A campaign entitled “This is Not a ‘Wife Beater’” (NAWB) was launched on the night of Tuesday 11th August at the ACT Legislative Assembly, with a key organisational role played by ANU alumna Alisa Draskovic. The campaign aims to challenge everyday behaviours and beliefs that condone intimate partner and family violence.
The campaign, which re-labels singlets usually referred to as “wife beaters” to “respecters”, aims to encourage a more productive discourse on domestic violence by subverting the meanings embedded in such a commonly-recognised clothing name. Photos of Canberra personalities and businesspeople wearing “respecter” singlets were exhibited.
Opening speeches were presented by Genevieve Jacobs from 666 ABC Canberra, who said that “change begins with all of us”, and introduced Aboriginal elder Aunty Janet Phillips to give an official welcome to country and moving personal account of her own experiences with partner violence. Andrew Leigh MP followed, stating: “No one should have to go through fear and suffering in their own home.” ACT Women’s Minister Yvette Berry and prominent CEO Kylie Travers spoke, relating personal experiences of domestic violence and sexual assault, and called for attitudinal change regarding the tolerance of partner violence.
Draskovic, who also spoke, told Woroni that she chose the symbol of the “wife beater” because of its common usage in everyday parlance.
“I see it as a conversation starter. It’s an accessible way to talk about domestic violence, and it’s supposed to open up people’s thinking in relation to this issue,” she said.
“The ‘wife beater’ is just one element, and it opens up a bigger conversation about how we talk about intimate partner and family violence, what kind of attitudes and myths that we hold on to.”
She acknowledged that the event was just the “beginning” in terms of a Canberra-wide launch, as the initial NAWB event was held on campus while she served as Deputy Women’s Officer for the ANU Women’s Department in 2013.
A former Arts/Law student experienced in both extensive community work and as a delegate for Australia to the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN in New York, Draskovic wanted to launch NAWB on a “bigger scale”.
She acknowledged that her commitments to grassroots work and high-level policy making were almost like “two separate worlds” and wanted to utilise her “commitment to grassroots advocacy and [her] community, and [her] passion for addressing domestic violence in the community”.
“For me it’s a long-term commitment. This year is to give people a taste and to raise awareness of the campaign, and to continue to talk about the relationship between language and the existence of violence in the community… I hope every year we do bring people together and continue talking about [the issue],” she said.
When asked about bridging the gap between words and action on domestic violence, Draskovic said that conversations “don’t take place in a vacuum. We can’t jokingly refer to violence against women and at the same time believe it’s not okay”.
She said that “One in three women since the age of 15 has experienced assault, and one in six will experience physical or sexual assault from a current or former partner. This is incredibly serious and we can’t draw a clear line between what we say and what we do. There is a relationship.”
Ultimately, Draskovic was pleased with the event and grateful to take part. “I’m incredibly grateful to the Canberra community for supporting this. I didn’t do this by myself; by no means… it really is a whole community effort.”