Jess Hill on power, control and domestic abuse


ANDREW LEIGH, HOST: Jess Hill is an investigative journalist. During her career, she has worked for the ABC's background briefing programme as Middle East correspondent for the Global Mail. In 2015, she was commissioned to write a piece about domestic violence for the monthly and found herself hooked by the topic. Four years later, she published See What You Made Me Do. Power Control and Domestic Abuse. Jess is the recipient of two Walkley awards on the stellar prize. She currently works is the inaugural journalist in residence at the University of Technology, Sydney. Jess, welcome to the Good Life podcast.


LEIGH: Tell us about your path to journalism. Did you enjoy writing as a child? Did you always want to be a journalist?

HILL: I think I wanted to be a writer from an early age, definitely. But it was a very securities path. I I actually wanted to start a magazine from the time that I was about 15, that would be an intelligent alternative to women's magazines, and I was very serious about it. I went to other schools to recruit young writers, and and I had absolutely no funds whatsoever to do this.

So when I left school, I just wasn't that fussed about going to uni because I was determined to start this magazine and I ended up getting a publishing partner and we were kind of all on the way to doing that. And then a very long and detailed storey sort of ensued, but shorthand. So the tragedy struck, and that didn't happen unfortunately. So then I went into advertising for a couple of years and found that was like, not really my bag to put it lightly.

LEIGH: Was that just to pay the bills? So was there a period We actually thought you might make it in an advertiser?

HILL: Oh, you know what it's like when you're 19 and you just like, where am I going to make it? You know what? Can I make it so that I can live outside of my family home s? Oh, yes. It was really just to pay the bills that initially I was just yet poor. And then it was Then it was like, Well, maybe I was doing stuff UNICEF And, you know, I thought maybe I could do something in this. I went for a couple of copywriter jobs, but my heart was never in it. I don't even watch commercial tv. So, you know, just they could see me coming a mile away. So Yes, I left there, But it was a great experience. To understand what life looks like and what the world looks like through that lens. And it's certainly been really important for me as journalist to have that understanding.

And then I became a travel writer. That was just I was basically unemployed after leaving advertising. So I was just hitting Refresh on seek, like every two minutes and a job came up to write travel advertorial. For people who don't know what that is, it's sort of like a combination of advertising an editorial. So it was just basically promotions for, you know, tourism. And apparently I was the first one to apply for the job, and that's a big part of the reason why I got it. I just wasn't really qualified. Otherwise, then that morphed into travel writing, and I actually ridiculously, at 23 24 was travelling to Paris to review their hotels.

I was it was it was actually ridiculous, the kind of perks that I was getting as a young woman. Then I was on the way back from this's disgusting. By the way, I was on the way back from Club Med in Mauritius, flying first class, having just sort of been sent there to write about Club Med. It's nice. I would really like to have just sat by the pool and had cocktails. But the first sign I saw when I got to Mauritius was a sign about AIDS. And, you know, this is an island that has the highest density of five star resorts in the world, you know, And there's there's no lot else going on now economically, apart from telecommunications.

And so it was really just struck me immediately. I can't just be here and write about club med, so I started, like taking the bus to the local shelter on. Then, you know, I was looking at what happened. Historically, here I was talking to the Club Med staff about that, and I thought, I'm actually not cut out, Just like to be a travel writer. Some people are obviously was not my path.

So when I was on this first class flight back from Mauritius, I thought, How am I going to get into journalism. I need a way in because I don't have a uni degree. I haven't been a cadet. So now I'm like a senior. I'm practically geriatric in terms of starting out in journalism, like 25 by the stage. And so I thought, Well, there's an election coming up to This was 2007, this election coming up in the States. Maybe I could just get a blog, gets someone to pay me some pitons and then just claim it on a tax deduction. That way off my might be out to cover my expenses and that and then I'll have created a portfolio so new. Mathilde agreed to pay me, I think 200 bucks a blogger. I went with my partner. We travelled across the States for the the what ended up in the Obama election.

Then I think I got back from that still unemployed in much greater debt because the tax deduction did not quite work how I planned. And then I found a friend said, Oh, there's a transcription job going at 80 baby, see radio current affairs, and I'm like I'm in. Please, please just find me away and I type super fast and I will get up at any hour to do this. And so I started doing transcribing for am actually getting up at 4 30 in the morning and then just had sickening initiative where I was just wanted to be a researcher on those programmes so badly that I worked my guts out to prove that I could be.

And within a few months I did get hired as a researcher, and then it kind of went from there you are painting a picture of journalism that seems a bit like acting, you know, while these professions where there's just so many talented people throwing themselves at it.

LEIGH: What sort of advice out of your own experience, do you now give to journalism students at UTS who are looking to break into a very competitive industry?

HILL: Yeah, it's funny because I actually was an actor before that and gave up on that too, given that it was just too disappointing getting Audition after audition. So generally, when I'm speaking to young, aspiring journalists, I say like we're actually yes, we are living in a time when journalism jobs are dwindling, but as opposed to the time we were living in prior, which apparently was the Golden Age, you actually do now have access to creating your own work and publishing your own work, even if that's just on medium or on any other site that you don't need to get published by the Guardian to build a portfolio.

And so my advice is just to start writing, start producing, create your own podcast if you want. Because if you want to have the upper hand on other aspiring journalists, you know, really what people are looking for when they're employing you is like, How eager are you? And what would your work look like? And you're not going toe hand in uni assessments? Teo the ABC. When you go for a job there, you know they don't really care whether you graduated with distinction. What they want to know is, what are you going to do in a newsroom? How hungry are you? How much initiative can you show?

