With new minister for women Katy Gallagher now sworn in, investigative journalist Jess Hill has cautioned workplaces that true leadership is needed to holistically address the issue of domestic and family violence.
Speaking at Diversity Council Australia’s Anna McPhee Memorial Oration on Diversity & Inclusion in Melbourne, Hill emphasised the role workplaces can play in protecting colleagues suffering domestic violence.
Hill drew on the story of Jay, a woman going through an abusive situation who was able to survive due to co-workers checking in and helping her.
“It wasn’t a policy or a single act of intervention that made the difference — it was being reminded time and again that she didn’t deserve what her husband was doing to her. It was being invited every day to coffee, it was having colleagues let her know they could see the swelling under her make-up, and enquiring regularly about her safety,” Hill said.
“Jay is adamant that it was her colleagues who saved her life, and the lives of her kids,” the journalist added.
Walkley-award winning investigative journalist @jessradio with our CEO Patty Kinnersly and Chair Moo Baulch at today’s @DivCouncilAus oration – a powerful conversation on the role workplaces and each one of us can play in preventing and ending violence against women. #DCAOration pic.twitter.com/oZDPdZFbos
— Our Watch (@OurWatchAus) May 31, 2022
The impact on culture was pointed out by Hill, specifically the hypocrisy of workplaces paying lip service to gender equality but not addressing sexual harassment cases when they arise.
“The number one reason people resign from their jobs nowadays is that their workplace is toxic,” Hill said. “Managers and colleagues bully and ostracise, sexual harassment occurs at an endemic rate. Employees subjected to this, just like victims of coercive control, can feel like they are suffering death by a thousand cuts.”
“The need for sophisticated responses is critical,” Hill added, “Because coercive controllers are skilled at grooming friends, family, police, lawyers and judges — especially when they want to make it look like their victim is the real perpetrator.”
The journalist said by listening to those who have gone through violent situations, they can advise what the best approach is.
“They know what it took for a friend or colleague to counter the cult-like effect of coercive control, to get past their internalised victim-blaming, and to convince them that their life was worth saving,” Hill said.
She discussed coercive control in her speech, which has recently been criminalised in Queensland. On Queensland, Hill said she was ‘thrilled’ to read the recommendations from the Queensland Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce. However, the limitations of the legal system need to be acknowledged.
“There is no point in simply adding another law to the books,” Hill said. “The only reason to consider criminalising coercive control is to revise the way our systems respond to domestic abuse.
“It is a profound shift — to move away from an incident-based response to one that makes the entire system of abuse visible. It is also one that needs to be done with great care.”
Hill ended the speech with a poignant question: “What are you going to do with the power you have?”