done that at least once, whether we’ve been technically abusive or not. We need to take responsibility, and do the work to stop it from happening again. That work is obviously most urgent for perpetrators of domestic abuse.
It’s really important that we all understand that using violence is a choice. So that means if you’re wrong, if you’ve done something that is victim blaming, or you have been sexist in the past, it’s important to apologize. If you have directed something at someone you shouldn’t, and to take responsibility for what you do and for change. If you are controlling within your own family, what’s really important is that you realize that you’re the person who can do something about this. If something that I did as part of my behaviour made somebody else in my family afraid of me, if I’d hurt somebody in my family, then I need to get help, and I need to get it fast. And I need to do whatever it takes to make sure that that does not happen again. I certainly have heard a lot of people talk about how there’s a, they have a problem with anger, with their childhood, with their background, with poverty. The problems are real but it doesn’t give you a licence to hurt somebody else as a result. It is, it is not an excuse for behaving badly.
Family violence isn’t something that just affects other people. It affects our neighbors, it’s in our families, it affects classmates, workmates, friends. It’s with us all in some way. It’s a deep thread that runs through our community. Our society has been built on patriarchal models of people exercising power, dominance and control over others. But these traditions are not set in concrete. They can be eroded and undone, and possibly even made to eventually disappear. Certainly in our own lives, we can do the work to replace these toxic dynamics with true forms of intimacy and sharing within our own intimate partner relationships, in our families, and in our communities. We don’t have to, and we can’t, wait for others to do this for us. Next week in our final episode, we’ll take a close look at what people are doing to reduce violence and controlling behaviors in our workplaces, institutions, and political systems.
You’ve been listening to The Trap proudly brought to you by the Victorian Women’s Trust and its harm prevention entity the Dugdale Trust for Women and Girls, who would like to thank all of our supporters and donors. Special thanks to equity trustees and the Phyllis Connor Trust, the Bokhara foundation and a private donor. Our creative producer and editor is Georgina Savage. Co-producers are Ally Oliver-Perham, Maria Chetcuti, Mary Crooks and Lucy Ballantyne. This episode was developed by Leah McPherson and Mary Crooks with special thanks to Jess Dugdale-Waller, Lily Mooney and the team at the Victorian Women’s Trust. The trap was mixed by Romy Cher, and Pariya Taherzadeh. I’m your head writer, producer and host Jess Hill.
This podcast was produced in Sydney and Melbourne and we respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of this land, the Gadigal of the Eora nation and the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. We would like to acknowledge the victim survivors and others who have generously shared their stories and expertise. If today’s topics have raised any issues for you, help is available. Contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 7328 or if you’re seeking specialist LGBTQI support, contact With Respect on 1800 854 2847 or see our show notes for a full list of support services. For more information about this podcast, including show notes and resources, visit www.thetrap.com.au and follow @thetrappod on Instagram. You can also find out more about the Victorian Women’s Trust via their website www.vwt.org.au or follow them on social media @vicwomenstrust. Thank you for listening.