And so that's That's what I say. And yet it is really, really tricky Andrew, even and much trickier than when I started. I got probably one of the last permanent jobs at the ABC and then bloody quit that to go to the Middle East. So I'm obviously bananas. But yes, that's how that's what I say young people.

LEIGH: Do you like writing? How do you find it?

HILL: It's painful at times. I just need to write, but I don't like it. I feel tortured by it. I am not one of those writers that springs to the computer and rub my hands together to go old Perfect day. I you know, I feel a great sense of responsibility, Tio do it right and to help people, to understand things that are that are difficult to understand, where there's a lot of technical jargon or barriers to people really getting a clear, visceral sense of what goes on in certain industries or certain areas of life.

So I think the pressure I put on myself is part of the reason why I don't like riding because my internal critic is quite enlarged and they are talking to me a lot when I'm at the keyboard, so So yeah, I think to be honest, I've actually I have liked writing better since I had a kid and I think that's because I don't get in my own way as much because I just don't have much time. And I think there's a certain amount of confidence that's come now. Finally, from what I'm 37 now. So I've been doing this for over 10 years, and I feel like finally I kind of feel like I know what I'm doing sometimes.

LEIGH: Yeah, I mean, I find that challenge with writing is that your standards go up as your abilities go up. So I would find it very easy now to write as badly as I did 20 years ago. But now look at my sentences with a more critical eye. I'm or aware of the cliches that are sort of like the proverbial fart in the middle of the area. Just that the challenge of the really saying something in as pithy away as possible means that the job of writing doesn't get easier in the way that I had once hoped it might.

HILL: I heard Susan Orlean say the same thing. You know, she said that like every book that she writes, she goes into the same pit of despair about 30% in. Here's someone who's obviously an acclaimed writer. Has been Mohr, renowned recently for her drunken tweeting but an acclaimed writer, and she you know, the fact that she still feels that existential crisis. I actually think that probably, and I don't mean to, I don't mean to say that writers who don't have this are not good writers, but personally for me. I feel like unless I have that existential crisis where I dig deeper than I knew was even possible. My writing only ever kind of reaches the level of, like, acceptable and functional, whereas it's that extra level you go to because you're so down on yourself that you reach into. And that's for me where some of the most magical writing has happened. But it's, I think you differently. Most writers I talked to pay a price for their writing.

LEIGH: Yes, I've always envied the people like Ernest Hemingway and Christopher Hitchens, who had that ability. too, right, well, while completely drunk on yet turn out wonderful sentences, you know, I feel writing requires absolutely all of my energy at the best time of day In order to craft something that'll be worth anyone else reading.

HILL:B ut Ernest, anyway, did do many, many drafts. So don't be fooled by his swagger, because I think and let's face it, he did end up going pretty into some pretty strange spaces with conspiracy theories. So but I've got to say he would draft and draft and draft and draught. And look, maybe the drinking helped. I don't know. I haven't tried that yet.

LEIGH: Yes, there's a lovely John Kenneth Galbraith line that it is on the 30th draft that finally I introduced the note of a spontaneity for which I'm so well known. So you your best known now for this extraordinary book, which really is the seminal piece of writing on family violence in Australia on a kind of broad scale spanning the storeys. The policy, the intertwining links with family law on dure path into writing about family violence is an unusual one. It seems to link back to the extraordinary thick brother's neck, getting you to write for the monthly and then Chris getting you to turn that into a book. Is is that fair, or was there some sort of seeds of an interest in in family violence that came out of your time in the Middle East, which tells us has one of the highest family violence rates in the world.

HILL: Yeah, Look, you know, I think were I to have bean in the Middle East after me to that that may have been Mohr a part of my experience, but because I was in the Middle East directly during and after the Arab uprisings, that was that was sort of much more. The frame so sort of this attempts at reforming democracy rather than I mean certainly looked at that other elements there. But that's sort of MME. Or social and familial element wasn't as stark to me.

I think that so, yes, it was definitely Nick Fight was the first person to ask me to write about thiss after the Victorian government called for the Royal Commission into family violence on Dove course after the year of the first year of incredible advocacy that Rosie Batty did building on those decades of advocacy that had been before I when I when I first received that commission, mean Firstly, when you get a commission from the editor of the monthly most of time you say? Yes, even if you're not quite sure how you're going to do it.

I think that's how I felt was Wow, This is a massive topic. I felt I had absolutely no grasp on it whatsoever, but was very determined that I would develop that grasp and do it as well as I possibly could. And I guess that, you know, to begin with, I didn't even know how I would write. I didn't know how that would be enough in this topic to fill 4.5 1000 words, which is hilarious given that I submitted a book that was 150,000 words long and even that had been chopped back. So eso at that stage it was about six or seven weeks at the end of 20 Fortin beginning 2015 that I spent researching this and speaking to us, many people, frontline workers as I could.

And honestly, what they revealed to me was that he was something that was at the heart of our society, off the decay and corrosion in our society that was affecting every part ofthe social life that I had no understanding off, and I did not even know how to ask the right questions. And the questions I did not even know how to ask in the beginning were like, Why does he do it like, you know? And it took three weeks for that question to even occur to me when I said when I realised through their help that this is not just a knish, you of name calling, physical assault, etcetera.

