Violence against women – don’t just punish prevent!

In a conversation with a senior constable yesterday, I was told that locking perpetrators up and throwing away the key was a long term solution to preventing violence against women.

Sure, we want to punish some men who commit violent crimes. But in the case of domestic abusers, the way I call it, jail may do more harm than good. It’s crazy to me to think we’ll end violence against women by locking perpetrators up indefinitely. We like to think that in prison, men that commit domestic violence will think about what they’ve done, repent, reform and emerge into the world as kinder and more law-abiding citizens. In my experience, that’s just not how it works.

Perpetrators are a product of a culture that nurtures gendered violence. For example, footy culture, beginning in secondary school and reaching a pinnacle in the AFL, promote an exaggerated masculinity. Players are called on to show they’re so tough they don’t feel pain. Players with broken limbs are praised for staying on the field. They sling gendered insults and face pressure to quash any budding femininities, such as sensitivity. Serial sexual conquests are celebrated, and the idea that the world is divided into winners and losers – us and them – is constantly reinforced.

Prison magnifies these kinds of sexist attitudes and can intensify acts of gendered violence. Incarcerated boys and men learn that in order to survive, they have to become tough, numb to the pain of others. They learn to be the aggressor in order not to be the victim. Decades of mass incarceration have not reduced violence against women.

So what can be done? Ok so there’s no magic bullet but a good start begins with giving people the tools to negotiate more peaceful and respectful gendered relationships like promoting activities in which everyone must ‘be there’ for everyone else. This helps perpetrators as well, ordinary men and women, let go of the ‘us versus them’ mentality that underpins gender violence.

The views expressed on this page are those of Dr Ree Boddé and do not necessarily represent the views of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne or its program partners Anglicare Victoria and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. While all reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this page, no liability is assumed for any errors or omissions.