Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Open Letter to Joe Hildebrand

Dear Joe,

“You have to get out.”

This was your advice to women across Australia who are currently experiencing domestic violence. Needless to say, I have been promoting your advice furiously since you offered it on Studio 10 last Wednesday, and look forward to seeing a drastic reduction of men’s violence against women in Australia. Because “you have to get out” is obviously something no woman suffering abuse has ever considered. “Just leave? Why didn’t I think of that? Shit, thanks Joe. I’ll just start packing now.”

One in three Australian women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. Statistics suggest that it takes women on average seven attempts to permanently leave an abusive relationship. Domestic violence can be physical, psychological, verbal, social, sexual, financial – the list goes on. In most cases, more than one of these behaviours are present. In almost every case, domestic violence is about establishing a culture of dominance, fear and control.

I don’t expect you to be an expert on domestic violence. I don’t think anybody does. And this is why I’m writing to you. If you have no personal experience of domestic violence; if you have no understanding of the factors that define and contribute to cultures of violence; if you have no concept of the cycles of abuse and the factors that make it terrifying for so many women to consider leaving abusive men… Why on Earth would you feel compelled to offer an opinion at all?

I have worked with victims of domestic violence. More than five of my friends have experienced it personally. But that does not give me experience. Do you know what that gives me the right to do? Sit down, shut up, and listen. Listen to what women who have experienced it have to say. Listen to their experiences, their stories. Not to pontificate and offer really helpful suggestions like “I know it’s hard, but you have to get out.”

No. Your job is to listen. To listen when Rosie Batty, a woman who has experienced one of the worst forms of domestic violence possible says: “We are talking about the risk to our lives. We’re talking about when women may finally decide to leave their partners, they are at the most risk. Do you know what happened to me? Greg had finally lost control of me, and to make me suffer, and the final act of control, which was the most hideous form of violence, was to kill my son.”

Rosie Batty handled herself with such dignity, such grace and composure in responding to your comments – and frankly, even if her response had lacked those qualities, she still would have been showing courageous leadership. Rosie has suffered inconceivable violence and abuse, and on a public scale. She then has to listen to you, a man who will never experience intimate partner violence from a male in your lifetime, sit there and tell her what she – and the millions of others like her - should have done.

Your apology the following day comprised the collective humility of a kid who’d be dragged to the principal’s office and forced to apologise - he didn’t really understand why he was there, and was only apologising to avoid detention. You still felt you were right.

“It is the role of every adult who is aware of children being sexually abused to blow the whistle on it. It is their job to raise the alarm. In cases, which is sadly all too common, where the person who is in a position to do that is also a victim of abuse themselves, makes it enormously hard – I certainly know that. But, that is not a reason to say ‘well, we’ll just let it go on.’ … That is not blaming the victim at all.”

 Victim blaming doesn’t mean pointing at an abuse victim and saying “It’s your fault you were abused.” It is about focusing entirely on the actions and behaviours of the victim, whilst avoiding any focus on the perpetrator. At no point – through your initial comments, Rosie’s response, or your apology did you seek to address, explore or even acknowledge the men who commit these crimes. In fact, a focus on the perpetrator was so deafeningly absent from any of your comments, it was almost staggering. Advising women that they simply need to “get out” of abusive relationships is akin to asking a rape victim “Why did you let him rape you?”

I know I’m waffling. But I’m waffling to a man who has further traumatised a domestic abuse victim, sent an appalling message to victims of abuse everywhere, failed to listen, failed to learn, and continued on your merry way in the hope that this will all blow over. Then you can get back to being Joe and not deal with all these crazy misrepresentations of your comments. It must have been a tough week.

But maybe you can sleep a little better knowing that as a male, you will not be one of the 33% of Australian women who will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. You will remain firmly within the majority of men whose victimhood is never questioned. You will never have to suffer speculations about what you could have done to avoid or mitigate your own abuse. You will never have to listen to a male onlooker question your actions and your choices. And you will certainly not be one of the millions of female domestic violence victims who continue to live with the specific shame and stigma that permeates our attitudes towards domestic abuse on a daily basis. You will never have to listen to men like you.

The next time you find yourself in a position to offer an opinion on domestic violence, perhaps you could put this on the auto-cue: “As a man who has never experienced violence against women, I don’t have an opinion. I want to listen – and I want to talk about a society which continues to breed abusive men at an alarming rate; a society which critiques every aspect of abusive relationships, except the men who create them. I want to talk about men.”


  1. I think you should write more things for me to read... yes I do...

  2. I agree. I would like to see more from you, Alex!

  3. So once again the debate about child protection is not about children at all, justall about victims of domestic violence, then it moves onto abusive men.
    Why is it never about children ? Their feelings, their lives, their futures..

    1. Robyn, there are many wonderful organisations and advocates in Australia who work with victims of child abuse on a daily basis, and they do sensational work.

      Focusing on the actions of people who perpetrate abuse is not about dis-empowering those who have suffered it - it is about attempting to shift the culture of a society which continues to breed perpetrators at an alarming rate. Which, I would hope, is always ultimately about the victims - whether they be children, women, or other men.