OPINION

End the silence that surrounds violence

When the topic of disrespect towards women is raised, in the media or a public place, a common argument I hear is, "I'd never say that", and they're probably right. Not all of us are guilty of making sexist jokes and not all of us use violence against women.

By adopting this "not me" attitude though, we all - men and women - are missing the real point.

What we know from the research is that we live in a culture that enables violence against women. You hear these disrespectful attitudes and behaviours thrown around all the time in everyday settings - at sporting clubs, pubs and at a barbie with mates.

They're regularly masked as a "joke" and brushed off as the "boys having a laugh", but they're often loaded and a reflection of our implicit acceptance of disrespect towards women. And while not all disrespect leads to violence, all violence starts with disrespect.

It's important to acknowledge that violence can be experienced by anybody; women, men, children and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. But when, according to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), one in six women have experienced physical or sexual violence and one in four have experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner since the age of 15, it's clear something is broken.

Preventing violence against women is an issue close to my heart, because growing up, these weren't just statistics. For me, this was my family's lived reality. To add insult to injury, back then, issues of domestic violence were private matters - nobody's business but your own. The code of silence was firmly upheld, sadly at the expense of women's safety.

My father wasn't down at the pub picking fights with his mates every night - he was the sort of bloke you wanted to hang around with. At least, that was the image everybody saw. In reality, he was hiding a deep resentment and lack of respect for women, which manifested in his physical abuse of my mum and sisters. I'm not taking away from the friendships he had with others, as he was a very charismatic, charming man, but that's not the relationship we had at home.

Although it can be easier to stand by silently when witnessing disrespect towards women, I am optimistic that things can change and that all Australians play a role in fixing this. My hope is that instead of denying responsibility for somebody else's comment or attitude, that we proactively challenge sexist jokes and "boys will be boys" attitudes.

When one in six women have experienced physical or sexual violence and one in four have experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner... it's clear something is broken.

Odds are you know at least one person in your family, group of mates or workplace who at one point or another has made a sexist joke, argued someone can't do a job based on their gender, or offered unsolicited "compliments" to a woman.

It's easy to brush these actions off as insignificant, feel like doing something would look uncool or assume it's just not your place. But by taking this approach, you're missing a valuable opportunity to challenge disrespect towards women. Whether these things are said in front of a woman, or about women when they're not around, they create a culture that allows violence against women to continue. By calling out these sexist behaviours, we can cut violence off at the source.

Research by Our Watch, Australia's national body for the prevention of violence against women, has shown four in five Australians want practical tips on how to take action when they witness disrespect towards women, with only 14 per cent of Australians likely to act.

The overarching message of their Doing Nothing Does Harm campaign is that it's important to do something about disrespect towards women, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

Having spent most of my life playing footy, in a pretty male dominated space, I get it - calling out disrespectful attitudes towards women can be uncomfortable.

That's part of the reason speaking out about my experience was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life. However, by choosing to tell my story during my Face up to DV campaign, I saw how spectators and players can band together to condemn violence against women and the casual sexism that contributes to it. I saw how a once blokey sport can bring people together and embrace other forms of masculinity. It's a slow change, but the wheels are in motion.

If change can happen in AFL, why can't it happen in other settings?

You don't need to have first-hand experience with domestic violence to know what behaviour is and isn't okay. Challenging disrespect towards women doesn't have to be a big deal, and there's no one way to respond. You can roll your eyes, change the subject or simply show your support to the woman in the situation and ask if she's okay. Most of us know what disrespectful behaviour towards women looks like, it's time we go one step further and do something about it.

Violence against women begins with disrespect, and it's actions like these that can go a long way to changing the culture in this country.

I am going to continue to have these conversations around domestic violence and disrespect towards women because I want people to change, and to start owning their behaviours and actions. Whatever you do, make sure you do something, because doing nothing does harm.

Jimmy Bartel is a former Geelong AFL footballer and Our Watch campaign ambassador for Doing Nothing Does Harm. https://www.ourwatch.org.au/doingnothingdoesharm