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October 28, 2014

Addressing male violence at night requires a cultural shift

The Conversation logoThis article was originally published on The Conversation on 27 October 2014. To read the original article, click here.

The recent killing of 21-year-old Melbourne University student Joshua Hardy is another tragic story of unprovoked, alcohol-fuelled male violence in our community. It is an issue that has animated significant debate in politics and the media in recent years and has motivated the introduction of a range of criminal justice and licensing reforms nationally.

In the wake of Hardy’s death, questions have again arisen about what the victim could have done to prevent the use of lethal violence. For example:

But these are not the questions we should be asking. We should instead be questioning why violence among young males continues to permeate our community and how can we more effectively challenge the problematic culture of male violence.

Australian masculinity and violence

This is not a new issue. Violence has been intertwined with constructions of what it means to be an Australian man for far longer than the recent headlines of young male violence and the one-punch homicide debate.

This is not to diminish the seriousness of these events, nor is it to suggest that all men are violent – this is certainly not true. Rather, it serves to highlight the longevity of the issue and the need to target the culture of male violence in Australia.

We cannot accept that males are inherently violent. A more productive discussion would be to consider how we can best educate young men against the use of violence. We are no longer at a time in society where a challenge to one’s masculine honour denotes a violent response, nor do we want to be a community that promotes stereotypes of “real” men who use violence first and words later.

For this reason, a response to young male violence that addresses the culture of violence in our community – as opposed to responses that focus only on legal categories and punishment options – is essential if meaningful change is to be achieved.

Challenging cultures of male violence

Challenging the culture of male violence is a task best achieved in several arenas.

It must begin in the home. This is one of many reasons why it is a relief to see both major Victorian political parties make family violence a priority in the state election campaign. Children need to grow up in households where violence is not the norm.

The value of strong role models in the home cannot be overstated. At a time when approximately one woman is killed each week in Australia by her current or former intimate partner we must not ignore the devastating consequences that this has not only in terms of loss of life, but also for the many children exposed to serious violence for whom the use of violence is normalised.

Beyond the home, it is essential that the message be instilled by our primary and secondary school systems. State governments nationally must dedicate resources to considering how best this can be achieved.

Through education, valuable lessons on the importance of respectful relationships, the dangers of binge drinking and recreational drugs as well as the irresponsibility and profound consequences of violence and reckless behaviour can be instilled at an early age.

Mixed messages on male violence

At a time when we need to send a clear message on public male violence, it is particularly unfathomable as to why the Victorian Labor Party would make the election promise to lift the current ban on cage fighting. It is a move that has rightly been heavily criticised by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay.

This is exactly the type of sensationalist male violence that we should be condemning as a community. Regardless of the presence of a cage and the theatrics of the event, condoning male violence in one context blurs the line as to the dangers of such violence when used in other contexts.

Constructing responsibility

Finally, in responding to cultures of male violence, it is essential that the problem is adequately understood and accurately portrayed – particularly by the media.

In retelling the stories of victims and responding to this form of violence, it is vital to remember that the responsibility for the violence perpetrated should not be on the victim. As domestic violence advocates have long argued, victim-blaming narratives that question the role of the victim as opposed to the actions of the offender have the impact of reconstructing the event and shifting responsibility from one party to another.

By questioning what the victim could or should have done to better maintain their personal safety, the responsibility of the offender is somewhat absolved. In this respect, while examining the influential role of licensed venues and late-night precincts is beneficial, at the same time we must ensure that the violent actions of the individual responsible are condemned. It is that person – not the bartender earlier in the night, the bouncer at the club door or the victim – who threw the fatal punch and whose actions have ruined not only one young life but consequently their own as well.

Challenging the culture of male violence within our community as well as reconsidering how responsibility is constructed by those who retell the stories of the young men killed are tasks not easily achieved. However, they are just as important – if not more so – than the criminal justice responses to this issue.

We must tackle the heart of the problem – the acceptance and proliferation of male violence in our community.


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