The issue of domestic violence is out of the shadows and into the light. That was the message from TV host Lisa Wilkinson, quoting family violence campaigner Rosie Batty, to a room full of journalists at last night’s Our Watch Awards for Exemplary Reporting on Violence Against Women.
Our Watch, a national organisation aimed at ending violence against women and their children in Australia, hosted the awards for the first time this year. The aim of the event was to recognise and celebrate the power of the media in ushering in social change, and with that power the responsibility to report on the issue of male violence against women accurately, sensitively and proactively.
Our Watch chair Natasha Stott Despoja opened the evening by speaking about the tragic death of Tara Brown yesterday morning, the 24-year-old woman run off the road and then beaten to death by her partner. She said Tara’s story and the two others this week alone remind us that we must be relentless in the fight against the causes of violence against women and their children.
“All violence against women is preventable,” Stott Despoja reminded us.
“Engaging with the media is such an important way to drive this chance. Tonight, we herald a new era in reporting on violence against women.”
The audience then heard from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator Michaelia Cash, who said that, thanks to exemplary reporting, we have truly turned a corner in Australia when it comes to awareness of male violence against women.
“As journalists you have a unique power to change the minds of the Australian people. Your words and your thoughts are now in the homes of every Australian. And they are listening,” she said.
Senator Cash also spoke about the need to change the way we think about male violence against women, and to stop blaming the victim and abdicating the perpetrator, as one headline did yesterday morning by proclaiming that Tara Brown was killed by “road rage”.
“Murder is murder. Assault is assault. And that is exactly how each one of these crimes should be treated,” she said.
But the most important was the message from Ann O’Neil, a survivor’s advocate for victims of domestic violence.
O’Neill told her own tragic story with courage, generosity and strength, and it touched every person in the room. She said that while the injustice of domestic violence is unbearable, accurate and sensitive reporting can help to alleviate some of that injustice.
“As journalists, every time you tell our stories honestly, sensitively, and accurately, you heal our wounds a little bit more, she said.
The awards themselves kicked off with the category of Best Use of Social Media, won by Jenna Price, Pat Bradley, Wendy Frere, Jill Tomlinson, Naomi Worrall and the Destroy the Joint team for their social media movement and the Counting Dead Women campaign. The award was accepted by journalist and academic Jenna Price.
The Best News Coverage Award was then awarded to Jayne Margetts and the ABC News team for their coverage “Domestic violence education”.
The Monthly, Background Briefing and ABC Radio National’s Jess Hill won not one, but three awards, the first of which was in the category of “Best Series or Special”.
Hill then won a second award in the category “Best Longform”, for her piece in The Monthly titled “Home truths: The costs and causes of domestic violence”.
Finally, Hill won the Our Watch Gold Award, chosen from all of the winners, for her collective reporting on domestic violence.
“I clearly remember the day I decided to dedicate a year of my life to this work,” Hill told the audience.
“I came home from visiting a women’s refuge, thinking about a woman I had met there. I was hanging my washing on my clothes line, and it struck me that I felt safe. And the injustice of the fact that so many women do not feel safe in their own homes hit me in that moment.”
“Reporting on domestic violence is not easy. I know everyone in this room would have spent nights thinking about the women they’ve met, the women they’ve interviewed. It’s hard. But we have to keep it up.”
The award of Best Local/Community Journalism went to The Citizen’s Simon Mann, Bec Zajac and Ania Dutka and the award of Best Journalism Campaign went to the Fairfax Media Team for their series “Shine a Light”.
Lisa Wilkinson ended the night by reminding us that 62 women have died already this year as a result of violence. That’s not one, but two, women every week.
It is 62 deaths too many. Each one of them was preventable.
Of course everyone in the room last night wished we didn’t need an awards night dedicated to ending violence against women. We wished we didn’t know Tara Brown’s name and her tragic story, or any of the stories of the women who have senselessly lost their lives to violence.
But one thing that was unmistakable last night is that the tide is turning.
As a society we are finally coming to understand that we cannot hope to create a world that is equal for our daughters unless we can create one that is capable of keeping them safe. And last night, I felt more hopeful for that world than ever.