Next week, the annual Melbourne Cup will bring the nation to a halt as Australians tune in to see who wins the coveted 18-carat Cup and who takes out Fashions on the Field.
The Spring Racing carnival is largely a joyous time for Melbourne, as the city welcomes thousands of visitors from across the country and abroad.
Unfortunately for some, though, the Spring Racing Carnival season is fraught with danger, with research from VicHealth pointing to a higher number of reported incidents of domestic violence. Comparable statistics indicate that family violence incidents also increase throughout other major sporting events, such as the NRL grand final, as well as during the Christmas and New Year period.
The question these spikes in domestic violence often raise is what causes it in the first place, and how can we not only respond to it effectively when it happens, but stop it before it starts?
Although it is widely accepted that alcohol can exacerbate the frequency and severity of violence against women, we know from years of research that it does not, on its own, explain violence.
A recent study by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), which looked into data on the characteristics and patterns of domestic violence offending, found that alcohol “contributes to the occurrence and severity of domestic violence”.
While harmful alcohol use among perpetrators featured prominently in domestic violence incidents, it doesn’t tell the full story.
We know from a solid evidence base that alcohol is a contributing factor – not a cause – for two reasons: because violence against women occurs when alcohol is not present and because many people who consume alcohol are not violent.
The research is clear. Violence against women is driven by gender inequality. On average in Australia, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
The regrettable thread that links these horrific murders is that they were committed by men.
Shockingly, around 95 per cent of all victims of violence in Australia – whether women or men – experience violence from a male perpetrator.
The AIC research also consistently demonstrated that most domestic violence perpetrators were men, with female victims more likely to seek police intervention.
There is a gendered element of this behaviour that we can’t ignore or simply blame on things like alcohol, stress, mental health or the frustration of losing a bet on the Melbourne Cup.
When we do that, we are taking away the responsibility of the perpetrator and excusing his poor behaviour. This kind of behaviour is then held up by a society that still fails to provide equal access to healthcare, education, economic resources and opportunities for women and girls.
In order to effectively prevent violence against all women, we need to try and prevent it in the first place – by encouraging positive change in the social conditions that excuse, justify or even promote disrespect towards women, which can lead to violence.
This must be in conjunction with an approach to challenge public attitudes and social norms around risky drinking cultures which emphasise male conquest and aggression, and are used as an excuse for men’s violence.
We also need to ensure we include factors that exacerbate violence for some women, such as racism, ableism, homophobia and the ongoing impacts of colonisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
Strategies such as reducing harmful alcohol use, in order to decrease the severity and frequency of violence, are indeed important, but as part of a co-ordinated and deliberate prevention strategy, in tandem with critical response services.
Everyone in the community, from schools to sporting clubs, can play a role in changing the structures, norms and practices that lead to violence against women.
This is a whole of community problem – and the solution must come from the whole community.
So, this Melbourne Cup Day, don’t laugh along with that sexist joke, don’t let a mate speak disrespectfully about his female partner and you will be playing your part to prevent violence against women.
This opinion editorial was originally published on Rendezview on 1 November 2019.
Image source: News Corp Australia.