But it's an issue of partner control. I think that's where I became obsessed by it, because I started to see that while the power and control that is being that people are being subjected to in these intimate relationships, there's a mirroring of that in the systems that then go to for protection. We're talking about partner control, generally in our society, when we talk about domestic abuse and is that started to become clear to me like, Oh, this is gigantic. Thiss is so massive and it has so many facets.

Andi was working at the ABC was a contractor at the time and working for background briefing and every time they want you to work on different storeys, right, So at first I was like OK, I just want to do one more. I want to do something about perpetrators off the back of the monthly piece. And then I was like, Oh, I've got this phone call. I want to do something about family law And it was clear to me by the end of that it's like I'm not going to drop this like this has now got May and but even still at the end of that year on, after six months of working on the family law space, which is just such a secret underground of scandal, to be honest, there has shocked me to the core.

I felt exhausted. I felt like my marriage was hanging on by a thread to be quiet list because of how I had just gone into total tunnel vision about this issue. I had felt an enormous responsibility. Teo be the person who told this storey right so that we could protect like these particular Children who were in these horribly dangerous situations. It got very personal. Andi got to the end of that year, thinking I actually need to go and work and walk in the wilderness somewhere in Tasmania will do, and I'll just walk for three weeks. Just get this out of my system, and I don't know if I can come back to it.

Then Black Inc came to me. I think they have a different history of this. In my mind. They had approached me. That wasn't Chris. That approach was actually Aviva Tough field, who was who was a publisher there. And she had said, like You could really convert this into a book on died sort of resisted, and then I thought, a man, someone's got to do this. And when you say that my book is a seminal book, I really appreciate that. I wanted to write a seminal text, but I have to say it's particularly easy when there have been almost no other books written about this subject in Australia, aside from books that dealt with it that have come out in the last few years, but not for a a general audience, not for something that was really marketed to that general audience.

So I just felt like when is the next time that a publisher is going to ask a journalist to write about this as a phenomenon for the general public to understand Andi. I felt a huge responsibility to say yes, even though many parts of my body was saying No eso eso That's how that's how I ended up saying yes.

And I said yes to six months. And I actually sat with a fever, a coffee, and said, I'm not one of these self indulgent authors who needs used to ride a bull coming journalist Anistan deadlines. So yeah, that didn't happen. And the deadline just kept on moving out and out and out, as I was like No, no, no. I need another six months because I've really got to get across this And that ended up being 3.5 years, which I did not budget for and was very taxing. But But, yeah, that it was necessary because not only my own understanding matured so much in that time, I matured and the world matured because in 2015 there was no me to, you know, I think from memory, back lives. Matter was either just starting.

But certainly in the years since then, the world has changed, and I went from a position where I didn't even know if I could use the word patriarchy in a book without coming across a some sort of, you know, radical man hater to it. Being absolutely critical to the work. Teo do a chapter on patriarchy. And that changed because of the me to movement. And that changed because the world was ready for this change and was ready to start making invisible systems visible.

LEIGH: So you talk about you've got a couple of core concept in the book. One is that you talk about domestic abuse rather than family violence or the more extreme term domestic terrorism. What made you choose the term domestic abuse?

HILL: Yeah, well, it's really was really spurred on by the work of Yasmin Khan in Queensland, who wrote an article for Women's Agenda. She's She voluntarily works with women from the subcontinent, primarily who are victims of domestic abuse. And she wrote this really compelling piece in women's agenda, saying that, like so many of the women who come to her will detail the worst storeys of control and surveillance and a soul not assault, abuse. But they say that it's not domestic violence because he never hit me and and so she really wanted to change the term because at the moment, which said domestic violence, no matter how we've tried to redefine that term and expanded out to include psychological, emotional, spiritual, etcetera.

People still hear violence and they and we just have not been able to shift that paradigm in people's heads and violence is the sticking point. And if we're going to look at this as an entire system, that is not just about assault, even though that is a very important part where that happens but is about what happens inside the relationship and outside the relationship through the system's abuse that can follow.

We need to talk about abuse, and I was nervous about changing. It was very close to publication. We had to redesign the cover. We had tto replace all of the instances in the book, but I did it because it's I wanted a catchall term that would include all victims survivors who had been through this, and I could not think of another better way too short. I think that it's interesting.

It's often the first question people ask because it's the first thing in the book is explaining why I use the term domestic abuse, and it immediately opens up a conversation about how this goes beyond one off incidents. And that's exactly what I think Yasmin Khan wanted to achieve. And that's what I wanted to achieve by changing that term.

LEIGH: You have this notion of coercive control, which you explained in some detail, and you say that it often feels like perpetrators of following a playbook. Eso common is the pattern of behaviour. How what does that playbook often look like?

HILL: So it's basically course of controller. Is is the model for understanding what these really predictable patterns look like. And what it is is that this is a system of abuse that basically just never switches off, that the good times are as much a part of the abuses. The bad times essentially toe list it you're looking at course, of control is dominating and changing the way that their victims think by isolating them, micromanaging their behaviour, intimidating and belittling them. Withholding resource is like money or transportation, abusing Children and or pence, or threatening to harm kids or pets or threatening to harm themselves if their partners to leave humiliating and degrading them, monitoring their movements, gas lighting them.

But overall, this creating thiss feeling of confusion ofthe contradiction and extreme threat. Where there's this sense of like what people who who study how coercive control is used in cults, they and and it is really quite a direct parallel. They talk about thought reform, where the person who is subjected to course of control is essentially being re socialist into a new kind of logic, whereby what they're experiencing, they can't even often articulate it.

