Domestic violence continues to be Australia’s social scourge
According to a report by the National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety released in 2015, one in four Australian women has experienced violence from an intimate partner.
The report also found at least 500,000 children have witnessed violence within their family.
These statistics are frightening, but even scarier is the depth of domestic violence and its impact, which still remains hidden.
As recorded by police in New South Wales in 2014, the number of victims of family and domestic violence-related homicide offences was 30 victims, and the number of assault offences was 28,780 victims. The operative words here are ‘recorded by police’, but many more undocumented cases exist, where victims are too scared and intimidated to make a complaint against the perpetrator.
May is Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention month in New South Wales, and while awareness of this insidious evil still exists, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Family and domestic violence has many forms, from downright physical abuse, to mental and emotional abuse that is more subtle and manipulative. Research indicates that the main perpetrators are men who dominate, use coercive control and/or intimidate their partner, members of their family or people in care.
Domestic violence can be social in nature, where the perpetrator allows the victim little or no access to social interactions, or financial where the victim’s access to money is controlled and they are allowed to spend very little or nothing at all. The elderly and disabled are among the most vulnerable in society which makes them easier targets for perpetrators. Incidents have been recorded in which carers deliberately withhold medication or use of facilities to demean and humiliate their victims.
There are many causes that lead to domestic and family violence, but it is generally considered to stem from complex issues such as gender inequality, community or traditional attitudes towards women and contributing factors such as financial pressures, alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness or social/economic exclusion. These issues find expression in deliberate acts of cruelty, bullying and belittling victims, resulting in a loss of self-confidence, self-esteem, fear, loss of trust, psychological distress and complex trauma.
It’s a common generalisation that victims of domestic violence should just ‘walk out’ or leave the perpetrator. But this is easier said than done, as it takes a tremendous amount of courage to leave a potentially dangerous and harmful relationship particularly when children are involved. Most victims have been subjected to such a high degree of trauma that they are unable to think rationally, others live in fear of repercussions from the perpetrator and many are not even aware of government funded resources and support mechanisms available that can help them.
Hospitals, GPs, the police and homelessness services provide assistance to victims of domestic violence through providing them secure accommodation (where available), helping them get in touch with support services such as legal advice, tenancy advice etc. and removal from their situation. Family and Community Services (FACS), Centrelink and legal services among others, also help with counselling and rehabilitation programs, and translation services are available for those from ethnic backgrounds.
The real problem of awareness and prevention is a confronting reality. Often victims are in denial, or entrenched traditional or intergenerational issues may cloud their judgement about what is happening to them. Victims can also be manipulated into thinking that the abuse is the consequence of their own actions.
Fortunately, there is more of an emphasis on increasing perpetrator accountability, for perpetrators to understand that their behaviour is unacceptable and that it will have consequences. But change has to come about from a grassroots level, from the community, families, friends, schools, educating of the youth and children – all agreeing to be respectful towards women. Bringing about this change within people’s mindset is a critical and essential factor towards seeing an end to domestic and family violence.
Sources: National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety 2015
If you need help contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 73 28) or 1800 65 64 63 – 24hr DV line
In an emergency call 000 Police