PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – WHITE RIBBON DAY
November 26, 2012
Debate resumed on motion by Mr Hayes:
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) 25 November is observed as White Ribbon Day, a day aimed at preventing violence against women through a nation-wide campaign to raise public awareness of the issue; and
(b) the current statistics indicate that one in three women will experience physical violence and one in five will experience sexual violence over their lifetime;
(a) all Australian men to challenge the attitudes and behaviours that allow violence to continue, by joining the ‘My Oath Campaign’ and taking the oath: ‘I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women’; and
(b) Members to show their support for the principals of the White Ribbon Day by taking the oath and wearing a white ribbon or wristband on the day; and
(3) acknowledges the high economic cost of violence against women and their children, estimated to be $13.6 billion in 2008-09 and, should no action be taken, the cost will be an estimated $14.6 billion in 2021-22.
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (18:40): In supporting this motion, I would like to commend the member for Fowler. His contribution here tonight joins a lot of fine words that have been spoken in the last 72 hours as community leaders right throughout Australia have denounced violence against women and supported the principles of White Ribbon Day. I had the opportunity to speak last night at a community function in Briagolong, where we took the oath in front of another 100 or 200 men.
In making my contribution, I would like to reinforce the words of the member for Fowler and also those of the Victorian police chief, Ken Lay, who pointed out that violence against women is an issue which is often discussed in terms of statistics. It is easy to talk about these sorts of numbers—51,000 family incident reports, 17,000 arrests or 36,000 offences. On average, one woman is killed by her partner or a former partner every week in Australia. One in three women over the age of 15 report physical or sexual violence at some in their lives. Then we had the incidents in Melbourne quite recently with the tragic deaths of Jill Meagher and Sarah Cafferkey. But the reality is that we do not put a human face to the tragedy when we just talk about statistics. It is important in this place, as we discuss White Ribbon Day, to recognise the human toll of violence against women. It is also important that we recognise that, for a lot of women in Australia, the streets of our cities and regional towns are safer than their own homes. For a lot of people in Australia, the tragic reality is that there is more danger for them in their own bedrooms than there is in a public bar room, and that is a disturbing fact that we need to think about as we talk about White Ribbon Day.
In my electorate, the Gippsland Women’s Health Service takes the leading role in the fight against violence in Gippsland. I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from that service in recent weeks, and the really strong point to be made is that this is not a women’s problem, it is not a problem for the police, it is not a problem for members of parliament like those gathered here today and it is not a problem just for the Gippsland Women’s Health Service. This is a problem for our entire community and, in particular, it is a problem for the men in our community. It is up to us as men, particularly members of the House of Representatives who are leaders in our own communities, to set the example for other men and young boys within our community. Swearing the oath, as we did today in the parliament at the White Ribbon Day function, is the easy part. We must be vigilant for the other 364 days of the year. There are simple things that we can do to demonstrate our respect for women in our daily lives. In swearing to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women, we are taking a stand and setting a standard in the community. When we hear degrading jokes about women, we can choose not to pass them on. We can choose not to forward degrading emails. We can choose to treat all the women in our lives with the respect that they deserve, both in the workplace and in our family lives. The very simple question we can ask ourselves as men is: would we laugh at that joke or enjoy that pornographic video if it were our mother, our daughter, our sister, our wife or our girlfriend? These are the choices we can make every day of the year as men.
On that point in relation to pornography, I want to raise my concern about what I see as the increasingly violent nature of pornography and the extraordinary level of accessibility that now exists. It has the potential, I believe, to distort men’s views of women in the community. I was going to demonstrate this on my iPad today, but I thought we might lose our G-rating on A-PAC. When talking about this issue on Friday in my office with two of my staff members, we googled three words on the iPad: nude, women and sex. These are words which I would say any 10-year-old boy could spell and certainly could search online—they are very competent with the technology. Within 10 seconds, Google had provided us with a long list of sites which met those search parameters. Within 30 seconds we could download visual images of sexual acts which were demeaning, violent and aggressive towards women. We were not asked at any stage to verify our age and we could access that 24 hours a day with a mobile device like an iPad, anywhere we liked. We have access to hardcore pornography wherever we are—at home, in the workplace, in the parliament of Australia or anywhere we choose to go online.
