The world over, women and girls are the victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, generally by men. The world over, men are also the victims of violence and sexual abuse, generally by other men. The difference in community response when the victim is a woman is deeply disturbing. It is commonplace to blame women for the violence perpetrated against them and/or to ask why they did nothing to avoid it, as though victims of violence choose what is done to them. Violence in all its forms is about power. When it occurs, there is something really perverse about a community which begins it’s discussions by focusing on the victim.
The media coverage of the recent assault by Charles Saatchi barely mentioned his name in a headline, instead focusing on the name of his victim. Saatchi describes choke-holding his wife by the throat as a ‘playful tiff’. Our outrage should be reserved entirely for his behaviour. Instead, his wife has been widely castigated for how she, the victim, has managed the situation. It has been said that she should lead a call to arms against violence by men, that she cannot expect women to purchase the books which she writes unless she does so, and much more about her behaviour and responsibility. There is something really unbalanced in a society which spends more time asking for a response from the victim of violence, than it does asking for an explanation, change or contrition from the perpetrator.
The law has a poor record in delivering justice to female victims of violence. In our criminal justice system, all victims are required to relive their experience in order to have a judge or jury convicted an alleged perpetrator. That’s the way the system works. But the system fails to work when conviction rates of alleged perpetrators are known to be low, which further serves to victimise the victim, because the failure to convict tells the female that she is not believed, or that her rights are less than those of the perpetrator. The most reasonable explanation for juries failing to convict perpetrators of violence against women, is that victim-blaming lies deep in the heart of most citizens who serve as jury members. Or at least when the victim is a woman, and the perpetrator is a man.
This week, Rob Hulls of the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT, called for different ways to respond to violence, placing a greater emphasis on what a victim needs as opposed to continuing to re-traumatise victims in an often futile pursuit by the State against a perpetrator. By merely raising this discussion, there is hope that victims is more likely to be seen as just that, and for our focus to be on them in a positive way, for a change.