Home is where the harm is
Why focusing on monsters lurking in public places won't keep women safe.
There’s a post doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment giving advice to women about how to look out for their own safety and defend themselves. Purportedly written by a cop, it’s full of things like:
Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc. DON’T DO THIS!) The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR , LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE..
As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP It may get you raped, or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked ‘for help’ into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.
It also includes an anecdote about a suspected serial killer that has a baby’s cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes by making them think someone has left a baby at the front door.
Although the post is prefaced by a statement that the information is useful information for everyone, as in the quotes above, a number of times the advice is directly specifically at women and ends with a plea for readers to “forward this to all the women you know.” The post is also accompanied by a photo of a worried looking woman being followed by a male figure in a dark hooded jumper.
At last count the post had been shared over 620,000 times and attracted over 100,000 ‘likes.’
Serial killers. Predators. Abductors. Rapists. According to this post, they’re in stairwells, car parks, maybe even outside your house.
Except…they’re probably not.
The place where an Australian woman is most likely to be subjected to violence is in her own home.
The person most likely to do her harm is her male intimate partner or former partner.
Almost once a week a woman loses her life at the hands of her male partner or former partner.
Overwhelmingly, the risk of violence for women is not out there on the streets. The threat is not the malevolent stranger; it is the partner or former partner who is egoistic, cannot empathise with his female spouse and regards her as less than equal.
According to Neil Blacklock, Director of Development at Respect UK, the threat is the man who when asked to ‘name one quality that their partner or ex-partner has which is not about her relationship to them…find it difficult to reply.’
In Blacklock’s experience, the threat to women is the male partner who, among other things, blames his partner for his abusive behaviour, has an exaggerated sense of entitlement and becomes angry at her resistance to meeting his demands. His violence is used to control her; and his violence in turn, supports his sense of entitlement by punishing her or ‘teaching her a lesson,’ forcing her to do things against her will, or stopping her from doing things she wishes to do (such as leave the relationship).
Giving advice to women on how to stay safe from serial killers and predators lurking in carparks is like telling women to look out for lightening in the sky while they’re standing in quicksand.
It’s a dangerous misdirection of our attention. Not only does it cause women to fear public places and act to limit our freedom of movement, it equips women with the wrong tools for staying safe.
On men who behave violently towards their female partners or former partners, Blacklock observes that:
Often the perpetrator will objectify his partner, denying her humanity. This is undoubtedly a central process in domestic violence. He sees his partner as ugly or evil and think her in terms of (often gendered) derogations such as bitch, slag….This is part of a process that allows him to use violence by reducing his empathy for his partner. With many perpetrators this objectification constanatly pervades their view of their partners.
It is chilling to think of the numbers of men who regard their partners or ex-partners in this way. The numbers of women who share or once shared their homes with these men; men who reduce their female partners’ existence and humanity in accordance with their fulfilment of male needs.
There’s comfort in the myth of the malevolent stranger because it can be ‘solved’ with locked doors, good lighting, a well aimed elbow. It’s easier to tell women to clutch a key between their fingers as a makeshift weapon when walking in dark streets than to address the beliefs that allow men to routinely objectify their partners and justify their use of violence against them.
This year could be a big one for addressing violence against women. As Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty has a platform for advocating for change. The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence will shortly commence its first hearings and consultations will soon begin on the National Framework for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children, to be released later in 2015. There appears to be momentum for change that addresses the real and most prevalent violence that many women face everyday - the violence that takes place in their own homes at the hands of their partners and former partners. So can we please stop looking for the monster in the shadows?
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, statements about the incidence of violence against women in this post are sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, Personal Safety Survey, as reported by Our Watch in ‘Reporting on Domestic Violence’ (September 2014) and Facts and Figures.