As part of She’s Right’s participation in 16 days of activism to end violence against women, each article will be dedicated to a New Zealand woman who has lost her life due to gender-based violence. This article is dedicated to Virginia Ford, killed by a man on 13 March 2015, at the age of 20.
By Moira Boyle.
Edited by Jessica Sutton.
I am proud of the men in my life. I had a great dad, two brothers I was close to, I have a kind and gentle partner, a lovely son and my daughter’s boyfriend is a nice guy. I believe I can say with certainty that not one of them has ever verbally, emotionally or physically abused any woman. I believe I can say with absolute certainty that each of them would intervene in a situation where physical abuse was taking place.
I can also say with certainty that each of them knows of other men who hold negative views about women, made apparent in their conversations, the jokes they tell, the way they talk about their girlfriends or partners, and their choices of entertainment, films and music. Particularly worrying is the insidious nature of men “joking” to other men about using violence towards women – as 20 New Zealand women have so far lost their lives at the hands of a man this year, no-one should be laughing at this sort of “joke”.
Where I think my good guys might struggle, is in speaking out against those guys with the questionable views. It is very hard to call someone out on their behaviour, beliefs and especially on the jokes they tell, because it’s “only a joke”. It’s even harder to speak out when in a group of guys. We’ve all heard of the bystander effect, but if one man airs his negative views about women and the others in the group stay silent, then he assumes his views must be acceptable.
It was therefore encouraging to see the White Ribbon Riders arrive in Wellington this week with their message “stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence towards women”. Each year there are more than 3500 convictions recorded against men for assaults on women in New Zealand. That’s almost 10 women assaulted every day of the year. Of course, that figure doesn’t include many more victims who, for various reasons, did not feel able to report their assault.
Many femicide victims are women who have been previously assaulted, threatened verbally, harassed by text or stalked, by the man who ultimately murdered them. Often women in these situations have reported the threatening behaviour multiple times, but not enough has been done to protect them.
The man who commits an assault for the first time hasn’t suddenly changed his behaviour overnight. The day, the month, the year and perhaps for many years before, he was a man with a negative attitude towards women. There would have been evidence of this in his conversations with other men, his demeanour when interacting with women, and the type of humour he displayed. Men with these negative attitudes come from all walks of life, all ethnicities, all levels of society: rich and poor, well-educated and uneducated, men in top jobs and men with no job – the only common denominator is that they are men.
In the days before murdering his girlfriend Emily Longley in 2011, Elliot Turner asked a friend “How shall I do it? How shall I kill her, mate?” On the 6th of May, Turner described in detail to friends how he had already murdered Emily, but then said he was “only joking”. Despite knowing the toxic nature of this relationship, the friends did nothing and on the 7th of May, Emily was murdered by Turner at his home in the UK.
Emily Longley was just 17; a young woman with aspirations of becoming a model. The Judge told Turner his “lack of remorse is chilling”.
Before Brent Scott stabbed and killed his wife Heidi Welman-Scott in Auckland in 2014 he sold his car, telling the purchaser, “I am going back to South Africa, you can’t shoot or stab anybody here (in New Zealand).” He also told his travel agent that he would be on a flight to South Africa “if he wasn’t arrested or in prison”. Perhaps the purchaser and the agent both thought Scott was just joking.
Heidi Welman-Scott was 41 years old. She was a mother. She worked as a Nurse and was well respected and liked by her colleagues. A psychiatrist’s pre-sentence report said Scott was “entirely without remorse”.
Kevin Leslie Everett was found guilty of the manslaughter by assault of his partner Leeanne Hart in 2017. In the days and weeks leading up to her death, Everett had told his landlord that Leeanne was “worthless”, that he hoped “she’d drop dead” and that she was “a waste of space”. Perhaps the landlord thought Everett was just joking.
Leeanne Hart, 53, was a mother and grandmother, described by her daughter as a “happy, good-humoured” little lady with a big heart. “If she dies, she dies”, Everett said, after he fatally beat Leeanne. A probation officer’s report said, “Everett did not show any remorse”.
In each of the above cases, it is clear there was evidence of each man’s ideation which foreshadowed these terrible, senseless, and ultimately avoidable deaths. If only the other people had called them out on this at some point. If only they had recognised the signs of imminent violence, and reached out to the Police, or to the woman concerned. If only the “bro code”, or fear of speaking up, was less important than a possible threat to a human being’s life.
So, to all the good men in our lives, our partners, sons, fathers, brothers, our male friends, our male work colleagues and to all men who consider themselves to be good men, I say, don’t ignore the negative, potentially harmful things other men around you are doing and saying. Be proactive. Be vocal. Be certain that the “sexist joke” is a marker of a deeper problem and if the joker thinks he is among like-minded men, then your silence is his permission to continue.