And the majority of victims won't even know that they're being abused until something sort of breaks through. It might be a physical assault. It might be a friend saying something. It might be a stranger or a hospital worker or a hairdresser saying something like, Are you safe at home? It could be just something that breaks the spell and they suddenly go Hang on. There's something not right here Now, inside that feeling of not knowing their abuse victims will operate like anyone will in a relationship. There'll be angry. The fact that they feel like their partner is being manipulative, or they'll feel like we've really gotta fix these problems. Maybe there's something that I'm doing, or maybe I could fix you, you know, And perpetrators will often present themselves, will feel some of them feel genuinely that their partner is the only one who can help them on their really present. That is like, you need to help me stop doing this.

And so victims will take it on themselves to fix this person. And so all of their attention will be really directed towards what they can do to change themselves or to change their partners. And they cannot often see what is being done to them on DSO. When you describe coercive control and tell victims survivors what it looks like, what it feels like, it's like this light bulb moment for them because they're like, I didn't know there was even a term for what I was going through And the fact that is thiss predictable plot line. It's like a way for them, just a slot.

LEIGH: What was otherwise and big or confusing behaviour into these clear techniques and behaviours? Yes, and that the notion of quite one psychologist talking about dependency, debility and dread that that way in which the threat of violence can be so so effective in coercing someone, even if actual violence is relatively rare. Reminds me of once were warriors where there are a couple of scenes of violence in the movie. But otherwise all you get is thie sound of the wind suggesting that there might be violence and you're sort of by the end of the movie, the sound of the wind is enough. Tio, send a shiver down your spine.

HILL: Well, that's right, you know, and this is That's the same. It's really great way of describing how victims survivors feel, and 118 year old boy who I call Finley in the book. He said that he used to be able to read his father's face like an algorithm. You know, here's a gamer and he would be out to sea in his father's face, slight twitches that would indicate what he was likely to do to his mother that night. You know, others will talk about it. I can hear in the quality of his his footstep, what kind of mood he's in. They become so hyper aware, too, that you know, as I said in the introduction for the book, you know, it's almost like animals sensing on oncoming storm there. So in tune with that person's behaviours and that person's moods, it's like at one almost umbilical Connection.

I think that it's really important, Teo point out that in some course of control relationships that violence is extreme and it's sadistic and it's on. It's, you know, it can be sometimes almost non stop was daily. But in others it basically runs the whole spectrum from very extreme violence to none at all neither. That is all part ofthe the coercive control. It's not that, you know, the non physical stuff is the course of control, and the physical stuff is assault. It's all part of that system of coercion and control.

LEIGH: So let's talk about patriarchy. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull used to give speeches on family violence in which he picked up on argument made by some prominent feminists that while patriarchy doesn't always lead to violence, all violence starts with disrespect of women. But you don't think that's a complete explanation. Eso why?

HILL: yes, I think that I mean, he's not wrong to say that, But what I think is really important to understand is that actually, if we're going to dig deeper. I think violence really starts with men disrespecting other men and boys, disrespecting other boys on By that, I mean not even consciously necessarily, although that obviously happens. But we're talking about we're talking about patriarchy would talk about socialisation talking about the culture that one grows up in and boys learn from a very early age, pretty much just as language is starting to come in two or three. What the rules of patriarchy are, and they are taught to them by other boys, sometimes by other girls, sometimes by their parents, sometimes by storeys. They see on television that basically the boy's job is to be strong, to be in control, to never be a girl.

This contempt for girls is really putting very early in boys for girlie behaviour and what is really amazing when you start to understand how patriarchy works and how these messages air conveyed is that basically, the way that young boys learn that they must not show vulnerability or to show Vaughn abilities is to be in a dangerous state is not necessarily just through bullying or violence. It's often through thie care off a parent or another kid basically sending the message. Don't do what you're about to do because that will put you in danger.

So an example of that is, is the family therapist Terry Real. I quote this in the book that his son Alexander, both his sons, have been raised in a very gentle, literate household. Terry Real talks about patriarchy has done for 20 years. Plus, his son would love to dress up as the good witch tiaras he had fairy outfits is about three years old. One day he came to the top of the stairs, fully decked out in his tiara and fairy outfit. I think he was dressed as the good witch. And he was like, ready to sashay down the stairs and be a total hit. That's what he had in his mind, and his brother, his older brother and his brother's friends were down the bottom, and they shot this look upto Alexander, which basically was the transmission of shame and the look. Wass, you can't do this like your boy. You can't do this. And as Terry says, you know, his older son was raised, not Teo bully his younger brother or be mean to him. There was nothing mean in it. It was a message of protection. You need to learn that you can no longer do this if you want to be a real boy. And Alexander turned on his heel, run back to his room, took off the outfit, never war any of his dress up outfits again and then ran downstairs tto make swords and shields with his older brother.

These are what Terry Real talks about as the normal traumatising moments for boys. Now, the moments in which they are really learning that they must carve off that part of themselves that feels so natural and exile it and the part of them that feels so normal and natural, is the part that we ascribe to femininity. And that is vulnerability, compassion, empathy, doubt a ll These things that we described to us feminine values where teach boys even subconsciously, to reject.

So what are we teaching them? We're teaching them to basically reject Women were teaching them to reject what what we believe and set up women. A cz being defined by. And so we're breeding so early this kind of contempt that boys have to sort of resist thiss, this's a socialisation process.

