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18 November 2013


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (10:32): I rise in the House to talk about the importance of 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the White Ribbon campaign. Please indulge me as I share a personal story. I have come to know a domestic violence sufferer through my role as Member for Bennelong. On the outside, she presents like many other women—intelligent, warm smile, and very personable. And yet, as I have learnt, she lives a double life. Hidden behind closed doors is the abuse she suffers at the hands of her husband. She is constantly put down in front of her children; she is told she is stupid and useless. He has fits of rage when anything can happen from locking her in a cupboard for a day to physical violence. She wants to work but he calls her offensive names and says she only wants to work in order to meet other men. She offers to work in his business but is told she is too stupid. So she stays home looking after their children, and he accuses her of being lazy and good for nothing. He often refers to his position as breadwinner and asks, ‘Do you like the bed you sleep in? What have you ever contributed?’ She has suffered 17 year of this emotional abuse and, in her words, ‘It’s been a long slow journey to hell’. She says his manipulation and abuse have slowly got worse and worse, and the episodes of rage have got closer together, which is mainly because, in her own words, she has ‘given him all the power’ and she has ‘become more and more subservient and obliging to the abuse’. It is to save herself from the explosion that will come should she actually stand up for herself.

These kinds of actions can never be justified. Men such as this are called covert aggressors; they have an impaired conscience; they lack internal brakes to know right from wrong and see life as a game of winning. Reality for these women seems impossible; they are on edge all the time, knowing the slightest thing could set the man off. When you read the brave testimonials on the White Ribbon website from women who have lived this nightmare, you can see the same pattern repeating: women hanging in there as long as possible for the sake of their children. Often they have tried to leave but the men have forced them to stay, blaming them for everything, telling them what terrible mothers they are, especially if they were to break up the family. Often these women have been at home raising children for many years, and the men play on that, telling them they will never get a job and they have no skills. They remind the women that they have earned all the money and it is all theirs. Women in this situation feel hopeless. They will never get a lease on a rental property, as they have no income and their prospects for work are challenging because they have been out of work for many years, raising children. So they stay put and put up with the abuse, and their self-esteem gets lower and lower.

In most of the stories I read, the women have hung on for way longer than they should have, for fear of the men’s behaviour afterwards and for the children’s sake. But you have to wonder what is worse for children: a home where there is violence and the role modelling that says it is okay to treat women badly or a divorced home that is violence free? I personally think if we are to try to break the cycle of abuse, we need to teach the next generation that violence against women is not okay, and young girls need to know that they do not have to put up with it—not at all. I would hate to think young, impressionable girls are watching their mothers getting abused and thinking that this is normal. We are left to ask: what more could be done on a national level? What responsibility do we take for this? How can government help? We cannot be in every home; we do not want to be a nanny state, but why do so many women feel they have nowhere to turn? White Ribbon Day helps these women to raise awareness of the agencies out there to support them.

I believe that there is work to be done through the high schools and sporting clubs in promoting the ‘no violence’ message. One in four young people have witnessed violence against their mother or step-mother. Exposure to domestic violence is a form of child abuse that cannot be ignored, with high personality, behavioural and psychological problems amongst these children.

I am proud to be a White Ribbon ambassador and am pleased that I am in good company in my electorate of Bennelong. The member for Epping and NSW Attorney General, Greg Smith, member for Ryde and NSW state Minister for Citizenship, Communities and Aboriginal Affairs, Victor Dominello, and I have worked with Marist Brothers College in Eastwood promoting a no-violence message and have sold White Ribbon merchandise at the train station with the help of their year 12 students.

I join Ryde Council each year for a White Ribbon breakfast and walk on 25 November to raise awareness for this important cause. The White Ribbon campaign is one of the world’s largest movements to raise awareness and funds for the prevention of violence perpetrated against women. As a male-led movement it engages and empowers men and boys to be leaders in a change of attitudes and behaviours. This work aims to raise funds to resource and support White Ribbon ambassadors in their activities. I am proud to be a White Ribbon ambassador, and have taken the White Ribbon oath—and urge all men to do likewise.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in three women in Australia report having experienced violence since the age of 15. That is over 2.5 million women. Of this, nearly 1.5 million—or one in five—women have experienced a form of sexual violence. A woman is killed almost every week in Australia by a male partner or ex-partner, often post-separation. Intimate partner violence, including physical, emotional and sexual violence, is the leading contributor to death, disability and ill-health in women aged 15-44. One in four young people have witnessed violence against their mother or step-mother. Exposure to domestic violence is a form of child abuse that cannot be ignored, with high personality, behavioural and psychological problems among these children.

Research has shown that young men who have experienced violence are more likely to become perpetrators of violence in their own relationships. As a male-led movement, the White Ribbon organisation was formed to encourage men to speak out about violence against women. Silence when we know violence is occurring makes us an accessory to that violence. Challenging attitudes will help other men to take the steps necessary to break this cycle of violence. This is essential to promote a cultural change, to show that masculinity and machismo is directly linked with respect for women, not associated with violence and domination. And so I repeat the White ribbon pledge: I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. This is my oath.

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