Is Australia’s drinking problem our equivalent of America’s gun culture – an untouchable problem that puts an individual’s rights before the civil rights of the most vulnerable?
Few who saw the grainy mobile-phone footage of a Fremantle fan shoving a woman in the neck during Saturday’s AFL final in Perth would have been left unmoved.
And while I was heartened by the crowd quickly coming to her defence, it was the comments made by the man’s family afterwards that had me seeing red.
A family member told the media that the offender, who it’s alleged had been drinking at the time of the incident, was the “nicest guy” who only snapped because the victim – whose children witnessed the assault – “got in his face”.
A mobile phone camera caught the moment a Fremantle fan shoved a woman, and the brawl that followed. Photo: Supplied
Of course, it’s not the first time that a victim has been blamed for turning a “nice guy” into a beast. But what this latest incident, and the nonchalant manner in which such abhorrent behaviour is excused, show us is that the relationship between alcohol abuse and everyday violence is far from resolved.
The damage wreaked by the drug ice may have been well documented of late but alcohol is far more prevalent.
The organisation I work for, The Salvation Army, has long picked up the pieces after alcohol-fuelled violence, particularly among Australian families. According to its own research, 4.3 million reported that alcohol had had a negative impact on them or their family, especially on children who admitted to being “scared as a result of alcohol consumption within their family”.
And according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, between 2001 and 2010, alcohol misuse was present in more than 40 per cent of domestic violence incidents recorded by police. More worryingly, the research showed that between 2000 and 2006 alcohol contributed to “44 per cent of intimate-partner homicides”.
These are sobering statistics by any standards. No, you don’t need to be a teetotaller – and, for the record, I’m not – to see the huge negative impact alcohol abuse or misuse is having on Australian families and the community, and why we need to stop using alcohol as an excuse for domestic violence.
Ask anyone who’s had to wipe off the angry spit of someone who’s had one too many and they will tell you there’s no feeling of helplessness quite like it (dealing with someone in the grip of ice addiction being, perhaps, the only possible exception). The realisation dawns that you’re at the mercy of someone unhinged and utterly unpredictable.
And what of the abuser? It seems to me that their actions are too quickly absolved by some in the media (for the record, abusing a woman isn’t a “bad look”; it’s bad. Period) and pockets of society where excessive drinking is not only considered a badge of honour, but the resulting violence is seen as an albeit unsavoury, yet somehow still acceptable example of male behaviour.
It’s no real surprise. After all, drinking has long been elevated to something almost untouchable, and surely I don’t speak out of turn to liken this to America’s gun culture which also puts an individual’s rights (in this case, to have their finger on the trigger) before the civil rights of the most vulnerable.
Like a culture that claims the right to bear arms, a society that accepts drinking to excess, or makes excuses for it, ignores the irrefutable elephant in the room.
No one’s arguing that there aren’t men who turn to drink battling demons unbeknownst to the ordinary Australian. Many do so because of the cycle of poverty and abuse or because of a genetic disposition towards alcoholism.
Those suffering from alcoholism deserve understanding and support, but, equally, there are more than enough services to help an alcoholic who wants to help themselves. In fact, the Australian Drug Information Network, where you’ll find the Salvos’ drug and alcohol programs, ensures that the right service is only a Google search away.
The point is that, surely, we all want to live in a society where nice guys don’t drink to excess if they know that, in doing so, they may become violent; where they don’t stand over women.
A society where nice guys don’t go on a bender and destroy their ex-partner’s house and terrorise them and their young children.
And where they don’t blame the victim for pushing their buttons or “getting in their face”.
Silly me. And here was I thinking that we already lived in such a society where even a half-decent guy, once he sobers up, takes responsibility for his actions. However uncomfortable that may be in the cold, hard light of day.
Nice guys – let alone real men – never use alcohol as a justification for their, or someone else’s, inexcusable or bullying behaviour. And it’s time we shut down these excuses for good.
Jen Vuk is a writer, who works for The Salvation Army.