About 12 months ago, we were asking if the world could ever return to ‘normal’ post the pandemic. Some were looking for equitable economic reform, others were looking for significant environmental reforms and others were looking for improvement in an area close to their personal experience or belief systems. Most of us were hoping for a ‘new normal’ where the world would somehow address the issues that each of us are passionate about.
Unfortunately there seems to be a large group of people that are happy with the status quo and can’t wait to get back there. You could argue that Prime Minister Morrison is amongst this group, with his ‘gas lead’ recovery, social security payments returning to almost pre-pandemic levels, a lack of reform to industrial relations, continual victimisation of some refugees and ongoing corruption (which is really what ‘pork-barrelling’ is). Despite this, and much to Morrison’s consternation and dismay – probably because he isn’t controlling the narrative – there are signs of a ‘new normal’ in an area that no one saw coming.
At the end of January Morrison presented the Australian of the Year award to Grace Tame who was a leading campaigner for the repeal of Tasmania’s law prohibiting sexual assault victims from openly speaking about the violence inflicted on them. In February, Morrison’s tone-deaf comment that he had to be told by ‘Jen’ (his wife) that there was a good reason for the moral outrage over the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in the Defence Minister’s Private Office, demonstrated how little attention he paid when announcing the Australian of the Year. You have to wonder if he read the brief (after all, he admits he didn’t read the claims against former Attorney-General Christian Porter before he sent it to the Police).
While Morrison’s comment will never rank up there with former Prime Minister Gillard’s ‘misogyny speech‘ it has reopened the discussion about sexual violence in Australia, despite Morrison ‘spinning’ his hardest to make the issue retreat in importance. As The Guardian article linked in this paragraph shows, the political reporters at the time of Gillard’s speech, some who still hold jobs in the press gallery today, completely ‘misread the room’ then as well.
By March, the media were discussing an increase in women discussing sexual assaults that were perpetrated on them, in some cases decades earlier. Higgins found the courage to share her story again and again of being raped by a senior male staffer in the Defence Minister’s personal office, together with the events afterwards that suggested to Higgins that the whole thing was going to be covered up. We also saw thousands of people parade down streets across the nation to draw people’s attention to the sexual abuse and violence perpetuated predominately on women.
Grace Tame has been using her fame wisely to discuss her story, with appearances at the National Press Club and television including ABCTV’s QandA and Network 10’s The Project. Brittany Higgins is continuing to tell her story, despite the probable personal cost of never working for a Coalition Minister again. When a former student of a private school in Sydney, Chanel Contos, asked on social media for stories from victims of abuse and violence perpetrated by school students, she was inundated. One of the private boys’ schools named in the testimonies of current and ex-school students was Brisbane Boys College. Their School Captain spoke on assembly on 18 March and probably scored his first by-line in The Guardian with an article entitled ‘Stop being boys, be human’
Boys, this speech today is different, and it is the hardest one I have ever had to write. Not because it is difficult, but because it is heartbreaking.
Too many of my friends, our friends, too many of my loved ones, your loved ones, and too many women around Australia are victims of sexual assault.
The narrative needs to change. Boys, it feels like no matter where we look, this issue is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but why not? Why is it like this?
Let me tell you the numbers. Every single week a man kills his partner or former partner. Before the age of 16, one in five women experience some form of sexual abuse. And 97% of sexual offences are from men.
This is not solely an issue of protecting women but an issue of educating men. Stop being boys, be human.
Every person in this room must not just be an advocate for equality, but in our every action and deed we have to be proactive in stopping the abuse. This starts with putting an end to slurs and derogatory comments about women. It means standing up to any man, no matter how big they are, if we see it happening. And we have to keep our mates accountable, no matter where it may be.
The full speech is available here:
In some cases women are abusive and violent to men. As Brisbane Boys College School Captain Mason Black suggests, it is a far less common occurrence then men inflicting violence on women.
The ‘new normal’ are people like Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Chanel Contos and Mason Black who are calling out disgusting behaviour that has been swept under the carpet for far too long in Australia. While world peace, equitable economics and a green revolution would have been beneficial outcomes from the pandemic, if treating all others as humans rather than potential conquests is ‘all’ we get – we’ve done alright.
What do you think?
This article was originally published on The Political Sword
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