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Violence Against Women: 1 in 3 Australian women in abusive relationships, 1 woman killed every week by intimate partner. Did you know?

On Tuesday evening I attended a welcome reception for the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo (thanks to UN Women Australia for the invitation, and to Allens Arthur Robinson for hosting this important event). It was – to say the least – depressing.  To hear Rasheeda’s research findings that femicide is on the increase around the world in developed as well as developing countries.  And to be reminded that it’s here, in Australia, too.  In Australia, 1 in 3 women are in (or have been in) abusive relationships and 1 woman is killed every week by an intimate partner.  Did you know?

I sat and listened to the gloomy statistics.  To the stories of violated women in USA being told by Police to “go home or go to the church to get someone to mediate – this isn’t a matter for the courts.”  Of women in African nations who live with the low level warfare of sexual violence perpetuated by men in their communities.  Of Rasheeda’s opinion that violence against women is simply not a mainstream issue for the societies the UN represents.  And I believe her.

As I sat there listening to Rasheeda, I thought back to the talk back radio show I heard last week.  A woman named Diane rang in.  She sounded like a normal, well educated, middle aged woman and spoke with confidence.  So much so, the image in my mind’s eye was at a complete disconnect with the point of her call: to complain about the suspensions that had been proposed for two Rugby League players guilty of assaulting their girlfriends.

Diane’s argument? That what people do in their private life should be kept separate from their work – and therefore suspending the players for violence against their girlfriends was out of line.  Seriously.  I listened, stunned, as did the radio host as he tried to get his head around what Diane was saying.  And it was clear, she thought that the public profile of these players should be protected from their personal shortcomings and illegal behaviour.

Unbelievable stuff.

Then I thought back to the story of Catherine Smith aired on Australian Story last year.  If you’re not familiar, this is a story of violence and domestic abuse that defies belief. Over 20 years Catherine’s husband, Kevin Smith, attempted to murder his wife and had sexually assaulted her on numerous occasions.  He also assaulted and terrorized his children, forcing them to flea, leaving their mother behind.  These instances were repeatedly reported to Police who did nothing to protect Catherine and her family.  And yet when Catherine finally retaliated, she was charged with her husband’s attempted murder.

Kevin Smith was a dreadful man.  He was obsessive with Catherine. “He had to find her, he had to have her, he had to control her, he had to own her.”, said daughter Vickie.  Once when Catherine had escaped, Kevin Smith came looking for her. He kidnapped their son Duncan and held him at gunpoint.  He went to jail for the kidnapping, but upon release the State refused to intervene and provide protection to Catherine and her family.  Catherine took the matter into her own hands, and bought a gun with the intention of killing her husband.  But though she could never pull the trigger, she was charged with her husband’s attempted murder.

Catherine was acquitted of the attempted murder, and charges were instead laid against her husband.  It took three years – unforgivable given the life sentence she had already served – but Kevin Smith was eventually jailed in November last year for 17 years for raping and torturing his wife.  A sentence that was 20 years overdue.

These two women – Diane and Catherine – are the extremes of women and violence.  The one condoning the violence that men perpetrate against women; the other suffering at its hands.  Both voicing their outrage through the media.

Rasheeda is right: this clearly still isn’t a mainstream issue.  But it needs to be.

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