TW: Sexual assault
It’s been a shocking week in the news or, at least, that’s what a lot of people have said online. They are shocked and appalled by the news of a female Liberal Party staffer, Brittany Higgins, being raped in our nation’s Parliament (there is now a second report from another woman). They are shocked by the flood of sexual assault and rape reports from girls and women who were assaulted by boys from private schools in Sydney. The shock is compounded by the one-year anniversary of the horrific murder of Hannah and her three children at the hands of her estranged husband.
Everyone is shocked. Except we’re not really shocked because that word suggests an element of surprise, and I’m sure most women aren’t surprised at all. We’re not surprised when it’s reported the Prime Minister and his staff may have covered up Brittany’s rape or that the alleged perpetrator went on to a cushy job in the private sector. We’re not surprised that all those private school boys who assaulted their female peers have apparently gone on to live their lives without any repercussions whatsoever. We weren’t surprised when poor Hannah and her children paid the ultimate price in a society where women are still not safe from predatory men.
Perhaps a better word would be sad. Incredibly sad. A heartbreaking sadness that sits in your chest and never leaves because you feel so helpless, particularly as a woman who wants every woman to be safe no matter where she is or what she is wearing.
In response to the rape allegations, the Prime Minister released a statement saying: “Jenny [his wife] and I spoke last night, and she said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?”
It was only when he thought about Brittany as a woman attached to him genetically that he could see her as a human. Anyone who knows this man is record was not surprised at his lack of empathy (remember the bushfires) or support for women,
“We want to see women rise. But we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse. We want everybody to do better, and we want to see the rise of women in this country be accelerated to ensure that their overall place is maintained.” (International Women’s Day, 2019).
Meanwhile, social media posts call for more teaching about consent in schools, starting with younger children than we do now. The calls seem to asks our schools and hard-working teachers to take on even more of the social responsibility for how our children turn out. Over-burdened teachers with heavy workloads reply, “Really? When will parents and the rest of society take on the load? How much more do you want us to do?”
Some mutter about porn being the cause and, yes, porn has negatively shaped expectations for many men and boys when it comes to what sex, and girls and women should look like and enjoy. But porn isn’t to blame for the ongoing violence towards girls and women. This violence happened to my generation and all the ones that came before. It continues even now.
There is a saying that rot starts from the top and in this case, I believe the change we need must also start there as well. Unfortunately, for women, this change is something men must initiate – the men who hold leadership roles in our government, schools and communities.
The perpetrators of this violence are male. Boys look to men for cues on how to be men so it is men who must speak up.
Wouldn’t it be great if the Prime Minister stood up and said loudly with no spin or prevarication: “Any man who has sex with a woman without her full, eager and willing consent is a rapist and a despicable human being as far as I am concerned. As such, I would expect them to be pursued and prosecuted within the full scope of the law, and if that didn’t happen, I would want to know why.”
Wouldn’t it be great if teenage boys were also told that by their male teachers and by men in their homes and communities?
Wouldn’t it be great if every man in a leadership role in a football code did the same?
Wouldn’t it be great if they said it, meant it and followed through so every woman or girl could feel safe and know that “good men” really do exist?
Wouldn’t that be shocking and surprising?