When I was seventeen years old, I was raped. Over a decade and a half later, I was in a situation which involved domestic violence, both mental and physical. Both of these experiences altered my life in ways I could not have comprehended.
Now, you may be thinking “is this a blog post, a pessimistic view of life, or a psych session”?
The answer to this is all of the above. It is also, with luck, and earnest effort and true desire for change, resonant with optimism and survival. It certainly has a hell of a lot to do with bandaging up those bloody feet and dancing through the blues, en pointe if necessary. So if you will bear with me, I’d like to take you through a kind of album of hurt and hope – a Spotify list of scar tissue, if you will.
Some of you may know a few of the lyrics; others may know every song from start to finish. If you are fortunate, then you will be hearing it for the very first time, and with luck, it will not be played out in your personal experience at any level. But what my all singing, all dancing playlist is attempting to demonstrate to you is why we need to find answers to the crisis which continues to build in our society – and I don’t mean Australian, or Western, or an individual country’s society – but society in general. It’s the crisis of a culture which isn’t dealing with the root issues behind the endemic rise of domestic and family violence, and violence against women.
It’s the music of our times, and it’s killing women, children – and men. It’s panic at the disco, and it means people are dying. I know, because I have seen and heard from those who didn’t; and from those whose children, whose daughters, whose sisters, whose wives, whose sons, grandchildren – did.
Track One: Love Is Blindness
Most of this story is not my own, but for the purposes of background dinner music, if you will, here is a little of why I am telling it.
Whilst never keeping it a secret – or at least, not since I finally started talking about what had happened, which was a good six or seven years after the actual event – I had never publicly discussed being raped at the age of seventeen. It wasn’t something I was ashamed of, by this stage at least; thankfully, an enormously wise and wonderful psychiatrist, who understood that my personal path to healing was to become, when I was ready, a counsellor myself, took me a long way to mental recovery once I finally said out loud those words “I was raped”.
I admit, I didn’t expect to walk into a situation which involved domestic violence as a (so I thought) wiser, older person years later, but then one of the things about domestic violence is this – it is unpredictable, it is hidden, and it happens to anyone.
It happens for a myriad reasons, and no two situations are the same.
But last year, a phenomenally ignorant and wilfully stupid columnist here in Australia made comment about only ‘unsuitable women’, popping out parcels of squawling, drug-addicted babies, in relationships with ‘feckless men’ were the victims of domestic violence. Every sentence of her column was a red rag to a bull. She claimed only women of low socio-economic status, little better than drug-addled hookers (not my words), got hit, probably deserved it, and if the state cut out welfare payments, then the whole issue would go away.
Cheers from the peanut gallery, with an accompanying venomous far right backlash against ‘feminist bitches’ when anyone (male or female) stood up and spoke out against her.
At this time, a woman a week was being killed at the hands of a partner, or former partner, in this country. Tragically, as well, the Australian of the Year at the time when the column came out, Rosie Batty, whom I am privileged to know, is the CEO of the Luke Batty Foundation – formed in the name of her son, killed by his father with a cricket bat and a knife at cricket practice in 2014.
He was eleven years old.
I wrote, as a journalist, pieces which ran front page and internationally about why this columnist was so wrong. I tried to make them as rational and non-sensationalist as possible, in direct contrast to my opposition's tone and style. What I wanted to demonstrate was this; domestic violence happens across all socio-economic strata. It happens irrespective of colour, religion, race, age, culture, and educational level. I was, at the time I was first given a thump by my partner, about 33. Most of his abuse was verbal not physical; this doesn’t make it any better, in fact in some ways it was worse, for me at least, because you can’t see words coming. I had two degrees, could speak, write and read multiple languages, and didn’t have any children, let alone ones born with substance addiction problems. Was I an ‘unsuitable woman’? What the hell was an unsuitable woman anyway? What I was, as far I was concerned, was simply the survivor of both an extremely violent rape and family violence, just like too many other women.
Status is no guarantee of safety; thicker walls just means it’s harder to hear the screams.
Track Two: My Name Is Luka
Status. A word and a world. It can mean the difference between life and death when it comes to family violence, particularly when it is in those massive echoing McMansions where nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors; and equally, when it occurs in isolated indigenous settlements where the community closes ranks on outsiders.
With the former, it means women are less likely to talk about it, because of humiliation and fear of recrimination, of rejection by peers. Of losing face. At any level, they also, especially if they are mothers, tend to either stay in the relationship because they have nowhere else to go, as often the male is the primary breadwinner – or they stay to protect their children, to take the brunt of the bashings, the abuse, the verbal smackdowns.
Track Three: When Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
A lot of talking has been done about why violence against women is on the increase; about why domestic violence is becoming more prevalent. There is also a great deal of criticism from men that there is a complete lack of attention paid to the abuse of, and violence against men. I agree; there is a lack of attention on this issue. There is some disgusting abuse of men, both physical and mental, by women. I have seen it, and heard it. In 2015 in Australia, 65 women, 18 children and 11 men lost their lives to family and domestic violence. Those men’s lives matter just as much as the lives of the women and children. To suggest otherwise would be farcical.
