RAWA STATEMENT – It’s time to speak up about speaking up – 6 April 2015

It’s time to speak up about speaking up

The Redfern Aboriginal Women’s Alliance fully supports the women at the centre of the Billy Gordon saga to have a voice and speak up about domestic violence against the Queensland MP.

As Australia waits on Gordon to break his silence and make the announcement that will decide his future and that of the Palaszczuk government, RAWA says it’s time to speak up about speaking up about violence against women and children.

Comments criticising Billy Gordon’s two ex-partners’ decision to come forward disregarded the women’s duress to speak up about a crime. And yet many in our community know the depressing fact that most cases of intimate partner violence go unreported to police.

Women reporting domestic violence in our community face an onerous process – overshadowed by enduring reproach and reprisals from family, friends and community that very few Aboriginal women relish – and several choose not to. In effect, when faced with the dilemma, anybody who cannot vouch personally as a direct witness to violence would sooner shut down her voice than his.

Consider, then, the decision for the women in Billy Gordon’s life. To raise their complaint at any time meant speaking up against a charming Aboriginal man rising to political influence, powerfully connected, wrapped in the enchantment of the-boy-from-the-bush-made-good, popular voice of the people and a warrior of the cause. Reporting such a man because he’s a public figure is not incentive, it is more likely a deterrent.

The repercussive danger that allegations of domestic abuse reinforce the ‘all black men are bashers’ stereotype is everpresent, as some commentators have pointed out. But in the words of experienced Aboriginal community campaigner on domestic violence and co-founder of ‘Blackout Violence’, Dixie Link-Gordon (no relation), “We’re not standing beside them holding up their fist for social justice when they use the other to pound women down”.

Recently returned from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Beijing+20 (2015) in New York City, Link-Gordon says, “Indigenous women throughout the world are still the most vulnerable. Speaking up is hard for these women.”

In February the Queensland Domestic Violence Taskforce handed down its report, Not Now, Not Ever, with the finding that “Culture and attitudes affect the ability of victims to report violence and seek help, and influence the willingness of the community to hold perpetrators to account”. The United Nations Multi-country Study on Men and Violence conducted throughout the Asia-Pacific found that many people including women “prescribed to the dominant social norms that legitimize inequality and the use of violence against women”.

The taskforce’s key message is “ultimately cultural change needs to come from individuals and the community directly”. The Not Now, Not Ever report was said to have motivated one of the women from Billy Gordon’s past to come forward.

Empowerment of women is imperative to changing social norms and breaking the culture of silence. Noel Pearson’s opining that Gordon was “thrown under a very brutal bus” illuminates the innate difficulty in this. RAWA does not condemn Billy Gordon for behaviours that earned him his criminal record as a juvenile and we note nor did Anastacia Palaczszuk. The Premier dismissed him because “he was completely and utterly dishonest” to her. As the old adage goes, it’s not the act itself, it’s the cover up that will do you in. There’s a decisive difference between being thrown under a bus and running head on into it.

International and local research show that a common marker in the range of Intimate Partner Violence Typologies is “inequity in the relationship”, a factor that is consistent across all types of intimate relationships including LGBTI. This area of power and inequity is the growing focus for research in managing relationship conflict and preventing intimate partner violence. It is in this domain of strengthening relationships and tackling underlying causes where attention is needed because we cannot rely on legal processes to fix it. The critical work of building trust needs to happen in families and across our communities as well as between Aboriginal people and the state.

The Billy Gordon episode gives us an opportunity to examine our attitudes toward women who make a complaint of domestic violence and the inherent responsibilities for men in our community to be accountable. When an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander woman is 45 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence and 35 times more likely to be hospitalised than other Australian women, more than ever we must not be silent no matter who the accused is. Men are intrinsic to this change. Our collective rights progress cannot afford the price of silence if it shepherds abusive men into positions of power and privilege.

Billy Gordon is entitled to and will likely afford himself the best defense to the domestic violence allegations against him, which he has publicly denied, if one is needed. It is up to the police to decide if there is a case to answer. But he is now a divisive figure across the nation. Clearly, it is not a safe climate for Billy Gordon should he deem there to be an admission to make. But if he did, what would that do for a shift in the narrative? Not for the first time, Aboriginal people are central to putting a significant cultural change of national importance to the test. And the Queensland government, led by a woman, hangs on his decision to stay in power.

For further comment:        Dixie Link-Gordon 0410 724 815 Suzanne Ingram 0400 983 812