Posted by: ginalazenby | November 25, 2012

Surprising insights into why Australia is No 1 for rape in the western world

“Women deserve the same respect and opportunity as men…”

….. this is what TV presenter Andrew O’Keefe said in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper this week. He is also the chairman of the White Ribbon Foundation in Australia, an organisation dedicated to the prevention of violence against women.  Today is White Ribbon Day here in Australia, an event created following the UN declaration in 1999 that November 25 would become the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

I have been quite shocked to realise how far we still have to go in eliminating this violence in the modern, western world.   According to the White Ribbon Day campaign, violence against women is a grave problem in Australian society. One woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. One in three women over the age of 15 report physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives. And not only is domestic and family violence the major cause of homelessness for women and their children, it is a leading contributor to death, disability and illness for women aged 15 to 44, in the state of Victoria. The data is similar in the UK where 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, and in the USA where a national survey highlighted that 34 % of American adults had witnessed a man beating his wife or girlfriend.

Violence against women also places a massive financial burden on a country. In Australia, in a 2009 KPMG Report, it was estimated that violence against women and their children cost the economy $13.6 billion annually, an amount expected to rise by over 15% within the decade.
I honestly thought this was diminishing ….. through education, awareness … but obviously I was wrong. By coincidence with this landmark day, only this week I have been delving into the stats because I have been editing a video with award-winning author Wayne Grogan. His latest novel was inspired by the fact that Australia leads the western world in rape. What?! I know, that’s what I thought too!

What I found from my research was how unsafe we are at home. Police in the state of Victoria say there is  general increase in assaults and this is mostly due to violence inside the home, with their data showing domestic violence easily exceeding street crime as the fastest growing form of assault. Who would have thought that we would create a society where women are more at risk from a loved one inside the home that out on the streets?    Look at TV screens any day and you will see increasing violence erupting on the streets across the world. This rise in aggression is looking for more outlets it seems.

Women need to see their equal rights in practice not just in principle

The AGE newspaper says that Australian and international research dating back to the 1980s has found that the link between men (the apparently respectable men who are secretly violent to their wives or girlfriends) is their attitudes to women and relationships.   While there are many complexities, family violence at its core is about power and control, the research finds.   The men committing it believe their needs, desires and stressors take precedence over those of their female partners. Outside the home, where else do we see men’s desires and needs taking precedence over women? Have we not just witnessed that happening with the Church of England leadership voting against the advancement of women? It’s another example of women being held back or subjugated. Women may have equal rights in principle but still not in practice.

The AGE article said: ”The most significant drivers of violence against women are the unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women and an adherence to rigidly defined gender roles.”

The root cause of this violence is not seen as poverty or alcohol abuse but actually as gender inequality, the belief of some men that they are entitled to somehow dominate, humiliate or even hit their wife or girlfriend.  The AGE report asked if there is a deeper problem within Australian culture that contributes to violence against women? This is where I think Wayne Grogan’s insights are fascinating. In our interview he explained about the social engineering of Australia as a penal colony with a ratio of eleven men to one woman that created flaws in how this society developed. His research showed that the statistic of this high rape level is actually well-known, but seemingly hidden, in academic papers, and goes way back to women’s betrayal of men when they were recruited as concubines by the military classes 200 years ago. Watch the fascinating details in the video interview about how this affected Australian society.

The AGE also reports on a visit to Melbourne by American sociologist Jackson Katz, renowned internationally for his work in preventing men’s violence against women. He told community leaders, ”I do also believe that most men are not doing much or anything about the fact that some of us are abusive. Part of my work is trying to …. create a climate whereby abusive behaviour by some of us will be seen as completely socially unacceptable.”

Mr Katz teaches men about the leadership roles they can play in promoting respectful relationships and gender equality.   He believes men’s violence against women lies at the pointy end of a sexist culture.    ”We need to be having a national conversation about men and masculinity and how we’re socialising boys.  …. What are the institutions doing to help shape the norm of masculinity? The religious institutions, what’s their role in it? What role does the sports culture play? …  Everything needs to be under scrutiny.”  Mr Katz talks about a pyramid in which assault, sexual violence and abuse are at the peak. ”At the base of the pyramid is a whole range of attitudes and beliefs and behaviours that provide the foundation for the pyramid … sexist comments, sexist and degrading commentary about women, even when no women are present.”

Aggression is NOT the natural state of manhood
TV presenter Andrew O’Keefe was courageously honest when he admitted in The Herald Sun column:  “I have behaved in ways that have been hurtful to women I love and excused that behaviour on the basis that, well, that’s what men are like and it didn’t really mean anything anyway”. He says that White Ribbon Day is an opportunity for men to play their part in ending the violence against women by changing their attitudes. “It means showing our sons and mates how much we respect women by the way we talk to our wives or partners”. He  said that aggression is not the natural state of manhood and that violence is never justified as a means of getting what you want.
  Domestic violence is the thin end of a wedge
In fact, everywhere in society where women are marginalised or held back (like the UK Cabinet, Corporate Boardrooms across the world) shows a lack of respect for women which forms the foundational attitudes from which extreme behaviour can grow.   I wouldn’t dream of proposing a single answer to the complex problems here but I would say it takes change in society at the highest level of leadership and also within ourselves, each one of us, as a man or woman. Only this week the Church of England had an opportunity to show that leadership with a more updated viewpoint on the contribution of women.   Even though there had been a decision in principle several years ago to ordain women as bishops, the General Synod voted against it which puts the Church in the peculiar position of being a discriminatory employer and as such, out of step with the law. How can we look to these institutions for leadership in changing society and living by a better moral compass if the Church itself sees women differently and less worthy by putting a stained glass ceiling in our path?   What example is this outmoded institution setting for another generation of potential perpetrators of negative or unhealthy attitudes to women?