One of my male friends is in what can only be called an abusive relationship. His spouse, if she were male, would by now have an Apprehended Violence order against her, and I think the fact she hasn’t is an immense failure on the part of society to see it does go both ways. But there are other facts too – and you can see them in the statistics above. As it now stands, there aren’t two men a week being killed by a partner or former partner. There are two women. Men don’t tend to walk down the street in fear of their lives. Men aren’t told that the way they dress incites a desire to rape. Men aren’t told they shouldn’t get drunk, because if they do, it’s on their own heads if something happens, because they didn’t say no enough times, or clearly enough, or were passed out.
In a separate issue, the effects on the children in and of these abusive and violent relationships are largely going unexamined and unmeasured. How are they going to function as adults, when their world has consisted of their father bashing their mother and calling her a useless whore because dinner was late by five minutes, or because she turned Netflix to a different channel, or because his best mate looked at her in a way he didn’t like, or just because he felt like it?
How are they going to know what a normal relationship is supposed to feel, taste, smell, look, like?
How are we going to stop women being maimed, being scared, being scarred, being killed?
How are we going to change the music – and start a new societal song, the lyrics of which say clearly and loudly ‘this is no longer the way we are going to live, on any terms’?
How do we begin a new dance for life, not death, and stop this broken record of destruction of human life, with as little regard, it seems, as for a toy no longer wanted?
Track Four: White Wedding
A while ago, I was contacted by the makers of a new documentary film. I was wary, because I am quite often contacted by various bodies whose causes are in conjunction with raising awareness about violence against women and family violence. Many of them – let’s just say I don’t agree with their message, and leave it (mostly) at that. Because to me, the way forward has to be one of inclusion, not exclusion. It has to be about acknowledging if men come forward, irrespective of what they have done, and say they want to change their behaviour, then helping them to change it. It has to be about seeing that violence is not the sole provenance of women; it affects children, and men, too. There are areas which are being almost totally ignored in terms of funding and resources, both within workplaces, and by the government, and the concentration of funds and conversation can be polarised.
Then I looked at who was involved, and I saw two familiar names. One is an old and dear friend, Martin Fisk, whose eleven-person strong organisation, MensLink, does more to help young boys and men at a state-based level than any gigantosaurus, well-funded behemoth of national planning in Australia. He, and the for-purpose organisation he is the CEO of, understand the need to stop violence before it starts; to educate young men about who they are, and about why it’s OK to talk about your issues. To be open, and say when things are wrong.
My interest was piqued.
The second name was, in fact, the ambassador for their organisation, and the current Australian of the Year. He’s fairly well known for booting some twits out of the Australian Army due to their vile sexist behaviour, and for a catchcry that echoed around the world:
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
His name is Lieutenant General David Morrison AO Retired, former Chief of Army.
The film itself is called The Dangerous Dance. It is the work and the dream of Claire Stretch and Brendon Stretch of filmstretch. It is extraordinary, it is uncomfortable, and it moves the goalposts in the way we talk about violence against women, and violence in the home.
It examines our out-dated ideas of what makes a ‘real’ man, and how this is reflected in violent behaviour, and an inability for men to talk to others about their feelings and frustrations. It looks at the damage done behind closed doors. It looks at why, from that amazing, blissful, have and to hold moment on a wedding day, one in four women go on to experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime.
It takes the love is blindness trope and says “No, it isn’t, because love is awareness and hope and trust. Not blindly staying and hoping things will get better”.
It is in essence a start-up, and it has been funded by those who want to see change. Who have optimism and faith, and want parity and a better future for both young women and young men. For them to see that it’s OK for boys to cry – and when a girl says no, that’s what it means; and when a situation starts to escalate, it doesn’t have to end in a fist splitting skin.
Track Five: Scar Tissue
I am going to the launch of The Dangerous Dance next week. It is going to be really hard for me. It will stir up, again, as it did when I first looked at it, a lot of past memories. A myriad of half-forgotten words and music, which have a beat to them of hurt, anger, tears, sadness, regret and a hell of a lot of fear.
But I will also be very proud, because out of the ashes of what happened to me at seventeen came the formal ability to assist others who were hurt. Out of what happened to me within that later relationship, came an understanding of the need to work to get to the root of why, rather than simply saying ‘men are shits’. Because they aren’t, any more than women are bitches, or any other stereotype out there. I also know that because of what I went through, I can give some clarity and cohesive rationality to it as a journalist, rather than screaming headlines of sensationalism and bullshit.
I also know I wouldn’t have had the strength to start my own business, to learn to code, to become a professional writer, to finally fulfill my life’s dream, if I also hadn’t had the strength to walk away from being hurt.
There is no one story within violence. There is no one view. And just as I am an extraordinarily bad dancer, with a propensity to make fun of myself and do stupid dance moves rather than take myself seriously, there is no one dance style, or one wedding waltz.
But it would be nice to think in the future, one in four of them didn’t end up as Til It Happens To You.