If the headlines and intensity of calls to talkback radio were your only guide, you could be forgiven for thinking that the ‘coward’s punch’ — random, unprovoked king hits by drunken louts — are killing our young men in alarming numbers.
The problem has become so dire that the Prime Minister was given a front-page editorial in the second largest paper in the country captioned ‘PM speaks out as father of three daughters.’
While the senseless violence is horrible and tragic, it is also, thankfully, comparatively rare.
Far more common, yet attaining much less sustained media attention is the violence against women. According to research compiled by the White Ribbon campaign, drawing on Australian Institute of Criminology research, more than one woman per week is killed by a current or former partner in Australia.
And I’m sure I’m not the first to wonder why a father of three daughters hasn’t been equally vocal about these crimes against women.
As Charlie Pickering has written, ‘If this [violence against women] were a bus route killing pedestrians, there would be an inquiry. If it were a level crossing causing accidents, it would be closed and politicians would lose their jobs over it.’
In a similar vein Ed Butler has described the disparity in community concern for domestic violence victims as ‘blatant yet nefarious’ sexism.
But sexism isn’t the only thing going on here.
The ‘cowards’ punch’ neatly fits our stereotypes about violent crime. Reared on a diet of TV crime shows and headlines where victims are stalked by evil strangers lurking in the shadows, violence from those nearest and dearest just doesn’t compute.
Violence against women and domestic violence, perpetrated by the people who are supposed to love us, doesn’t fit with our preconceived model of what crime and criminals should look like.
The ABS estimates that 33 per cent of all women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 — mostly by people they know. Therefore, the disturbing reality – but a reality nonetheless – is that we must know some of the men who do it. They’re our spouses, our fathers, brothers and sons, our friends, and colleagues.
And before the Men’s Rights Movement start flaming me with rape and death threats (without any sense of irony), let me clarify that I am not suggesting that all men abuse and victimise women.
Nor am I suggesting that men aren’t victims of domestic violence or that domestic violence against men isn’t serious. It is. But women are far more likely to be the victims of domestic violence compared with men.
Our unwillingness to accept that the perpetrators of violence against women are also the men that we otherwise love and respect, has also driven grossly disproportionate coverage about the rapes and murders of women that occur outside the home.
While the community outrage at Jill Meagher’s rape and murder was appropriate and justified, more than 50 other women were murdered in their homes last year and we don’t even know their names.
We only know how to talk about crimes where the perpetrators of the crimes are strangers, thugs from the outer suburbs or seasoned criminals with mental health problems. When it comes to crimes committed by people we know, we have no narrative — and little desire — to discuss it.
Any mention of violence against women also leads to predictable and sexist questioning about whether the women brought it on themselves because they were wearing the wrong thing, or ‘provoked’ the perpetrator in some way. This is something that male victims of street violence and their families don’t have to contend with.
Tony Abbott was quick to defend the innocence of male victims. ‘They are random acts of unprovoked, gratuitous violence,’ he wrote in his editorial. ‘Inevitably the target is an individual quietly getting on with life.’
There is also a reticence to discuss domestic violence since it occurs within the confines of an intimate relationship, as if that somehow changes things. This is in spite of decades of law reform and education campaigns with the clear message that violence against women is a crime, no matter what relationship the attacker has to the woman.
There’s no doubt that alcohol-fuelled street violence is a problem. There’s also no doubt that men are likely to be both the victims and perpetrators of such violence.
But, unlike street violence, the public conversations about violence against women are stunted. And they will remain so until we are prepared to accept that the perpetrators of these crimes aren’t trench-coat wearing strangers.