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The forgotten violence victims

"At least one woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner". Photo: CMY Kane via Flickr

OPINION – Nicole Doughty

On Saturday, a young woman in Melbourne’s suburbs died after an argument with her partner turned violent. This news may not have caught your attention, because on Saturday all eyes were focused on the tragic death of another young person from a violent assault: Daniel Christie, the latest victim of alcohol-fuelled violence in Sydney’s Kings Cross.

Alcohol-related, single-punch assaults – putting aside the tiresome discussion of ‘king hits’ and coward punches’ – are not increasing in NSW. This may come as a surprise, given that our major newspapers are covered in colour photographs of smiling victims, grieving families, and of course, gratuitous shots of broken bottles and young people acting like idiots on the streets.

It is worth noting that off-premises, non-domestic assaults in the Kings Cross Local Area Command have remained stable over the past ten years. Assaults in Kings Cross on licensed premises have declined by 19.6 per cent over the past two years. But at least one woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner, with more than a third of all homicides taking place in a domestic setting. These are horrendous, shameful statistics, but these deaths prompt little media outcry or public hand-wringing.

Pointing out these anomalies does not indicate a lack of sympathy for the Christies. We should all feel sadness and despair at what Daniel and his family have gone through. But this article is not about Daniel Christie, or Thomas Kelly, or – for that matter – the unnamed victim of domestic violence in Melbourne’s suburbs. It is about where the media chooses to focus its attention, where we choose to focus our own attention, and why.

Why does the death of one young person make the front page, or the first story on the 6pm news, while the death of another barely rates a mention? Is it because images and footage of young people getting drunk and fighting are so titillating? Is it because young men out in the city at night are more compelling victims than young women who find themselves stuck in violent relationships? Or is it because it’s easier to talk about the mindless distinction between ‘king hits’ and ‘coward punches’ than it is to consider what it says about us a society, when so many women become victims of violent cycles of manipulation and abuse?

The latter two questions raise an issue that has been written about extensively in recent years: the phenomenon of victim-blaming. It seems that part of the reason we sympathise with the young (almost always male) victims of a king-hit is because they were blameless. Much of the commentary that has followed these high-profile deaths has centered on the fact that often, these young men were just walking down the street minding their own business, and thus did not incur or in any way ‘deserve’ the assault that followed.

By contrast, the (almost always female) victims of domestic violence are, it seems, in some way to blame. After all, they weren’t hit unexpectedly while walking down the street – they ‘chose’ to stay in a relationship knowing full well their partner’s violent tendencies. No matter how fervently academics have tried to highlight the fallacies in thinking that result from victim-blaming, it seems we can’t shake the notion that the victims of an unexpected alcohol-fuelled assault are blameless, while victims of domestic violence should have seen what was coming and are less deserving of attention or sympathy.

This state of affairs doesn’t appear set to change, despite the best efforts of advocates. And that imparts a fairly salient message to victims of domestic violence – don’t expect much sympathy or attention unless your abusive partner bashes you in public, while drunk.

Nicole Doughty is a Sydney University psychology graduate and current law student

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