I noticed a disturbing trend surrounding the domestic violence charges against former NRL star Hazem El Masri which has now been dropped. Leaving aside the particulars of this case, it was troubling to hear his defence lawyers rush to highlighted that El Masri was active in his local community and a highly respected athlete with a positive reputation. Why does that matter? Surely the only issue is whether he did it or not – in this case the police have concluded he did not.

The larger problem is that this sort of defence presumes that domestic violence is carried out only by bad man and that someone with a glowing reputation must be innocent. This is dangerously flawed logic. Like the popular memes declaring “real” men do not hit women, it perpetuates the myth that only monsters rape, beat, and kill women. Surely men who are friendly, popular, and respected in the community are incapable of such things.

This is simply false and only adds to the sense of shame and hopelessness often experienced by domestic violence victims. We collectively participate in victim blaming and cover-up culture when we assume that some people are beyond reproach. Think of the lives damaged by the long-held assumption that a respected and popular local priest or a children’s entertainer could not possibly be a paedophile.

Claims of domestic violence must be taken on the merits and examined without prejudice. That El Masri’s lawyers were so quick to trumpet his glowing reputation and high profile career suggests we have some way to go yet. While plucky men’s rights activists are falling over themselves to remind us that “not all men” are violent towards women, it remains a simple fact that some men are – and these are “real” men. They are not social pariahs or trolls living under bridges. It’s Dave from the pub, Steve from work, Gary from soccer.

It might make us uncomfortable to think that a bloke we’ve cheered for playing footy, grown up watching on TV, or personally known, could be guilty of domestic violence. How much worse must it be for a victim who is not believed because of those things?

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