Clementine Ford: Men with a history of violence have no place on dating shows

Blake and Sophie
Blake and Sophie

If you've been following the journey of Sophie Monk in the most recent Australian season of The Bachelorette, you'll be suitably apprised of three facts.

1. Sophie Monk is quite possibly the most likeable person to have ever graced Australian television screens

2. With respect to the fact she's reportedly already married one of the male contestants on the season, literally none of them were worthy of her; and

3. Australian television executives are complicit in giving platforms to abusers for the sake of good ratings, and they have a lot to answer for.

This last one might seem to have come out of left field, but it's undeniably true. As recent reports have uncovered, the (now eliminated) contestant Blake Colman has a history of violence that should have prevented him from even being considered for a television platform at all let alone one in which he vies for the affections of a woman.

Earlier this year, Colman pleaded guilty to a vicious assault in Perth that left a man paralysed and unconscious in a pool of his own blood.

Tristan Cooper told the Sunday Times that Colman attacked him from behind, picking him up by his neck and throwing him into the side of a building. According to Cooper, CCTV footage and audio obtained by police following the attack showed Colman laughing in a taxi with friends while bragging about his actions.

Colman's actions may have only netted him an $850 fine, but they should have been treated as serious enough to prevent his casting by Channel Ten.

Blake kisses Sophie Monk on The Bachelorette. Photo: Ten

Blake kisses Sophie Monk on The Bachelorette. Photo: Ten

Putting forward a man with a violent streak as a potential partner shows either a remarkable lack of awareness about the issue of men's violence against women, or a cavalier disregard for the consequences of it.

But this isn't just about violence against women. In casting Colman, Channel Ten also demonstrated a gross dismissal of the issue of men's violence against other men. Think of the widespread trauma that's been caused by the kind of "one punch" attacks perpetrated by Colman against Cooper. Richard Vincec, 26, was recently sentenced to eight years in jail with a non-parole period of five years after punching Jaiden Walker, 22, in the Melbourne CBD after a night out. Walker's injuries were severe, and he died in hospital a few days later.

In 2016, Brisbane teenager Cole Miller was assaulted by Armstrong Renata, 22, in a one punch attack in Fortitude Valley. Like Walker, Miller died in hospital a few days later.

Hugh Garth was the first man to be convicted under NSW's new one-punch legislation, after punching Raynor Manalad, 21, in Sydney's west. The laws were introduced after the fatal one-punch attacks of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie in Sydney's King's Cross.

Countless other men and their families and friends have had to deal with the impact of this kind of violence. It's fuelled by alcohol and testosterone and is overwhelming perpetrated by and against young men in Colman's age bracket.

And yet, these issues rarely seem to concern network executives or producers of reality television shows (or radio, film, television, sport or pretty much any industry ever really).

In 2016's US series of The Bachelorette, Jojo Fletcher was presented a range of suitors to choose from, including the hyper alpha douchebag Chad Johnson. Chad was an initial object of Schadenfreude ridicule, obsessed as he was with having access to his protein supplements. But he soon became a more sinister character, threatening to assault at least one of the other male cast members before being ejected.

A problem with anger management is undoubtedly the kind of thing casting agents would be aware of. But hey, at least it made for "good TV".

Married At First Sight contestant Clare Verrall was battling PTSD after a random attack when she was matched with TV husband Jono Pitman, who had been charged with assault. Photo: Nine

Married At First Sight contestant Clare Verrall was battling PTSD after a random attack when she was matched with TV husband Jono Pitman, who had been charged with assault. Photo: Nine

Then there was the female contestant of 2016's Married At First Sight. Claire Verrall was clear about suffering PTSD related to a random violent street attack the year prior, yet producers paired her with Jono Pitman, a man who had been court ordered to undertake anger management classes following his part in a 2008 pub brawl.

Why is the temperament of easily aggravated men important, particularly in terms of shows like The Bachelorette? Because it speaks to what we still collectively will accept (and in some cases idealise) in the trope of the "eligible bachelor".

It isn't necessarily that men inclined to cruelty and violence are romanticised, although that isn't uncommon (note that Blake is repeatedly described by media outlets as a "bad boy").

It's romanticising of the idea of a suitable villain who can be tamed to win a woman's affections – women who are often then blamed ("she goes for the bad boys") for any violence such a suitor might subject her to.

But beyond what troubling ideas this poses around heterosexual dating in a society where women are still murdered by men weekly, the issue of men's violence is not just one that affects women.

Statistics show that men account for over 90 per cent of perpetrators of violence against both men and women. In fact, the biggest threat to men's safety comes from other men in public spaces. This isn't just a matter of testosterone overload in otherwise "decent" and "red blooded" young men. It's about the continued normalisation of this kind of violence and its supposed relationship to "typical" masculinity.

Blake Colman should never have been considered an appropriate choice for a television show at all, let alone one where other men are exposed to his potential for violence and a single woman is asked to consider him as a suitable mate.

Networks need to start reflecting the values they claim to have and paying closer attention to the ethics of their decisions. Because if nothing else, at a time when the exposure of violence and abuse in the entertainment industry is just starting to break open, continued decisions like these are going to prove very bad for business.

  • This opinion piece was originally published on The Age.