I'm not saying all men have contempt for women, but you need to resist this socialisation process. Teo, stop having contempt for girly but girlish behaviours or girlish traits What you find too often is that there isn't that resistance there, and that there's this sense that as they grow older and they get in intimate relationships, I'm skipping a lot of steps here. But essentially they get into these intimate relationships and you can have these boys who have bean basically trained how not to be intimate, Tio not be vulnerable to always be strong and in control of rest of It is basically a textbook on how not to be in an intimate relationship s so we are raising our boys in a way that basically prevents them from being good, intimate partners on the ones who succeeded, the ones who resist that socialisation On dso you have men who who go into these relationships and there suddenly feeling a ll these things they shouldn't feel feeling powerless feeling helpless feeling like Oh my God, I can't I can't imagine if this person were to leave me. What would I be what is she cheated on me. What is? She disrespected me with another man. And this overwhelming sense of vulnerability is exactly what they've been told never to feel.

So in these sort of relationships that can end up being abusive or just cold. But especially the man becomes abusive. There's like a resentment towards the woman for making them feel I can't dare you make me feel. My whole life has been about not feeling, you know, on about being control. And now you're threatening that. So there's this resentment that starts to build up. And so you know, this's a ll. Why? I really believe in my heart that making patriarchy, which is an invisible system, something referred to as the ghost in the machine visible so that we can intercept this when we see it happening so that we can raise our kids to be gender literate.

And Terry really says, you know, it's not about saying to Your boys Oh, don't worry. You can dress up as a fairy and go to school. You should be able to do whatever you want. Don't listen to them, you know. You gotta raise them to realise that. Okay? You want to dress up as a fairy and go to school. Let's talk about the risks of that. You want them to be gender literate, not gender neutral, because they're not living in a world that's gender neutral. They're living in patriarchy, so prepare them for that being ally and a safe place for them in that, but also helped them develop the resilience to resist that socialisation and to understand what what they're being subjected to in all of that messaging  that there is actually another way to live.

LEIGH: Yeah, I was thinking about your theory of shame when I was reading Douglas Stewart's book Sugi Bane, that won the Booker last year. On that when there's so much family violence, domestic abuse in that in that book A ll set in the backdrop of pit closures in Scotland and the brutality of low way low wage work s O that understanding the social context in which in which violence emerges I think is critical. you're you're a bit sceptical about education programmes is the primary solution to domestic abuse. Why is that?

HILL: Yeah, I'm not so much so what, yes, The key word. And that is the primary response. I think that education programmes are absolutely vital. Andi, I think the gender equality approach is like no one is going to oppose a gender equality approach. And and looking at that as as a way, if we're looking at greater economic independence for women a ll, these things are absolutely vital to combating domestic abuse. However, I think that we've we've put a lot of eggs into this sort of primary prevention basket. I think in the meantime, in the past 10 years we haven't done enough to really look at how do we intervene with people who were using violence.

Now, how do we how do we achieve gratis safety for victims were experiencing violence? Now s o. I think that the prevention part is very important. I think that when we look at prevention, we need to really grapple with why it is if we're talking about men's violence against women and kids. Obviously there are all sorts of different people who are engaging in this, But that's the predominant and most dangerous form at the moment that, you know, we need to be looking at that when we talk about gender equality and we're moving towards gender equality that you're also going to get. This is just has happened since feminism became a concept.

You're going to get backlash and you're going to get resistance. And you're going to get backlash from the culture doubling down some men doubling down on their rights to control women. So you see, like, pick up culture. You see, you know, I haven't seen evidence of men who are selling programmes, training other men, how to conduct thought reform on their girlfriends, to control them and isolate them s So you have all this stuff going on. At the same time, I think that our approach to gender equality probably hasn't taken in enough of an idea of how the week also combat backlash.

How do we actually include men in this rather than what a lot of men talk to me about who really decent guys on, not perpetrators, who say they feel excluded from this conversation. They feel like the bad guy. No matter what they say. They feel like they have no way to talk about this. Andi, I think that we just haven't been explicit enough about that.

There's also the fact of the Nordic paradox, and I think this talks to that backlash point is that here you have in the countries that have the highest ratings for gender equality, you also have incredibly high rates of intimate partner violence, incredibly high rates of sexual violence. Eso gender equality in and of itself is not a panacea to domestic violence. If we get greater gender equality, if we go up the Gender Equality index to be number one, we still won't have prevented domestic and family violence and people who are sort of really opting for that gender equality approach.

They talk in language like it will take generations to change. Thiss I just look in the end, maybe history will bear it out that they were right and I was wrong on. It's not that they are not working at the coal face every day to try to change things day by day. I do not want Teo situate an US and them sort of situation. But I do want to take issue with the idea that this will take generations to change and that we should be okay with that because I think if you see the work ofthe people like Toronto Burke in the States Who's behind Me? To Stacey Abrams, who just flipped Georgia. Now I can imagine there were people who thought that would take generations, too. But she has, she said so brilliantly in her work was driven. She was neither pessimistic nor optimistic. She was determined, and she flipped that state with an enormous network of people who worked non stop to do that.

 What I sort of feel like in Australia is that it's too easy to say that this is a slowly so oily thing that we try to sort of reform through these prevention efforts instead of going, How can we prevent the next generation of Children growing up in these households and potentially a good proportion of them repeating the same behaviours are becoming victim to them because prevention starts now unless we can intervene in the violence now, no matter. Gender equality work is going to change the education that kids get in their own family home.

