One of our blog readers in Australia, Roz, drew our attention to this and this. At the recent Summernats car festival in Canberra, a drunken mob of between 100 and 200 men roamed around yelling “rubber or tits” and generally harrassing women to show their breasts. (There’s a picture link on the second web-page where you can see pictures, including a young guy and his frightened girlfriend surrounded by men heckling him when he tried to defend her).This whole thing is, I think, obviously pretty distasteful – a family event with pre-printed “get your tits out” banners. But in some ways, the stunted neanderthal sexuality that surrounds this kind of car rally, with its accompanying machismo and its love of large breasted “spokesmodels” is, sadly, mundane. Worrying, however is the fact that the mob harrasment of women – whether they tried to laugh it off or not – drew no response from the police. Absolutley zip. The ACT Police Minister, Simon Corbell, suggested that organisers declined police help. Nonetheless, police were on hand to issue 500 or so traffic tickets. This must have been a daunting and even terrifying experience, and the lack of police response is pretty poor. The organisers, of course, saw no real issue describing the mob as “a happy crowd” and seemed content that no police action was required since there had been “no official reports of damage” (clearly missing what seems to be the main worry – the harrassment and abuse). More worrying from my point of view though is that the Police Minister seems impervious to the thought that the police should have done anything, or could do anything in the future – from his point of view, the sexual harrasment simply “highlights the need for Summernats organisers to continue to improve the environment at Summernats so it is a tolerant and respectful environment.” That’s right, its down to the organisers.So why do I think the police should have done something to protect women from this? Well, Australia certainly has an image as a “macho society”, and some statistics bear out the thought that being a women there is not an altogther easy experience. For instance, a recent study at Griffiths University suggests that as many as 45% of women between the ages of 18 and 41 were the victims of child sex abuse (see here for a news report). Of course, child sex abuse isn’t precisely the same as abuse of women, but as the authors of the report point out, the trauma follows these children into woman-hood and victims suffer divorce and domestic abuse at twice the rate of the general population.Similarly, according to a 2002 International Violence Against Women Study, 1 in 3 Australian women have been subjected to sexual or physical violence from a partner, and 1 in 5 have experienced some form of sexual violence. A 2003 study from the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commision found that 28% of women had been sexually harrassed in the work place. And speaking of the work place, women in full time employment earn 16% less than male counterparts, and in part time work, 34% less. There is no legislated paid maternity leave system, and only a third of pregnant women manage to take some form of paid maternity leave. I could go on, but you see the point.This alone makes the police inaction at the Summernats rally all the more pressing. However, what’s worse is that the Australian police and legal system have recently come in for some criticism at their often baffling attitude to abuse against women, and if anything, they ought be trying to counteract that. For example, recently, between eight and twelve youths sexually assaulted, taunted, and abused an autistic girl, raping her, spitting and urinating on her and setting light to her hair whilst recording it for a DVD which they later sold around their schools in Melbourne for $5 a pop. Eight were tried, seven were convicted, non were given custodial sentences. It was generally felt that this might have been light and more than a little dismissive of the victim’s experiences. (see here). Similarly, (and as reported on this blog) a judge in Northern Queensland described the gang rape of a nine year old as “naughty” and suggested the girl may well have consented (see here ). Again, I could go on. The point is merely that the law seems to be failing to protect women and girls.Don’t get me wrong, sexism, abuse, and legal systems which are indifferent to victimised women are not peculiarly Australian. Neither is the kind of thing experienced at Summernats, but, given some context, maybe it seems obvious that police action was all the more pressing, and simply shrugging shoulders at “high spirited” bawdy rev-heads is the kind of thing which, perhaps unwittingly, sanctions a lot of sexism.
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