The strawberry contamination crisis this year gripped the nation – there was widespread awareness and anger.
So where was the shared outrage on behalf of the Australian women killed by violent partners?
Albury doctor and deputy mayor Amanda Cohn put this question to a group of 50 people last night – though she knew it was better directed at those not present.
“We’re all aware of what the problem is – we’ve heard the chilling statistic of 63 women killed this year, we’ve heard the personal anecdotes, but we need to take the conversation out of this room,” she said.
“The reason we were so upset about needles in strawberries was that going to the shops and buying fruit is meant to be safe.
“I want my family and friends to feel safe in their homes, and if we had the same outrage over 63 women dying as we did about needles in strawberries, domestic violence would be a front-page story every single day.”
The panel discussion hosted at The Cube was organised by the Step Out Against Violence committee, who are holding a march in Albury today.
Phil Cleary, a former football player, author and equality campaigner, began the evening speaking of his sister, who at 25 years old was stabbed to death outside her work by a partner she had recently separated from.
“I spoke to my sister after my 200th game in June, 1987 about the man she had left, and I said ‘Is everything alright, I hear that he’s been difficult?’’ he said.
“She said ‘Don’t worry Philip, he wouldn’t hurt me’ … I didn’t go and see him as I had wanted to.
“Isn’t that a metaphor for the failings of our society; the number of times men in particular do not intercede when they know other men are being difficult, are being threatening, are making the wrong comments in the football club about women?
“We in football tell men to be courageous ... real intellectual and moral courage means you tell men who are walking the wrong path that you will not tolerate that.
“That’s what I would have told the man who killed my sister.
“I never got the chance, so for the last 30 years I’ve made sure I’ve told every other man.”
Turning the clock to today, Mr Cleary said he still saw victim-blaming discourse regularly in society and in the media.
“A man could kill my sister and under the old provocation law – which still exists in NSW – say ‘She provoked me’ and be given three years and 11 months,” he said.
“Overwhelmingly the killings are occurring in the context of separation.
“What is that telling us? That men are still wedded to the idea that woman is possession.
“There is a crisis out there and it’s violence against women, and it’s a graver, more profound crisis than terrorism in Australia.
“Every one of us has to be a foot soldier in interceding in the narrative, and practises that give rise to the violence.”
The councils and police forces on either side of the border were both represented at The Cube, with Albury Senior Constable Debra Milnes – who received the 2018 Domestic Violence Practitioner of the Year award this week – speaking about the importance of linking people with support services.
“Sometimes they can strengthen them to feel confident enough to come into the police station,” she said.
“You hear that AVOs are only a bit of paper – I don’t believe that’s true.
“We’re now doing compliance checks – checking people’s addresses – and it’s the police that take out orders and take the blame off the victim.
“The AVO compliance is working really well.”
The point was also made that women are the most informed to assess their level of risk – the forum heard campaigner Rosie Batty found when she disclosed, friends told her she was overreacting.
Social worker of 16 years Melissa Habermann-Crowe said it could take a long time before a person realised they were subject to domestic violence.
“From a hospital perspective, we do a lot of discussions with first disclosures; working with women to know where they’re at,” she said.
“They might not be ready to contact a service, but if they have the knowledge, when they’re ready they can take that step.
“I can imagine Rosie’s situation would be the same for a lot of women.”
Naomi Bailey of Women's Health Goulburn North East spoke about the impact of toxic masculinity.
“We know it’s bad for women, but it’s also bad for men,” she said.
“Six out of the eight suicides that happened in Australia today were men, and we know men have problems with high rates of drug and alcohol use.
“If we can change this stuff upstream, rather than waiting for it to go downstream (when family violence occurs), we have a better chance at changing culture.”
Steve Montgomery, who works in the Men’s Behaviour Change Program at Gateway Health, said for men cultural change could start with just being better at listening.
“Don’t fall into that black-and-white thinking of ‘I’m not a perpetrator’,” he said.
“Make a change in front of your kids, be humble to admit mistake and listen.
“If someone challenges you on bystander behaviour, particularly if it comes from a woman, listen.
“We’ve been oppressing women’s voices for years.”
The event last night took place at the close of a day dedicated to communities uniting around the issue – White Ribbon Day.
Walks took place around the nation, including in Beechworth.
There, it was led by the Beechworth Health Service – which has recently become accredited with White Ribbon.
Chief executive Mark Ashcroft said staff had been working on the process over the past 18 months.
“We are really serious about the White Ribbon philosophy, respectful relationships, gender equality and zero-tolerance to violence against women,” he said.
“We’re making sure what we say is driven into policy and action.
“The industrial models we work under allow us to make provision for people who are experiencing domestic violence.
“Our staff have received training to identify warning signs, and have a script available to open a respectful, considered conversation if they have a concern.”
Closer to the Border, the largest public show of solidarity to take place around family violence will not be related to White Ribbon.
The second Step Out Against Violence Albury-Wodonga will begin with a march behind the Albury Entertainment Centre at 11am today, following Dean Street to QEII Square, where an event will run until 1.30pm.
People are asked to wear green, the colour of the Step Out logo, which was designed by a sexual assault survivor and represents a door opening.
Among the marchers will be Mr Cleary and Cr Cohn.
“The beautiful thing about Step Out is the idea came from people who had their own experiences …. it was a grassroots community voice that said they wanted this opportunity to march together,” she said.
For the past 12 months, Cr Cohn has been chair of the Albury-Wodonga Family and Domestic Violence Committee, which meets bimonthly and consists of 85 members representing service providers and stakeholders.
“Like many other fields locally, trying to improve consistency and sourcing of services cross-border is of high priority for us,” she said.
“We’re also doing broader community outreach and prevention.
“The highlight for me has been working with absolutely incredible service providers who are making a difference in our community.
“This is is a national crisis, and something we need to be talking about, and we also need to be talking about what respectful relationships are and having positive gender roles in the wider community.
“We need to be encouraging anyone who is experiencing a difficult relationship to seek help.”
- If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) for women or the men’s referral service on 1300 766 491.