And at the moment we've got estimates that suggest that possibly as many as one in four Children are growing up in an abusive household. One in four women will experience intimate partner violence. You know, after the age of 16, this's a gigantic, gigantic, you know, issue and what we have not been out of qualifiers. How many men are perpetrating it? But we can assume from those numbers that there's a least hundreds of thousands. So what are we doing with these guys? Because not just about How do we, you know, stop young boys from turning into perpetrators. It's very, very important work, but it's also about how do we stop this guy who's just victimised this person and this, these kids from moving on from that relationship and doing it again?

That's what I don't think there's been nearly enough attention to was chatting to some people in Central Australia just before coming on the line with you. And they said there are two men's behaviour change programmes in the whole of the Northern Territory. Now, the incarceration rate for aboriginal men for domestic violence and women is sky high. The incarceration rate for Aboriginal men generally is the highest in the world s. So how is it that we've only got two programmes aimed at helping these men reintegrate thes air?

The things that I really want there to be much more focus on isHow do we change our systems so that they better respond not just to protect victims, but to stop perpetrators from continuing to, you know, project whatever harm they've experienced or just harm other people?

LEIGH: Yeah, and one of things I think is really important about your book is its focus on understanding perpetrators. And you justify this by saying that it would be a strange to ignore perpetrators as it would be to try and understand cancer while not trying to understand how cancer cells work.

But I want to ask you about a particular aspect of perpetrators, which is the role of pornography. Normally, we discussed this with a bit of a snigger and a dismissive laugh, but I was really clued into the issue through an interview I did with Maree Crabb on the podcast a couple of years ago, where she talked about the shocking degree of violence in modern Internet pornography on it struck me. There's a bit of analogy with marijuana, where we often Cy today stuffs 10 times stronger than the sixties. Marijuana on the same seems to be true of porn, which is much more violent. Muchmore domineering than thie girlie mags of a generation back. What role do you think Internet via violent Internet pornography is playing in domestic abuse?

HILL: Well, look, you only have to talk Teo young women, particularly, who are going to their first dating relationships or people who are using online dating. women who like told me just again and again the sorts of expectations put on them that to my ears are totally foreign. You know, like I met my husband. I was 23. So I've been in this relationship 15 years. I dabbled in Internet dating, but I do not have any clue of what it's like out there.

Aside from what I get told, what these women say is thie expectation that they will. They'll just be happy with anal sex on the first day. You know that tells you something about how cultural expectations around sex are changing. You know, if you want to have anal sex, go ahead. Great. But expect that of women and then in many cases, if they say that they feel ashamed if they don't want Teo that I think, especially young men, not not a great deal of care going into how delicate something like that is. It's that perhaps the most hotline evidence for how porn has shifted sexual norms.

 And I think that the problem is is not that people watch videos of people having sex or whatever. It's that porn is operating now on a late stage capitalism model, which is more and more intensity to keep people hooked. And you see that anyone who's listened to Rabbit Hole, which talks about the YouTube algorithms that take people from moderate content down Teo through to these anti feminist men's sort of people spouting all sorts of horrific, misogynistic material through Teo. People like you in on a conspiracy theories.

You know there's thiss. There's the model, basically, is that you need something a bit more a bit more extreme, a bit more extreme to keep people on the hook. It's an addiction model or a compulsion model, and if you have guys who are watching pawn from the time that there's, let's say, average age 13. But in a lot of boys even younger that they first start watching it. If that starts to become their first idea of porn of sex. It's what is framing their whole fantasy life.

So I have my partner's a psychotherapist and hey sees a lot of guys who just cannot fantasise outside of a porn context. And the problem that we have is that this porn, as Maree I'm sure, was explicit about is that not all of it is terrible. Not all of it is degrading. Some of it is just exciting. But there is a lot of it that absolutely plays on. The erotic appeal of degradation on the degradation is pretty much one way, except if you consider that a man just being represented by Penis is also quite degrading for men. But in terms ofthe the choking, the gagging, all of this is not only portrayed as something betrayed regularly and violently, but it's portrayed as something that women like and that they're grateful for and that they are turned on by.

So if your whole sexual development is is informed by watching these types of videos, how would you have a clear sense off what you should do with your intimate partner when there's so little at the moment that's interrupting that in terms of programmes in schools. There are some there, some great ones, and Omary run some. There is some great ones going around, but we still, as you say, we still talk about porn with a bit of a snigger.

There's also the complex topic of how do you talk about porn without demonising sex workers? I think feminism has found it very hard. Teo find a clear line on porn because of that reason, we're just for something that is one of the most prevalent influences on most humans on the planet who have access to the Internet, almost men particularly. The fact that we are not talking about thiss all the time is I think we'll look back on and see as a relic of the past in a few years, much like we do when we look back on sexual harassment. Being sort of like laughed about sneaking about.

This's a conversation that is well overdue. It's coming and it's going to be pretty confronting when it really explodes. But this generation of boys and girls are probably going to be the ones to really start it.

LEIGH: Why is it the wrong question to ask of victims, survivors of domestic abuse, why doesn't she leave?

HILL: Well, it's really glad you asked me that, because I think that's a perfectly fine question. The wrong question really is. Why doesn't she just leave? And the wrong question is if you frame that rhetorically and expected victim blaming response already have a victim blaming response in your head, saying that like surely she could have if she really wanted to. Now, when you ask, why doesn't she leave? Well, it's a really interesting answers to that question.

