The threat within

The national conversation is finally turning towards male violence, even as sections of the media seek to stir up fears around multiculturalism

The problem plaguing Australia was on full display this week in all its anxiety-inducing wretchedness. It wasn’t an internal or external terrorist threat. Nor was it the geopolitical ambitions of a foreign foe, perceived or real. Much of the mainstream media would have you believe that the problem is the result of terrorism, multiculturalism, an erosion in social cohesion or a decline in “family values.” But no. The present and real danger inflicting carnage across the country is posed by men: the gender seemingly most susceptible to inflicting harm on others as the result of ideology, role displacement, toxic role models or through falling between the cracks of systems designed to treat them.

The prime minister has, to his credit, called out the problem and where the responsibility lies when it comes to the crisis engulfing the country. “On average, more than once a week, a woman dies at the hand of someone that they know,” Anthony Albanese said earlier this week.  “Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of this violence and men, as a group, have to change their behaviour.”

In a week filled with horrors and questions over definitions — whether to label one horrific crime or the other a terrorist attack — we cannot forget that so far this year 29 women have been murdered. The sad truth is that more women will die this year at the hands of men, while countless more will be bashed, belittled and sexually assaulted inside and outside the confines of the family home. Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan called it Australia’s “number one law and order issue.”

The issues around men’s propensity for violence against women and each other are complex in the extreme. From toxic masculinity, to the echo chambers of social media, to alcohol abuse, to gambling being intertwined with sport, the issues are deeply rooted in almost every aspect of society. But by the prime minister and now the attorney-general Mark Dreyfus, simply assigning a responsibility to men — something advocates against domestic violence have been arguing for some time — the government is now elevating the problem to the national conversation, where it belonged the whole time.

“We’ve got a crisis of male violence in Australia,” Dreyfus told RN Breakfast this morning, before heading to a domestic violence summit in Melbourne. “We know that it’s a scourge in our society, we know it must end and I think it’s really clear women can’t be expected to solve violence against women alone. It is time for men to step up.

As with any social issue confronting Australia, the story in Indigenous communities is even more dire. In the Northern Territory, you’re seven times more likely to be killed by your partner than anywhere else in Australia. Efforts to curb domestic violence nationally ought to be particularly focused on Indigenous communities, where the crisis is ingrained and unrelenting. A Senate inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and children has heard this week the reported statistics relating to domestic violence in the NT are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to revealing the true depth of the problem.

There are now more services available to those experiencing and/or fleeing domestic violence, and programs available to educate those who perpetrate it. And yet the problem of violence against women and children remains persistent.

Clearly, elements of the media want to heighten tensions when it comes to the terrorist threat, stirring up perceived perils related to multiculturalism. But all it proves to do is distract from the much larger issue of men’s willingness to use violence as a form of expression.

Having a national conversation is good and proper, but conversations need to happen at the local level as much as the national. In a political environment that is combative, often closed to outside scrutiny, partisan and aggressive, it is hard to see how messages around restraint, toxicity and openness will cut through to the Australian people.

The problem has been identified, and our leaders are talking about it, but one question remains to be answered: what’s next?

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