I visited New Zealand recently, which automatically conjures memories of reading The Hobbit. I first encountered it as a boarding-school read, far lighter than The Exorcist, which I had read immediately before, and a pleasant change. I loved the escapism of being caught up in Bilbo Baggins’ adventures in Middle-earth.
Even people I’ve met in small villages in Kazakhstan identify New Zealand with the screen adaptions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Director Peter Jackson has captivated the world with this majestic and magical backdrop, which takes in locations including Fiordland (Fangorn Forest), Arrowtown, and Nelson.
The other book that New Zealand brings to mind is the literally hard-hitting Once Were Warriors. Alan Duff’s harrowing and brutally realistic story of an urban Maori family beset by violence tells the tragic tale of the void left by the loss of a rich culture, and of a woman, Beth Heke, struggling to survive domestic violence and hold her family together. My recent trip provided an excellent opportunity to read the sequel to Once Were Warriors, What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted?
With this troubling story fresh in my mind, I arrived in Perth, Western Australia’s beachside capital, to find the staggering extent of the state’s domestic violence and domestic homicide rates screaming from the front page of the local rag.
Recent statistics show over 17,000 women and girls were assaulted in WA in 2015, an alarming rise of almost 3,000 incidents over the previous year. According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 80% of these assaults on females were attributed to domestic violence. Since 2010, the number of such assaults has skyrocketed by 55%. In WA in 2015–16, twenty-four women were the victims of domestic homicide.
The ice epidemic is believed to be a major contributor to the escalating problem. Early intervention, tougher penalties, greater legal attention to an abuser’s history of violence, and electronic monitoring are measures that require urgent consideration and implementation.
The eastern states are in no way immune to the problem. On my last visit to the Gold Coast, I found the headlines dominated by tragic cases of domestic homicide: two women had been brutally murdered by their partners or ex-partners, and their children left motherless.
Such violence is a scourge in our communities, and to hear about it is confronting and depressing.
On 31 October 2013, hundreds of protesters marched through the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, demanding justice for a sixteen-year-old girl who had been gang-raped. They weren’t alone in their condemnation of the grossly inadequate penalty meted out. Well over a million furious campaigners worldwide signed a petition demanding justice, as three of the alleged offenders were ordered to do nothing more than cut grass at the local police station as punishment. Kenya has strict anti-rape laws, but its police have been accused of ignoring reported rapes, and many perpetrators are never brought to justice.
As a result of the local and international outrage, the matter was referred to the county’s judicial watchdog, and the three men have since been convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Up to two thirds of Kenyan girls under eighteen are believed to experience some form of sexual violence. Many assaults go unreported due to the stigma attached to being a victim.
As in many parts of the world, in Kenya, rape is frequently blamed on the victims’ dress and social behaviour. A couple of recent incidents that saw women in Nairobi being publicly shamed and stripped by mobs of men for “dressing indecently” give a tragic demonstration of how these erroneous beliefs can take effect.
These attacks in Kenya shocked and angered me, and in doing so have influenced my writing. Globally, collective horror at the ongoing level of violence against women and children, in many manifestations, shows no signs of abating.
Leniency in sentencing and early release are hotly debated topics. Offenders on parole after serving time for heinous acts of violence often commit new crimes and destroy more innocent lives. Yet policymakers contend that for most prisoners, the time they spend in jail must be focused on their rehabilitation and eventual reintegration into society.
Another case that defies belief hit the headlines last week: a Dutch woman was arrested for adultery in Qatar after reporting to police that she had been raped.
The surge of vicious rapes being reported in India continues.
Unconscionable race and gender crimes are being committed in all conflict zones.
Here I’ve given a few country-specific examples, but the problem is global. The World Health Organization provides key facts, figures, and information on violence against women worldwide.
There are organisations we can affiliate with to offer support, and ensure our voice and outrage is heard. Some Australian examples include:
For those suffering abuse or violence, reaching out for support can make all the difference. In Australia, contact:
- The Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 007 339
- Kids Helpline Australia: 1800 55 1800