And if you're really open toe understanding it, it will tell you a lot about what domestic abuse is and how it operates. How women make certain rationalisations toe live with the abuse to survive it, such that it becomes invisible to themselves. How the very system, if they are experiencing course of control, makes itself invisible. That is the nature of the system. It is supposed to be invisible. That's how it works. And that's how it is so successful in changing their behaviours. I think that when you ask, why doesn't she leave? We start also talking about what happens when she leaves well, obviously for a lot of these women.

It is tthe e high risk period and and we'll see them facing the highest risk of homicide. You see what happens when they go to the family law courts and that women who particularly women but also some men who will be advised by child protection that they must act protectively towards their Children and prevent those kids from being around the person who's using violence, go to the family court and be told exactly the opposite, which is you need to find a way to facilitate a relationship between this person and your kids and and so protective parents who think that they are going to go to the system for protection on that that system will see the harms that have been done to their kids and protect their kids are finding too often that that is not the case. And in fact, they end up being painted as the bad guy because they are being too protective and they are projecting that anxiety onto the kids and that that is the reason why the kids don't want to see the alleged abusive parent.

And I see that happened in family law cases. A ll the time I was in the family law courts earlier this week and saw the same thing playing out. It is the projection of the anxiety of the mother that has caused the Children to make allegations of sexual abuse, even though they've made those allegations to several different people have written them down explicitly. They're just doing it because they think that the mother wants. That's what she wants to hear.

It's a really, really twisted and regressive lens that the family law system has on abuse. It's essentially sees domestic violence as historical, aside from a few exceptional circumstances. Basically imp laws, particularly the mother, to get over it to be fine with her Children, spending supervised or unsupervised time with their other parents, someone who they may have spent years trying to protect their kids from someone who you know, those kids maybe terrified off and the Siri's that I'm putting two air with S. P s in May. You know there's a There's a woman talking about the fact that her kids will kick and scream and punch holes in walls, refusing to go to their ordered contact visits with their father and she has no choice but to force them to go into the car and to see someone they're terrified off because the court has ordered them to do it. And if she refuses, then she could be up on contravention orders, and she could be essentially may end up in a situation where she loses custody altogether.

So the protective thing for that mother to do is to force her Children to see someone who terrifies them, who may be abusing them. In that moment, that mother is damaging the attachment bond with her own kids because what kids need more than anything else from the person that they are primarily attached to is safety and security, and because the courts or make these orders those women cannot make you give that promise to their kids. They cannot protect them.

LEIGH: Your book is incredibly brutal. In parts you've got storeys of strangulation off the rape of Children. Some of the men in your book of vicious psychopaths on you've spoken about the strain that that placed on your own marriage, which I can certainly understand, given that I found myself being angry at men and men in general while while reading it reading your book. How How do you write a book about like this without it eating away at you? And how What would you do differently if you were starting this project again? Concerned about looking after your mental wellbeing through it?

HILL: You know, I think it's a very This book was very much a time and a place thing for May. There was something driving me that is still probably yet to be fully explained in my therapy sessions. I I don't know if I could have taken a different approach to it. If I'm writing now, I am trying to put much more effort into self care and into being in my body and not just in my head. I'm also trying Teo take less responsibility for the safety of every individual person who I speak tio my interview that the work must carry their safety in protection. I'm trying to be have less hubris essentially , but you know, part of the reason and this goes back to what we were saying at the beginning when you really want to produce something that speaks to people viscerally pushes past old barriers and paradigms.

You have to dig very deep, and that is a very uncomfortable process. And that self excavation, et cetera. It's very hard to just enjoy a normal social life and go about your business while you are confronting some of the darkest issues we have in our society but also the darkest parts of yourself. So could I write this book and different way? Maybe. And it certainly once I had my baby, you know, when I had my little girl, there was no choice but to jump out off that space and being a muchmore, transcendent and sometimes often very tiring space. But one that was not about domestic wells whatsoever. And I think I became a better and clearer writer once that transition happened about midway through the book.

But aside from something that would force me to care for while someone else but also to just be in some other headspace, I would not have chosen that because I was so obsessed that every minute I spent doing something else was a minute I wouldn't have time to read another paper or talk to another person and get just that little bit more nuance in the writing. You know, there was some conversations I had with survivors where I'd interview them for an hour and all that would really come from. It was just a slight adjustment to one sentence, But it was an important one, you know. And that happened all through the book.

I think that the reason why it feels seminal two people, the reason why it has moved people in the way it has is because the amount of care and work that went into it was unusual on Di did put aside everything else in my life to make thiss. I would just never do that in that way again because I can't too old.

LEIGH: Now just let me conclude with a couple of quick questions. What advice would you give to your teenage self?

HILL: To not be so hard on yourself? That's the advice I give myself Now. I guess the advice I give to my teenage self would be, Yeah, mostly just tow care for yourself. You know, just be compassionate for yourself. Don't let your internal critic takeover like you're doing your best. Well, that's my That's my internal critics saying you're doing your best. I can't even be nice when I'm talking to my teenage self like you're a good person with, like, you know, ah, lot in front of you. Just don't be too hard on yourself. Yeah, I mean, it's a very it's a really vexed thing for May. I have a very tricky relationship with my younger self, I think, because I still have a very unresolved internal critic and and that's something I'm really learning to get past now. And it's why having kids is so good. Does it kind of using this perspective like you see how much just absolute, unconditional love you have for this person you like? Why don't you have that towards yourself? You know, I think that's something that, yeah, I would not want Teo. The advice is not so important. It's more just that internal feeling of like, you know, like you're not defined by what you achieved. You know it's your defined by how you are in the world, but also how you want yourself.

