Listening to those who have lived through trauma can catalyse change.
At the recent National Summit on Women’s Safety 2021, Australian of the Year and victim-survivor advocate Grace Tame demonstrated the power of lived experience. Like Rosie Batty (another Australian of the Year and victim-survivor advocate) before her, she focussed the conversation to concentrate on the solutions needed to prevent gender-based violence. Grace has brought once-taboo subjects like child grooming into the spotlight, helping build momentum to end the endemic problem of gender-based violence.
The influence of victim-survivors and their role in public policy change is the focus of research by Lisa Wheildon in her PhD at BehaviourWorks. In her recently published first study, Lisa undertook an in-depth study of Rosie Batty’s impact in helping bring about significant socio-political change in Australia.
The ‘Batty Effect,’ as media referred to it, began after the tragic death of Rosie’s son Luke at the hands of her estranged husband in 2014. The subsequent outpouring of community grief and Rosie’s tireless advocacy broke the accepted silence on gender-based violence.
Lisa’s research confirmed that not only was Rosie the “ideal” victim in the way she attracted community compassion, but she also possessed many of the characteristics of a change agent.
Along with external factors (including decades of groundwork by the women’s movement), Lisa found that three factors were critical in Rosie’s influence: the urgency of her lived experience; her outsider status and; her ability to build networks. Rosie’s traumatic lived experience demanded attention. While her outsider status – not coming from the DFSV sector or government – and her ability to build networks, helped overcome ideological and institutional differences to unite people behind shared objectives.
However, Lisa also found risks in victim-survivors being used to promote media and political agendas, which aren’t necessarily in their interests.
Although the narrative is changing, a worrying portion of the community still blames victims of violence, and there is much we don’t understand about the perpetrators of gender-based violence. BehaviourWorks researchers have been trying to understand what drives men to violent and controlling behaviour and how to shift these attitudes through media campaigns.
Another PhD student, Rebecca Stewart, has studied the effects of restrictive rules around masculinity reinforced through “ritual, repetition and social norms” and points out that sustainable positive change requires changes at all levels of society. This includes systemic changes like the introduction of the Gender Equality Act (Vic), the use of long-term educational approaches in schools and workplaces, and work at the individual level with self-reflection on the part of the community.
At the Women’s Safety Summit, Grace Tame pointed out that victim-survivors shouldn’t be responsible for fixing the situation. However, they can inspire us all to encourage governments and policymakers to bring about real change by grabbing our collective attention, forcing a discussion many would prefer not to have and helping identify where systems are failing.
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