A new survey on violence against women in Australia has just been released. “National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey 2009″ was coordinated by an organisation called VicHealth, which was appointed by the Minister for Health in the state of Victoria. You can access the findings here.
There was an article about the survey from the Australian Associated Press yesterday called Violence against women ‘still a problem’. Which I think we pretty much all knew was the case, but we ‘tend to’ express it ‘without gratutious’ quotation marks which ‘make it look’ like ‘it might be’ someone’s ‘opinion’ rather than ‘a’ real thing. Anyhow, let’s move to the substance of the article.
Australia still has a long way to go to abolish violence against women, a new survey reveals.
One in four people think women falsify or exaggerate claims of rape and domestic violence, according to the federally funded survey of more than 10,000 Australians.
And one in five think domestic violence is excusable if the attacker regrets what they have done.
From page 48 of the summary of findings (PDF), to be specific, that’s 27% of men respondents and 18% of women respondents agreeing with that last statement out of the 13 000 people surveyed. There are lots of disturbing findings in this survey: 38% of men and 30% of women said that ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’ and 80% of respondents agreed that ‘it is hard to understand why women stay in violent relationships,’ up from 77 percent in 1995, for a start. There are lots of important things that should be spoken about. Today, I want to talk about the notion that domestic violence – any violence – is excusable.
First, there’s one big question: who is doing the excusing? I find the notion that anyone other than the person subject to a crime can do any excusing – or forgiving or anything along those lines – to be deeply wrong. It is of course not specified in the survey question who is doing the excusing, which tends to suggest that there’s some kind of objective decision-making power to be accessed: here, let we the public determine whether the violence committed against you was the okay sort or not, and what response is in order! Look, have your opinions all you like about a particular act against someone else, but at point of it, the acts of violence have only been committed against the people they’ve been committed again; they’re the only ones who can rightly excuse anything. The impact on them doesn’t diminish because outsiders have decided it’s all okay, and it’s only this one person who can truly know the effects, as it’s solely their experience. Legal punishments and such are up to the state, but forgiveness? The emotions around the events? All that stuff? Not up to not the state, not members of the public, but just those who have been harmed.
The statement in the survey that respondents were asked to agree or disagree with was ‘Domestic violence can be excused if, afterwards, the violent person genuinely regrets what they have done’. Why should the regret weigh more than the impact on the person to whom they were violent? Violence doesn’t become any less real or harmful because the perpetrator regrets it. And they certainly don’t get a clean slate because of remorse.
I don’t doubt that a lot of respondents would have thought it perfectly acceptable to not excuse someone who’d committed, say, fraud from their crime. It’s crimes like this, crimes committed widely against socially vulnerable groups like women, children, queer people, disabled people and more, crimes around which the thinking is ‘well, maybe zie deserved it anyway,’ ‘it couldn’t be as bad as that,’ that are excusable.
Attitudes like these serve to disenfranchise survivors of violence all the more: the weight of that which has been done to them is diminished, too, and they are invisibilised by outsiders wanting to exercise the moral power, to hand down right and wrong, to determine the “bad kind” of violence and the “excusable kind”. There are no excusable kinds of violence, and violence is certainly not able to be excused by people who were not subjected to it. And forgiveness isn’t something to be accessed at will.
Further reading: Cara’s also covered this survey over at The Curvature, and she’s examined many aspects I haven’t.
- Making the connections: Sexual Violence in Native Communities by Cara April 19, 2010
- Argentinian Journalists Develop Plan for Non-Sexist Reporting by Cara October 27, 2008
- “Hit the Bitch”? by Jill November 17, 2009
- Dear Everyone: by Cara March 6, 2009
- Forced marriages in Britain may be higher than originally thought by zuzu March 11, 2008