LEIGH:  What's something you used to believe, but no longer do?

HILL: Oh my goodness so much. I had a lot of internalised misogyny. I think I had a lot on board about needing Teo Project masculine traits because I think I associated those with power. And so a lot of those sort of attitudes and behaviours have changed.

I one particular thing that was shocking to me, I think, in the family law scenario was that I did believe that women got unfair advantage by fabricating domestic abuse allegations in the court. About over 45\/40 percent of Australians believe that s o. I was one of that cohort. I felt incredibly guilty about that when I discovered just how little advantage women kept when they when they bring up those allegations and and how, in fact, it could work against them.

 But, I mean, I could go through every page and someone actually read actually mentioned this at every page. It looks like you're busting yourself like you're busting your own misconceptions, and that is true. I don't don't bring stone tablets down from the mountain. I'm not bringing you the wisdom. I'm literally, like confronting all of my worst biases misperceptions in that book. And that's why I hope it feels relatable because I'm not preaching. I'm really trying to just present what I've discovered and how wrong I wass in so many cases and hope that you'll wantto be fascinated enoughto understand this better, too

LEIGH:  when you most happy?

HILL: I think I'm most happy when I'm hanging out with my daughter and my partner. I was most happy yesterday, crawling through a rope tunnel with my three year old and her saying, I'm doing it, I'm doing it and then turning around to saying I really love you on that was just beautiful.

It's not many other times I can feel that kind of transcendence because I am confronting daily like so many other people who work in this sector. The really most incredible harm's done to people, and it's very hard to look around even a playground and not just see a number of victims survivors, because I get contacted by so many women from so many walks of life s O. When I'm sort of just out of that and just in the experience of being with my loved ones, it's like, Yeah, that's probably when I feel happiest.

LEIGH:  What's the most important thing you do in your life to stay mentally and physically healthy.

HILL: Therapy.

LEIGH: How often do you do it? What are the keys to doing therapy?

HILL Well, well, my partner would say that you've really got to commit to it and do it regularly. And he'd say that You dabble to say that to me the other day. But yeah, literally is the thing that creates the space in my head.

But when I'm being more responsible, I also do pilates and I try to go for walks. And you know that during that physical work, I think when you're dealing with vicarious trauma, you're trying to crunch through very difficult concepts. Getting back into your body is kind of number one. I'm just terrible at finding time to do that. But when I do, I feel heaps better.

LEIGH: So you have any guilty pleasures?

HILL: I wish I did. I'm guilty that I don't have many guilty pleasures, but any parent of a three year old would say like meta guilt. Yeah, I think that probably my guilty pleasure is it's not quite a pleasure, but Twitter. You know, that's something that I dio has been quite a bit of time on, but also Amaretto. Moreno's a guilty pleasure that I engage in indulgent every now and then

LEIGH: finally just which person or experience has most shaped your view of living an ethical life?

I'd say that there are. I mean, there's so many people, but I'd say that two people in particular is my Nana, who was an author but also a campaigner for writers rights. My mentor, the late Marc Colvin.

LEIGH: What was it about those two people that should give you? What did you learn from them?

HILL: I think that my Nana, she engaged me in political activism. Pretty early, I'd be folding pamphlets with her for her work with Penn trying to free people like Ken Saro Wiwa, who was a Nigerian poet who was gaoled for opposing the Shell installations in Nigeria and eventually executed.

I think that her clear headedness around ethical boundaries. She's just like from a generation who, when they were good, we're great, you know,. She really had very clear lines around ethical behaviour. She was subtle in the way that she did that, but she really imparted to me what it was to do the right thing and why that was important. Why it was so important for people to understand what's going on in the world. How to do that.

Well, I think for Mark it was that, you know, like he didn't always behave perfectly. And sometimes some of our best bonding moments were when either he pulled me up on something or I pull him up on something, you know, Eh? So we didn't. It wasn't like some perfect like relationship like that. But in that way, it wass kind of perfect relationship in that way, in the sense that I felt that we were able Teo for each other, really reinvigorate each other around journalism around the best practises in that hay taught me immeasurable amounts about ethical interviewing, about always centering human storeys above ideologies or theories just the way that he practised.

He was unwaveringly committed Teo to human rights. And that's what I think really taught me. The fact that this whole idea of like left leftists, journalists or whatever it's like journalism has a really clear mandate. It's like you go. You report from the basic position that human rights should be inalienable. And that way report from the position that we are trying to expose where those human rights are being violated and do what we can to help them be protected.

So and that was, I think Mark's very clear level headed approach to that really helped elevate him above the hole left, right, sort of like contentiousness of ABC personalities, he was able to occupy quite a rare ground there, where he could really say what he thought to a certain extent, but but never sort of bi partisan or ideological. Hey was always just going for truth and an extraordinary mentor from from all accounts.

LEIGH: Certainly you're not the first person who's said Talk to me about the influence mark out on their lives. Jess Hill. Thank you so much for taking the time, Tio. Share your wisdom on the good life podcast today.

HILL: My pleasure. Thank you, Andrew.

LEIGH: Thanks for listening to this week's episode of The Good Life Andrew Lee in conversation. If you enjoyed this discussion, I reckon you'll love past interviews with Ginger Gorman Marie crab on Could Delia. Fine.

We appreciate getting feedback on this podcast, so please leave us a rating or tell a friend about the show. Next week, we'll be back with another inspiring guest to discuss living a happier, healthier and more ethical life.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Stay in touch

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter


Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.