Last month, a report was released that was chock full of alarming statistics. The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey canvassed the views of 17,500 Australians aged 16 years and older. It found that a third of respondents believe men commit acts of rape because they can’t control their sexual urges – which is frankly insulting to all men and women. It also found that 40 per cent believe it’s common for women to make accusations of sexual assault to ‘get back at men’ – even though we know that false accusations of sexual assault are extremely rare.
That same week, in Melbourne, Magistrate Richard Pithouse commented that a woman who said she was raped must have experienced “buyer’s remorse”, as the alleged incident occurred after she’d been out partying and drinking.
Earlier that month, a female defence lawyer in Ireland used the underwear of a 17-year-old girl as evidence that her client was not guilty of rape. She held the underwear up in court and claimed that the plaintiff’s clothing choices indicated that she was open to having sex, that her underwear implied consent. And in the US, we saw Christine Blasey Ford testify against Brett Kavanagh, and in doing so, open herself up to the most awful and defamatory commentary. Violence against women is a global problem. It exists on a spectrum, and all of it is fuelled by the existence of these attitudes.
Girls’ rights agency Plan International released a report this year, Unsafe in the City, which highlighted the relentless sexual harassment girls and young women in Sydney face in public. It also found 90 per cent of incidents go unreported – that’s because this behaviour has become ‘just a part of life’ for them.
At the other end of the scale, more than one woman is killed by her intimate partner every week in Australia. Meanwhile, one-fifth of women will be a victim of sexual assault and one third will be the victim of physical assault. Underreporting of such crimes is a massive issue – women are understandably reluctant to open themselves up to invasive scrutiny in the courts.
It astounds me that so many people still don’t believe gender equality is an issue today, with two in five Australians surveyed believing many women exaggerate their unequal treatment. In the lucky country, everyone is equal, right? Wrong. In reality, our country is full of barriers for women. Even more so for people with diverse genders, disabilities, people of colour, and women of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. We need to get rid of this negative culture that impacts men, as well as women.
Australia has a toxic, sexist culture that is reflected not only in this survey – which found nearly one-quarter of Australians saying they found no harm in telling sexist jokes – but in the behaviour of our politicians, who believe it’s appropriate to slut-shame a woman in her workplace. It’s in the advertising that uses our bodies to sell products, and in turn leads people to believe that they are public property.
Why else would one-third of people believe that if a woman sends a nude photo to a partner and it’s shared without her consent, she’s partially responsible?
The results of this survey are confronting – they should be a call to action to our leaders, our institutions, every one of us, to take drastic action to tackle toxic masculinity. What can you do to help? Believe women. Protect women. Stand up for women.
Because it’s not the primal urges of men or the natural submission of women that creates this culture. It’s us.
Ashleigh Streeter-Jones is a Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia listee and ACT Woman of the Year.