Changing domestic violence campaigns

Bernadette Anvia reflects on how an incident on state transit has affected her approach to campaigns to eliminate domestic violence and violence against wom*n.

On a peak hour train during the usual mid-week rush to university, the music playing softly from my earphones wasn’t loud enough to block out the numerous threats that a young man was shouting at his partner. The music wasn’t enough to drown out her pleas and sobs, or her attempts to cower down as far away from his considerably larger figure as she could in the limited space that the two-seater they were sitting on provided them with.

“Please, please just calm down. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t sleep with him, please PLEASE. Here take my phone, look at the messages, please just don’t touch me, just LEAVE ME ALONE.”

He spoke of her body in the vilest language, making suggestive remarks as if he owned her, owned her body- as if she was his property to own and handle as he pleased, not as a woman who could determine her own choices and what she did with her body.

And not one of us said a word.

To this day I am ashamed I, nor anybody else, stepped in. It saddens me more that I didn’t have the courage to tell him that what he was saying and threatening to do was unacceptable, whether or not she had been unfaithful to him. It angers me to think that our silence seemed to be a silent consent for him to keep doing what he was doing, whether it be to her, or any other woman.

Although we did not lay a finger on her, we nonetheless assisted in delivering those blows to her person.

Our society has a tendency to associate domestic violence with the private sphere- after all, what place is more domestic than the family home? – and as a result, we often hide behind the fact that domestic violence happens behind closed doors and therefore, is out of our control. So its occurrence on a train (or any other public place for that matter) is a shock to many of us. Whilst we may make a great show of saying that we are against domestic violence, stopping it as it happens in front of us is a different matter altogether.

Current anti-domestic violence and violence against women campaigns focus extensively on the shaming of the perpetrators, seeking to place a huge emphasis on the proper manner that men should treat women. It’s about time we realised that the prevention of violence against women is not predicated solely on the changing of the ways of violent men, but also of the ways of the rest of society.

As we are not the ones perpetrating the violence, we feel we have done enough of our duty to women by merely making a few empty phrases condemning the perpetrators.

But it’s not enough. We should be compelled to speak out, and not to turn a blind eye. We should be compelled to match our words with actions.

This article is my way of making a promise both to myself, and to her: a promise that next time I will say or do something, and not just sit by and watch a women get physically or verbally abused.