I was delighted to provide the following statement at the launch of Telstra’s ‘Safe Connections Program’, a fruitful partnership between Telstra and WESNET.

In my view, men’s violence against women is Australia’s most significant gender equality issue. It is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. Yet both the violence, and the women who experience it, are often invisible. This is particularly the case for women who experience domestic and family violence.

Men’s violence against women is not a private or family matter. It is a national emergency. Violence against women is occurring on epidemic proportions.

For example;

  • There are now more women living in an intimate relationship characterised by violence than malnourished people in the world – 980 million (almost 1 billion women) according to the World Bank;
  • In Australia around 1.2 million women today are either living in an intimate relationship characterised by violence or have recently done so; and
  • More than one woman is murdered every week in Australia by a current or former partner.

Recently, David Thodey and I co-hosted a Male Champions of Change meeting, focusing on violence against women as a societal and workplace issue.

Kristy McKellar, a courageous survivor of domestic violence, spoke to the men about her experience of living with domestic violence.

She lived every day in fear. For nearly four years, this fear meant that she was unable to tell anyone, including her close family, friends and work colleagues, what was happening to her. She worked hard to hide her situation. She did everything she could do avoid the anger of an increasingly volatile and violent partner, in a situation that she was unable to control.

One day, she found herself in a Telstra store, replacing her phone for the fourth time in just several months. You see, when Kristy’s partner became agitated or abusive, he would often put her phone on silent and hide or break her phone.

As a helpful Telstra staff member worked to replace her phone, he demonstrated real curiosity. ‘What’s going on with all the broken phones?’ he asked. That was the first time that anyone had ever questioned her situation, bringing attention to the fact that what was happening to her was not norm, even though he didn’t understand what was actually going on. The Telstra staff member cared about what was happening to her phones and about her as a customer, even if he could have no insight into what she was so skilled at hiding.

She was not ready to disclose her lived reality at that time. For Kristy, it wasn’t the right time or place to do so. However, the simple question and the care with which it was asked helped throw a mirror to her situation, giving her a moment to see that there might be other possibilities than the life she was living.

Kristy’s experience speaks to the way in which organisations can, and do, interact with victims of domestic violence; how they can have a profound impact on their experience. Companies like Telstra can make a huge difference.

When I speak to survivors of domestic and family violence, I hear about how critical it is for them to have access to a phone. It is their avenue for calling for help and support, for accessing pathways for leaving violent relationships and for maintaining some control over their relationships and lives. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that for some women living with intimate partner violence, having a secure phone can be the difference between life and death.

I also hear about how perpetrators are increasingly using technologies, including phones, to extend their control over women. Men are using technology on phones and other devices to track women’s location and monitor their calls, texts, emails and postings on social media.

I applaud Telstra and WESNET for this wonderful initiative. I have no doubt that this program will make a tangible difference to the lives of thousands of women living in a relationship characterised by intimate partner violence.

Watch: learn more about Telstra Safe Connections