20:23, November 29 270 0 theguardian.com

2018-11-29 20:23:05
We can’t wait any longer for men to speak up for women's safety

Today, I have friends and heroes in women who have given up so much and gained so much from telling their stories.

But in 2013 I felt alone. I went to Chatswood police station on a Sunday morning to report my assault. I sat in a room with an officer and told them all the details leading up to me being in the alleyway. I got to the assault part of the story and said “and then he … um, yeah”. I made a gesture with my hands, hoping that would suffice. The officer looked at me with more sympathy than I had ever seen before in my life. “I’m sorry,” he said “but I need you to say it”.

It’s been more than five years since that night. I’ve told my story over and over again; to the police, in court, to friends, in court again, and finally to the Australian public.

It’s hard to know how you will feel once everyone you meet knows in extreme detail the worst night of your life. I didn’t expect the overwhelming feeling to be that I’m “lucky”.

The report from the 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS), led by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), is out today. It is the longest running survey of its kind in the world, with this year’s reports drawing on interviews with more than 17,500 Australians.

Thankfully, it shows Australians’ knowledge and rejection of violence against women is improving. Most Australians have a strong understanding of violence against women and do not condone it. It shows most Australians would take action if they were aware that abuse or disrespect of women was occurring, and that they stand in support of gender equality.

While these findings are encouraging, there are some undeniably concerning trends.

42% of Australians believe that women make up false reports of sexual assault in order to punish men. 32% believe that “a female victim who does not leave an abusive relationship is responsible for the abuse continuing”.

And therein lies my “luck”. My story is easy to understand, and seemingly easy to “prevent”. The stranger in the alleyway. There are steps you can take to not end up in my situation. Don’t kiss strangers. Don’t go down alleyways. Stay in your safe, small bubble and never get hurt.

But what happens when the alleyway is your home, and the stranger hurting you is someone you love?

Nine out of 10 women who have been sexually assaulted knew their assailant. But, according to the findings from the NCAS, only one third of Australians actually know this.

The root cause of this horrifying statistic is linked to two key findings of the 2017 NCAS: that denying gender inequality exists remains a huge problem, and promoting rigid gender roles has a significant impact on attitudes towards violence against women.

98% of Australians would be bothered, and 70% would act, if a male friend was insulting or verbally abusing a woman he was in a relationship with.

A lower 76% would be bothered if a male friend told a sexist joke about women, and only 45% would do anything about it.

These findings tell us two things. Firstly, that there’s a large discrepancy in our condemnation of actual violence compared to all too common cases of gender inequality. We’re far more likely to condone the latter, yet both contribute to an environment that puts more women at risk of violence.

Secondly, it confirms that we’re not backing our attitudes with action.

The NCAS reaffirms the belief that men are more likely to have lower support for gender equality and higher attitudinal support for violence against women. So this is my call to action: to the men who support gender equality and women’s safety, it is no longer enough to do so quietly.

We need you to act, and be heard. Stand up to everyday cases of sexism, because they are part of a much bigger problem. Talk to your mates and your colleagues and your brothers and your dads and your sons and your nephews. They might not listen to us, but they will listen to you.

“Are we there yet?” – the title of the 2017 NCAS summary report – is a phrase I uttered a lot as a child in the backseat of a car headed for the beach. Men, you’re in the driver’s seat. We’re so close. I can hear the waves and feel the sun on my skin. We’re so close, but we need your help to finally get there.

We can’t wait any longer - our lives depend on it.

Saxon Mullins is a sexual assault survivor and anti-violence advocate

Comments on this article have been pre-moderated to ensure the discussion is on the topics that have been written about in the article