I am taking a stand on domestic violence today

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Good bystander behaviour is essential to tackling violence, but particularly so when addressing intimate partner or family violence scenarios. Once violence is placed in a domestic context, it becomes all too easy to succumb to nerves or even fears of impropriety. What if people don’t want us poking our noses in where they’re not wanted?

But family and intimate partner violence is a serious problem, and we must all be part of the solution. According to the National Homicide Monitoring Program, of the 260 homicide incidents in 2007-08, the majority (52%) were classified as ‘domestic’ related. Intimate partner homicides formed 31% of incidents. It also significantly targets more women than men, with 55% of female homicide victims killed by an intimate partner as opposed to 11% of male victims. Most Australian homicides occur in a residential location, with 53% happening in the victim’s home. Consequently, the most dangerous place for a woman to be in in regards to violence and murder is in her own home and with her own intimate partner.

These are frightening statistics, and we all have a responsibility to change them.

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The good news is that there are significant things we can all do to positively disrupt the cycle of family and intimate partner violence (FV and IPV). I spoke with Ada Conroy, a Family Violence Project Worker at Women’s Health In The North (WHIN) in Victoria, and she talked me through just five of the ways we can all be proactive in addressing FV and IPV.

 

1. Become familiar with the signs of FV and IPV, and refer victims on to appropriate services

It’s important to remember that the cycle of abuse is not straightforward, and simply demanding that someone leaves is not only unhelpful but also dangerous. Women are most at-risk of homicide in the period immediately post separation from a violent partner.

As tempting as it is to try to give advice and encouragement, the fact is that most people are not equipped to understand or deal with the complicated intricacies of FV and IPV. What we can do is provide unqualified support to victims by engaging them in gentle, direct questioning. Don’t be afraid to ask if she’s okay and if everything is okay at home. Even if she brushes you off, what you’ve succeeded in doing is opening the door and letting her know that she has support if and when she needs it. Many victims of violence don’t speak out because they’re afraid no one will believe them. By directly but gently addressing the situation with her, you’re letting her know that she can trust you not to question her truth.

Be proactive about contacting service providers and asking for advice - they work with these situations every day, and are the best placed to tell you what to do next. Conroy reminds us that, in Victoria at least, police services are well integrated with family violence services. Contacting the police will ultimately end up directing both perpetrator and victim to services which are better trained to deal with the issue than well meaning individuals.

There are also lots of excellent resources available that can help us to identify the signs of FV and IPV. The Domestic Violence Resource Centre in Victoria has a section devoted just to this, and includes things like being aware of an increase in anxiety, possibly in regards to pleasing a partner; noticing physical injuries; decreased availability for social events; decreased performance at work and possible absenteeism.

 

2. Make sure your workplace has a policy to support victims of FV and IPV

One of the signs of FV and IPV is decreased performance in the workplace and possible absenteeism. According to a KPMG report, the total cost to Australia for family violence is around $13.6 billion in associated private and public health services, damage to property, production related costs, child support services and more. That same report found that preventing the experience of family violence for just one woman can avoid costs of $20,766. FV and IPV isn’t just the leading contributing cause of death for women aged between 15 and 45 - it’s also a huge burden on the economy.

But financial insecurity is also what keeps many women involved in violent relationships. Having a workplace policy that supports victims and survivors sends a clear message that they will be protected financially despite their family situations. It also ends the cycle of punishment that accompanies violence; supporting women to stay in their jobs stops them from being further victimised by their circumstances. Ask your boss if you have an appropriate workplace policy to deal with FV and IPV and if you don’t, be proactive in instituting one.

 

3. Intervene when you’re witness to suspect verbal behaviour, even if it’s as ‘harmless’ as sexist jokes

As Conroy says, “When someone is sexist publicly and people laugh about it, they are essentially condoning a behaviour that promotes violence against women and allows it to happen.” This might seem a little excessive. After all, we’ve all laughed at a sexist joke here and there. It doesn’t mean we’re going to go out and murder someone!

“Of course not,” Conroy agrees. “But people see violence against women as specific, isolated incidents. They don’t see the myriad ways that small actions contribute to the perpetration of it.”

Violence occurs on a continuum. On the one end of it, we have thoughtless microaggressions like sexist jokes, dismissive quips and small acts of power. On the other end, we have things like rape and murder. While the two seem entirely unrelated, they’re actually connected because they both operate on the assumption that women are essentially inferior. This isn’t to say that every man who laughs at a sexist joke is consciously condoning violence or is at risk or perpetrating it; but what those things do succeed in doing is to help sustain the culture that allows for violence against women to continue.

So don’t be afraid to intervene when someone’s using language or ‘humour’ to disparage women. Chances are, you’re not the only one who feels uncomfortable - and the more people speak, the more that behaviour will become intolerable.

 

4. Understand how to support a woman in the aftermath of leaving a violent situation

Remember that post separation is the most dangerous time for women. Again, if someone you know is leaving a violent relationship, contact a family violence service and explore the resources on offer there.

Conroy advises that one of the ways we can help support survivors is to understand how difficult it can be to leave. It takes an average of seven attempts for a woman to successfully leave a violent partner. Don’t allow your frustration to contribute to her anxiety. Recognise that there are many contributing factors to violence and what seems clear to you might not be clear to her.

