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Blaming victims has plagued the discourse around violence against women for too long

May 05 2016 By Dr Ann O'Neill, Our Watch Ambassador

​The role of a domestic violence ‘survivor’ or ‘victim’ advocate is not one you sign up for.

For me, I never expected to be lying in my bed sleeping, when my estranged husband came and shot our two children, Kyle and Latisha, attempted to kill me and committed suicide in front of me.

I then didn’t expect to wake up in my hospital bed after they amputated my right leg to hear the media saying what a nice guy he was and that he hadn’t seen the children that weekend, even though he’d returned them at 6:30.

I hadn’t been prepared for the only thing for media to say about me was that I kept a neat cottage. 

The most common question I got asked was ‘what did you do to “make” him do that’?

I figured out a really smart ass answer to that, some fifteen years later: ‘I happened to be breathing, and I think that’s what really pissed him off’.
Blaming victims for the violence inflicted upon them has plagued the discourse around violence against women for too long. 

Wearing short skirts or headphones doesn’t cause violence. 

Walking alone at night doesn’t cause violence.

And drinking alcohol does not cause violence against women. This misconception seems to always be at the top of the list. However, not all people who drink are violent, and many people who do not drink are violent. While alcohol can increase the frequency or severity of violence, on its own it does not explain the gendered dynamics of violence against women. 

These are the very myths that lead to the perpetration of blame being put everywhere but with people like my ex-husband, the man who chose to buy a gun, to wait two months, to meticulously plan the killing of our whole family.
My PhD research shows when the courts and police fail to stop violence or to hold the offenders accountable, thus denying justice people report experiencing social and moral justice, or lack thereof, through the media.  

So to any media here tonight, please know that when survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault share our most precious and vulnerable moments with you, we hope we can trust you to accurately describe our experiences with care, respect and without judgment or blame; your audiences will hopefully then do the same. 

It is then that the injustice of our predicament is validated, our healing is enhanced, our survivorship is honoured, the community better educated and a safer community is created.

We’re at a pivotal moment in Australia when it comes to violence against women and children. There are community organisations, businesses, governments and individuals putting their hands up to stop violence against women before it starts.

I’m proud to be announced as an Our Watch Ambassador - alongside like Lucy Turnbull, Tara Moss and Julia Zemiro - to assist in mobilising others to champion gender equality because that is what the evidence says is needed to create a culture where women will no longer be judged or held accountable for their experiences of violence, where violence against women and children will no longer be commonplace or acceptable.

Some might say that I have not had the most fortunate life, but I’ve tried to harness every problem and turn it into an opportunity (a problem is after all an opportunity in drag)!  I feel I am fortunate to be alive, to be here at Kirribilli House surrounded by you, such amazing Australian leaders this evening. 

I encourage you all to make the most of your life, to seize every opportunity to raise awareness and influence change so we stop it before it starts. It is then and only then that we Australian women and children will live free from fear.

Dr Ann O'Neill delivered this speech at Kirribilli House in Sydney on 4 May 2016.

Media contact

For enquiries or further information: Hannah Grant, Our Watch, mobile 0448 844 930, email Hannah.Grant@ourwatch.org.au

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:

“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.”

About Our Watch 

Our Watch’s (previously the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children) purpose is to raise awareness and engage the community in action to prevent violence against women and their children.
Our Watch was conceived of and brought into existence in 2013 by the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of Victoria. The Northern Territory, South Australian, Tasmanian and Queensland governments have also since become members of the organisation.
Our Watch’s work derives from the government’s commitment to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 and gives expression to many of the activities in the Second Action Plan 2013–2016 – Moving Ahead.