Patricia Greig: She might not be right - why bloke culture fuels abuse

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No one should tell you to shut up, that your opinions are not worthy. Photo / Thinkstock
No one should tell you to shut up, that your opinions are not worthy. Photo / Thinkstock

The Labour leader apologised for being a man and the lid came off a sizeable can of worms.

New Zealand erupted. Had David Cunliffe admitted there is a problem in our society, a problem regarding abuse, primarily in the form of male on female domestic abuse?

What was so shocking? Police are called every seven minutes, on average, to a domestic violence incident daily and estimate only 18 per cent of incidents are reported. Eighty-four per cent of those arrested for domestic violence are men. One in three women experience psychological or physical abuse from their partners in their lifetime. Women's Refuge chief executive Heather Henare says that 80 per cent of domestic violence remains unreported to the justice sector.

New Zealand has to understand that there is a conversation that needs to happen. We need to talk about abuse.

Say a victim of sexual assault feels that it is time to report an incident of abuse, time to admit publicly that something unacceptable has been done to them. The Ministry of Justice says 9-10 per cent of sexual assaults are reported. Of these, 3 per cent get to court and only 1 in 100 sexual assaults results in conviction. The police say that sexual violence is the fifth most common offence. Most survivors do not tell anyone because of fear, shame and the belief they might be blamed.

I say to those survivors: It's not your fault, it's not okay and that guilt is not yours. No one should tell you to shut up, that your opinions are not worthy. Your opinions are valid and if you feel threatened -- in any way -- then you're not safe.

It is hard for victims of abuse to speak out, especially from within a patriarchal society which prides itself on not admitting to weakness, using number 8 wire and being a DIY guy instead of a guy who "pays someone else to do it". This is bloke culture, a type of peer pressure which enforces out-of-date norms about how a "real" man should behave.

Bloke culture and the "she'll be right" attitude are harmful to society. She won't actually always be right. Sometimes she'll be broken, hurt and desperately trying to hide what is happening behind closed doors. The same culture that demands macho masquerade also asks a woman not to embarrass her boyfriend, husband, father (etc) in front of his mates. Silence, then, for the sake of social acceptance.

New Zealand society continues to foster a culture of silence. Those people who do dare speak out face a world of abuse from onlookers busy observing the status quo. In a small society like New Zealand, standing out from the crowd is dangerous business. If you are different from the rest you are a show-off, a pansy, someone merely crying for attention. How, then, is a survivor of abuse going to admit there was a crime committed against them? How can they emerge a survivor in this environment?

So a conversation needs to happen. We need to embrace our emotions, resist the urge to stay quiet and take the time to hear those things that have gone unsaid.

I reject this culture of silence and it's time to break complacency. When someone speaks out about their experiences, we need to respect their decision to bring the situation to the table and feel comfortable enough to have a conversation about it.

Patricia Greig is a 25-year-old writer and Herald sub-editor.

- NZ Herald

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