Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Two words that I believe can guide us all in the current debate about the treatment of women and children in our society.

Respecting yourself.

Respecting all others.

And taking responsibility for your own actions.

It remains our enduring challenge to achieve equality and ensure all women can feel safe and secure as they go about their public lives, and in their homes.

As men, we need to demonstrate our respect for the women in our lives on a daily basis and accept responsibility for the changes that need to occur.

We continue to have a major problem with violence and sexual assault against women and children throughout the Australian community and here in Victoria, the reported incidents have increased over the past decade.

Admittedly, some of that increase could be a small positive, because women are more inclined to come forward and are more willing to file police reports than they have been in the past.

Some of that could be because there are actually more assaults occurring, or it could be a combination of both.

But no matter how you look at it, the issue of violence and sexual assault against women and children is fundamentally a men’s issue. It is not the woman’s fault because she dressed in a certain way, drank too much or was out walking after dark.

Violence against women stems from controlling and disrespectful behaviour. And as a man, and an elected leader in my community, I’m ashamed that my electorate of Gippsland continues to have high rates of offending.

We have to do better.

That’s why I support groups like the Gippsland Centre against Sexual Assault and Gippsland Women’s Health Service, which have been striving for many years to raise awareness, support women and children, and prevent violence.

That’s why I listened closely to the passionate voices of speakers at public rallies around Australia this week, to see what else I can do with my colleagues to change systems of government which entrench gender bias.

That’s why I support the release of the new Federal Government advertising campaign highlighting steps we can all take.

That’s why I’m committed to examining my own language and actions to make sure I’m doing everything I can to lead by example.

And that’s why I believe we all need to have difficult conversations with other men and boys about what’s acceptable behaviour, understanding the meaning of consent and pushing back on the violent porn industry which gives young men a warped and contaminated perspective of respectful relationships.

We need to work together to build a culture where women are treated equal, where they’re not objectified and they’re not subject to sexist jokes or remarks.

We need to build communities where girls don’t worry if they choose to exercise on an unlit path and know they will be listened to if they file a complaint, not victim-shamed or dismissed.

Of course most men are not predators, and all men don’t commit violence. But it’s a simple fact that the overwhelming majority of cases involving sexual violence in our country involve male perpetrators and female victims.

Sadly, most cases of sexual violence still involve women and girls being assaulted by someone they know: a family member, someone who was meant to be a friend, or held a position of trust in their lives. Too many women have more reason to be fearful in their own kitchen or bedroom than in the roughest bar or seediest night club.

So, we need to be eternally vigilant for systems and individual behaviours that are harmful or inappropriate, and we need to speak up and call this behaviour out.  We need to make sure that we look at all these difficult issues and focus on prevention, and also empower the victims to have control of their situation if they are assaulted.

Women and girls need to be confident they will be supported, not victim-shamed or made to feel guilty about the circumstances that led to the offending. Victims of sexual assault and harassment deserve our compassion, empathy and the right to tell their story without being judged. That is our responsibility.

Some of the conversations we need to have as men may be extremely difficult and feel awkward but it’s time for change.

Remember, it’s about respect and responsibility – don’t wait for someone else to make the changes we need.

Let’s all do it together and make Victoria a safer place for everyone to live, work and visit.

Published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 17/3/2021

Pin It on Pinterest