What can we women do?

In addition to practical anti-violence campaigns and positive education for boys, we women need to respect ourselves and support each other in doing that. When you have a stronger sense of self it is much easier to resolve or remove yourself from situations of any degree of abuse and potential danger. When I interviewed leadership expert Dr David Paul earlier this year I was inspired by his strong urging for women to come together behind a common cause and pointing out that we have not done that for some time (not since our campaign for the vote); he said we have been working for change but in isolated pockets. He encouraged us to have conscious conversations and to become agents of change in our everyday lives.  In my travels I host many women’s gatherings and at each one I meet women who have stepped out of corporate life. Many women have spoken about bullying bosses and abusive situations at work that have driven them out. On occasions when they have spoken out they have mostly not been believed or have been targeted for further abuse. The shift to entrepreneurship may give women more flexibility and freedom to support their families as well as work, but in the majority of cases their departure is about removing themselves from unhealthy, work environments.

We need to speak out together

It is not easy to speak out and often not safe to do so on your own. Some years ago when I visited India with the Hunger Project, I learned first hand about women who went to the Police to report being raped only to be raped by the police officers themselves. They found it hard to get these crimes taken seriously. One woman resorted to setting fire to herself at a police station after repeated rapes. Long story short, by local women having the courage to come together and take group action, real change was made with the senior police leadership making the reporting of rape a priority. But it did take the sacrifice of one woman’s life to create the momentum for the group of women to rise up.

We need that rising energy to bring us together to accelerate the changes that we want to see. What do you feel we should do? What actions can we take to achieve a greater listening?

Who we are as change-makers is important

When we do come together to share our stories and concerns, women gain a lot of strength from each other. I see this time and time again in the women’s gatherings.  I would counsel though about the messages we create and the way we make ourselves heard. We cannot bring the same energy against something without becoming a mirror reflection of it. I learned from one of the leaders of the Brahma Kumaris who was working with a government department of a small island country over the issue of corruption and the need to approach the issue from a place of neutrality not anger. Being driven by that emotion is not a sustainable way to bring about change. We have to take this on from a place of compassion and love not anger and revenge.


Brief transcript of conversation on video:
Wayne Grogan  said that (Modern) Australia started out as a prison yard for England with a grave imbalance of men to women – eleven to one.  A lot of the women were made concubines by the military classes which became a threat to the free settled women but more particularly they were deemed class traitors by the male convicts for going off with the oppressors. There was a real settled feeling that women had let men down. Wayne points out that it was a fundamental flaw in the engineering of Australia and would take a long time to erode away.

The circumstance of the vast open spaces of the Antipodes compared to the tiny back streets of Dublin and London conspired against women too as they were always viewed as objects of desire on horizons. And rape itself, as Wayne has come to understand from psychologists and court reports, is a power/anger-driven activity and to him, there is a real  dovetailing of the social circumstances and the misplaced aggravation being felt against women, that resulted in these underlying attitudes and the terrible consequences.

What about the culture here now? In his research, Wayne discovered a sense of aggression towards women, that women were coming from a position of less than …..that they have defaulted in the contract with men historically in Australia. Who can gauge how these attitudes percolate and rise up and inform people’s behaviour, but obviously they do when you look at the statistics of the incidence of rape.

The physical environment of Australia, the wide-open spaces, the external opportunities are there, all this is a bad mix. The facts about this have existed in academic papers for some time, in fact been buried in them. That’s why he decided  a better way to dramatise the reality of the situation was to highlight in a work of fiction.  his book is written in the 1st person as a rapist trying to redeem himself. The idea is to portray attitudes towards women absorbed over time, by him as a male, that might indicate underlying attitudes that give rise to this kind of behaviour. It is about power and dominion over women and be excited over that concept.  academics say and we taking power by someone who has been removed from it,  that dovetailed with the Australian macro story of the conflict male-female imbalance, the feeling among the assembly of men and women have let them down in that they were in the wrong and were to be punished when the opportunities arose.


  1. Yet another thought-provoking blog on an important subject. I too was shocked by the stats. Time to highlight this still hidden problem. We want a world where women are safe. By achieving that we bring safety to all – people, planet and creatures.

  2. I really enjoy your website! Very good insight that is related to aggavated assault with a deadly weapon
    texas, thanks a lot for posting.

  3. Good. I agree.

  4. […] refer back to a video interview I did with Wayne Grogan and published on this blog last November on Australia’s White Ribbon Day. Wayne talked about how Australian society had […]

  5. […] refer back to a video interview I did with Wayne Grogan and published on this blog last November on Australia’s White Ribbon Day. Wayne talked about how Australian society had been […]

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