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‘Not a Bystander’: Gender violence panel sheds light on sexual abuse

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An eye-opening event organised by the Manchester Global Health Society raised awareness for gender-based violence on Monday the 5th of March.

It is estimated that one third of women worldwide will be subject to sexual abuse in their lifetime, with less than 50 per cent of incidents resulting in an arrest. This can have devastating repercussions, increasing victim’s chances of depression, and drug and alcohol abuse significantly.

The discussion begun with questions directed at three panellists: Hayley Brewer, Erica Sullivan, and Edward Murchie. They were quick to highlight the importance of tackling the root cause of abuse: coercion and manipulation.

Hayley Brewer, representing Manchester-based domestic abuse charity Independent Choices, pointed out that controlling behaviour from men can easily develop into a physically abusive dynamic between partners. Brewer claimed that the entrapment young women can feel in a relationship as a key reason for the silence of victims.

Silence was a recurring theme throughout the discussion with the panel. Erica Sullivan, who has fifteen years’ experience in women’s health clinics, explained how the negative stigma attached to domestic abuse and wanting to keep control of their lives can discourage victims from speaking out.

Sullivan emphasised the importance of society taking collective responsibility for the issue, and not viewing it as a solely a women’s problem. She talked about how the idealised image of the female body can pressure women into conforming to men’s expectations.  Talking to The Mancunion afterwards, she said: “Women still feel they need to alter their bodies to what is pleasing to a guy [and] live up to the ‘Barbie doll image’ […] that to me is quite sad.”

The panel also explored men’s role in combatting this issue. Edward Murchie, a third-year medical student who has set up self-defence classes aimed at women, stressed the importance of men speaking out against misogynist attitudes in general and not just domestic violence. He emphasised just being ‘bystanders’ would not tackle the problem; men must establish themselves as allies of women.

There still remains an issue in this area, however, and Global Health Ambassador Beth Cracknell-Daniels felt men can sometimes feel attacked when sexual abuse issues are brought to light.  Cracknell-Daniels stated: ‘‘Some guys are not necessarily part of the problem, but can be part of the solution.”

The 80-strong audience was well-attended by men and women alike, and Erica Sullivan was inspired by the growing exposure of these issues, saying there used to be a tendency to ‘‘brush it under the carpet. We are seeing a lot of positivity […] But there is still a long way to go.”

Cracknell-Daniels echoed these sentiments: ‘‘Something has changed.”

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