Let's break the silence

A conversation in rural areas needs to be opened up around the toll taken by violence against women.

I WOULD not be the first nor last person to be astounded by the recent spate of attacks against women in this country. That men, often husbands and fathers could exact such terrible damage or in some cases kill their partners, wives or daughters is beyond comprehension and sickens me to the core.

The latest sad episode splashed across this week’s media forced me to set aside my cup of tea and say “well what are you doing about it”?

It goes without saying that I do not accept any form of violence against women be they my wife, daughter, mum, sisters or anyone else. I have at times spoken out when I have seen evidence of some form of violence against women taking place and in one incident, had to use physical restraint while intervening. But I am also guilty of swallowing the words that should have been uttered – no, loudly declared – at other times.

So a silent declaration to self this morning – never again.

While such a declaration is a very personal one, broadly speaking we can only have an impact if everyone (or the vast majority of people – in particular men) do the same. While this goes for all Australians, I would like to pay particular attention to rural, regional and remote Australia. In terms of my work at the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, this is where our focus lies. We have a network of over 1000 leaders – men and women – across the country and primarily in rural, regional and remote communities.

One in five Australian women is estimated to have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15, and two women a week are killed by men they know. While most national data on violence against women does not provide specific geographic information, evidence suggests that rates of sexual assault and domestic and family violence in our regions are as high as in other areas of Australia, and in some instances higher. Adding to the complexity for rural, regional and remote areas, women can often be isolated from help, find that there is a lack of specialist services and may be more reluctant to speak out in tight-knit communities

These details do not make for good reading and in my view are not good enough in a modern nation striving for a better society. I will now put my mind to how we can together tackle this issue in the bush and with our city cousins. Our network of a thousand leaders is potentially powerful in meeting this aim. I will also personally and publicly commit to doing more myself whether with the White Ribbon Foundation or any other group.

As Australia comes to terms with a disturbing problem that is endemic wherever we live, it is important that an active shift in our thinking takes place. Violence against women — often given the deceptively narrow label of domestic violence — is killing those who have a right to be safe in their homes and communities.

Slowly, slowly, ground has been made in the fight for awareness of depression and suicide in regional areas, and the importance of talking about it—particularly among the farming community. Similarly, education has taken place around men’s physical and mental health, encouraging a conscious effort not to let an expectation of toughness get in the way of caring for oneself.

It’s time that a similar conversation be opened up around the toll taken by violence against women. And it’s not just a question of how to stop a perpetrator of violence before they go too far. It’s about educating them and changing their behavior so that the problem is tackled at its very roots.

I am going to do more. What about you?

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FarmOnline
Matt Linnegar

Matt Linnegar

is the chief executive of the Australian Rural leadership Foundation
Twitter: @mattlinnegar
Leading questionsAustralian Rural Leadership Foundation CEO Matt Linnegar looks at the issues impacting the ag sector.

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