I'm not a high-profile New Zealander so I wasn't one of the 50 women who penned an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for more to be done to stop violence against women.
The letter, prompted by the tragic death of English tourist Grace Millane two weeks ago, asked the Prime Minister to work across parties to find solutions, provide better support services for women who have been attacked, and for more public awareness campaigns.
I wouldn't have signed the letter if asked. I would rather see this level of concern and reaction when one of our own is killed. I think governments can only do so much. I believe the previous National Government was, and our current Labour-led Government is, working hard in this area to bring about a reduction in violence towards women. But it is a community response, and the collective impact that follows, that will one day be the circuit breaker for violence against women. In New Zealand, domestic and sexual violence is dished out to hundreds of women in their homes every week. Sadly it is embedded in our psyche, part of New Zealand's DNA.
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Grace's had only been in the country for a few days. Allegedly murdered, her tragic death has caused outrage here. Sadness too as we saw with the outpouring of grief at the vigils held around the country. Why nothing like this, for the 10 women killed this year in New Zealand.
Women who weren't safe in their homes in their own country. Of course, we are shocked, and our prayers go out to Grace's family as they prepare for Christmas without their adored daughter. She was doing what so many young New Zealanders have done over the years, gone off to see the world. Her OE. Her dreams and long-term aspirations never to be fulfilled. But why pick and choose who is more deserving of our tears and outrage? The 10 women would have had dreams and aspirations too. Some realised over the years perhaps; others now stopped in their tracks. They lived in our communities and deserved at least the same level of outrage and concern as that accorded Grace's untimely death. What must their families think?
On average 10 - 12 women are murdered in New Zealand each year. Usually, at the hands of someone they know intimately. I will not be surprised if another woman doesn't have her life abruptly taken between now and the end of the year. This is "high-risk" domestic violence time. Families getting together over the holiday period. Heavy alcohol drinking combined with overspending and days off work can lead to dangerously heightened stress in many families.
How about we ask men to learn what they can do to help. Not all of them know about their role as a bystander to intimate partner violence and sexual violence. Their willingness to step up and speak out is critical to eliminating these types of violence against women. Silence only reinforces and encourages perpetrators violent behaviour and leaves victims feeling isolated or at fault.
Researchers have studied male bystander behaviour. They have found that whether or not someone decides to actively intervene in a domestic violence situation is affected by a number of factors, eg the presence of other people or the level or urgency or danger, the relationships of those involved or a person's level of skill to safely intervene. Their feelings and attitudes about violence play a big part as well.
Male bystanders can be a force for change. They don't have to charge into dangerous situations. Early understanding that perpetrators of domestic violence exhibit of a broad range of behaviours and knowing what these are can be the start of the change needed.
Insisting on male workplace and workforce training in recognising the signs of domestic violence and being prepared to support and help women who might be living with violence can change attitudes and behaviours over time. Male bystanders are everywhere.
They are our friends, family members, peers, teachers, co-workers and community members. We could try reframing the message from one of "potential abusers" to "violence preventers". Men working to bring about a significant shift in community attitudes and behaviours. Moving from bystander to standing by, at the ready.