Acta Non Verba - Actions, not words
In the current media frenzy about sexual harassment and assault, a few things become very clear. Firstly that being aware that sexual harassment exists and is wrong is no guarantee or protection on it not occurring. And secondly that there are common conditions that enable abuse of this kind to occur:
- An unequal balance of power, with one individual having power over someone’s reputation, earning capacity, ability to find work
- A view of women as existing only to satisfy a man’s desires, ie ownership and control
- A denial of a woman’s right to say no, of her right to determine what she wants to do and who she wants to do it with
- Silence from others, condoning what’s occurring
- An environment where the prevailing culture reinforces unequal gender or other power dynamics
These same conditions underpin the increasing rates of domestic and family violence. You have all seen the statistics. If the personal and human rights aspects of domestic and family violence don’t move us, the economic costs should. This type of violence has ripple effects on children, families, communities, it has an economic impact including the burden on the health system, the justice system, housing as well as on community services costing an estimated $22 billion in 2015/2016 in Australia.
Supporting staff at the coalface of running a women’s shelter taught me that recovery from this type of violence requires a lot of resources including time and money. The needs of victims are complex and significant. Each case is different and requires a customised response. Many suffer the consequences of long-term trauma with a profound effect on their ability to function and make decisions. On average, women will return to their violent partners 8-12 times before they leave. This creates ongoing trauma and burden on services.
I also learned that domestic violence is not about relationship conflict, it is not about anger management, it is about control. Abuse comes in many forms, not only physical – financial, emotional, psychological, technological.
Two things became very clear to me about where our focus should be to help make a difference:
Case coordination and practical medium to long-term support for victims, men or women to access the support they need to rebuild their lives
Education: investing in approaches that focus on positive messaging about healthy relationships and providing people with the tools to build respectful relationships
Raising awareness or expressing commitment may be important precursors, but on their own they are not ever going to be enough. We need not just to know and to say, but also to act on intervention and prevention. We need evidence-based, new approaches to primary prevention. We are taking a long time to learn in this space what we learned a long time ago in the area of health, that investment in prevention is a lot cheaper in the long run than early intervention or crisis response.
If you want to invest in healthy relationships, Play For Change is a simple way to engage your sporting team or club.