I know some people listening will say, ‘That’s freedom of choice—what’s the problem with that?’ But as a father with two sons and two daughters, and as a member of parliament, I am deeply concerned about the potential impact that such violent and aggressive images will have on young people. The objectification of women within the porn industry has direct links to violence against women in our community. Women are continually depicted in demeaning roles. The gender role they are given in the pornographic industry is to serve men. The images are often violent and graphic, and it can give young people and particularly young men a false sense of how a healthy sexual relationship should work.
I fear, and the evidence supports me, that there is a strong link between violence and pornography. The industry would deny it, but you would expect that from the industry because it is a $25 billion industry—we are talking about a big business. It is constantly developing even more hardcore images as consumers become bored with previous offerings. I quote an extract from the summary of the report from the United States Attorney-General’s Commission on Pornography, which looked at the violent repercussions of porn:
Since the clinical and experimental evidence supports the conclusion that there is a causal relationship between exposure to sexually violent materials and an increase in aggressive behavior directed towards women, and since we believe that an increase in aggressive behavior towards women will in a population increase the incidence of sexual violence in that population, we have reached the conclusion unanimously and confidently, that the available evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that substantial exposure to sexually violent materials as described here bears a causal relationship to antisocial acts of sexual violence and, for some subgroups, possibly to unlawful acts of sexual violence.
I am a realist. I am not a wowser. What adults choose to do, within reason, is entirely up to them. In this modern era of accessibility and increased accessibility via the internet, I acknowledge that we cannot ban pornography and we will not be able to stop it or police it, but I think we can discredit it. We can work harder as a community to discredit it. We can give our young people the appropriate skills, the resilience to cope and an understanding of how a positive sexual relationship works, and reveal to them the ugly side of the porn industry. We can help them understand that the violent sex depicted in pornographic videos is highly unlikely to be the type of physical contact or physical relationship their girlfriend or wife in the future will enjoy.
I have been reading the work of Victorian researchers Maree Crabbe and David Corlett, who have studied the porn industry very closely. They are developing prevention measures to help young people understand the difference between pornography and reality. I encourage other members to take the time to have a look at some of their work. They say that we need to help young people to understand issues of gender, power and consent, and we need to do this by having conversations with young people in our schools, at home and in society more broadly.
It is not just the young people we need to educate. We need to give parents the skills to talk more comfortably about this issue, because it is a difficult issue for parents to talk about with their sons and daughters. I think young people are very smart, and they are pretty tech-savvy; I think they are better than the porn industry and I think they are going to figure it out. If we are serious about reducing the incidence of violence against women, we have to take on the porn industry and give our community those skills and the capacity to counter this cancer in our society. The violent and extreme scenes which have become mainstream pornography are a cancer in our society. It is slowly eating away at our morality and it is certainly eroding the social fabric of our community.
On White Ribbon Day we talk a lot about justice and equality for women, but there can be no justice and equality for women when we have a $25 billion industry that survives by depicting violent, aggressive and dominant roles for men over submissive women. There can be no justice or equality for women until we address that fundamental issue. Exercising control and power over women is the absolute core of pornographic material in the 21st century, and exercising control and power over women is a fundamental feature of violence against women. The link is undeniable, and our challenge is to help our young people to develop the skills to have healthy relationships in the future.
I am certainly not saying that if you watch porn then you are automatically going to commit violent crime towards women, but when we have such young and impressionable viewers exposed to such images on a constant basis the risk is obvious to us as a community. In raising this issue today in the context of the debate put by the member for Fowler I am not wishing to sound alarmist, but I think parents need to be aware of the risk. I challenge parents listening tonight to take the 30-second test I took on Friday with my staff. Anywhere, at any time, their children could be downloading hardcore pornography and violent images.
We all need to start working together to explode the porn industry myth. We need to be telling our sons about healthy relationships and how to respect girls and women. We need to let our daughters know what they should expect and what they deserve. Preventing violence against women is something that all members of this place have expressed their passion about here today. As men, I believe that we do have the capacity to make a difference. Violence against women is never acceptable and in the 21st century it is up to us to redefine what masculinity is about. Real men do not hurt women.
As I said earlier, it is fine for us to come in here today as members of parliament and swear the White Ribbon Day oath, but the real challenge is going to be what we do for the other 364 days of the year. I commend the motion and I commend all members for taking the opportunity to speak on behalf of the White Ribbon Day event. I wish them well in the future as we work as a community to eliminate violence against women, wherever it may be.