Let her lead the process, and withhold advice however helpful you might think it is. When actress Rachael Taylor spoke with the Australian Women’s Weekly recently, she said that being in a violent situation caused her to ‘lose her inner voice’. Understand that this is a common scenario for many survivors of violence. Her voice and autonomy needs to be respected and honoured, particularly when she’s exiting a relationship that will likely have, as Taylor says, silenced those things. Be patient and remember that this is her journey, not yours.

 

5. Understand that violence crosses all economic and cultural barriers - there is no typical victim so don’t stereotype

“I spoke to a woman when I was working at the crisis service,” Conroy told me. “She was very well educated and upper middle class. She said, ‘I can’t believe this has happened to me; I didn’t think I was the type.’ She couldn’t talk to her friends or her community because the violence in her sphere was much less visible.”

Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay reminds us, violence occurs in all walks of life ‘from Doveton to Toorak, and Hawthorn to Epping’. Never make the mistake of thinking that things like FV or IPV don’t happen to people you know - or are perpetrated by them. Violence still occurs in wealthy suburbs; it just happens behind higher fences. Trust women when they confide in you, believe them and offer them your unqualified support.

 

Take the pledge

This year, Daily Life would like its readers to pledge to be proactive in positively disrupting the cycle of violence against women. By adopting the above strategies, you can help make a significant difference in the numbers of women abused - and even murdered - every year in Australia. This is a national epidemic, and we all have a responsibility to be involved. 

Join us on taking a stand against domestic violence by sharing this story on Facebook, tweeting #ShineALight or leaving a comment below. 

Together, we can be the change we want to see.

 

 

For 24 hour help, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). Or see your state and territory helplines here

26 comments so far

  • Ms Ford, often I don't agree with what you write but I am with you 100% on this one.

    It is calm, thoughtful, invokes no stereotypes and has links to some great resources.

    As a male, I am happy to take the pledge. Also, in my day job I am a mandatory reporter of suspected cases of sexual violence - I will spend some time reviewing what my responsibilities are in that part of my job.

    Commenter
    Dr Kiwi
    Date and time
    March 08, 2014, 11:06AM
    • totally agree, Kiwi. It's nice to see an article that just gives sound advice without the hyperbole.

      Commenter
      jj
      Date and time
      March 08, 2014, 6:59PM
  • I work with men who have used - and often still are using - violence and abuse against family members. I am always heartened to read of initiatives like the one above. I consider Clementine Ford a strong ally in my work and read her forthright, articulate articles at times with a sense of gratitude that someone is brave enough to cop ignorant abuse from the "what about women's violence" crowd and other people happy to accept 1955 as a template for our social norms.

    Change is coming. Men are not born violent, they are trained. As I say to my groups, you are not violent men, you are men using violence and you have a free choice not to.

    Commenter
    thylacine60
    Location
    Kinglake
    Date and time
    March 08, 2014, 11:31AM
    • thank you for point four as it is especially relevant. After leaving an abusive relationship last year I struggled to get appropriate support from those around me. It was frustrating to discover after finding the courage to leave and speak about it, to find someone who could just listen and be there. Often people just did not have the capacity to understand what was going on in my mind. When I did reach out i found people usually went into fix it mode or shut down completely. Or there was this sort of expectation "well you've left now so bounce back." It takes time to process what has happened, and it may be the first time that a women/man has real time and space to do this. It takes even longer to feel safe, and develop trust again. It would be really helpful if anyone has a friend or loved one in this situation to allow the person who has left the situation to take the lead as you pointed out Clementine. We are just regaining control and autonomy of our lives again, time and space is essential.

      Commenter
      cmore
      Date and time
      March 08, 2014, 1:45PM
      • I don't believe people have the capacity to know what is going on in someone's mind. I lost my health and after a fantastic career, my job. Then my mind with anxiety and severe depression. Losing my job for having a disability was heart breaking, depressing, shocking, embarrassing and demeaning. In over 2 decades I'd never lost a job. I was in a total state of shock. Anyway after some time I thought, and still believe the people around me would have easier lives if I wasn't in it. No assisting me. No driving me around. No always checking on me. I'm not even 40 and completely and utterly hate my 'life'. I think you know what I mean I want to do without me having to spell it out. This is what goes through my mind often. No one knows and I don't expect them to. You need to vocalise if you want help. My point is, those close to me know I've changed but don't know I have these thoughts and if you'd just met me on a good day you think I was a very happy person but I never am. I'm always down and my mind is in a dark place but I can hide it. I don't leave my house unless it's absolutely necessary - I usually don't even go to the letterbox. I closed down my social sites as I want no friends. But no one knows what goes on in my mind. No one can know this. I don't believe there is a capacity to know what goes on in someone's mind. People around you are very busy with their own lives. We're not always our friends No1 concern. Ask for help if you want it. Family + Friends won't say no.

        Commenter
        Anon
        Date and time
        March 08, 2014, 11:48PM
      • It's a sad story and too often told unfortunately.
        I would like to see more people supported the moment the violence starts, so that maybe ( and it might be a huge maybe) this behaviour can be further prevented so that fewer lives are ruined

        Commenter
        david
        Date and time
        March 09, 2014, 3:41PM
      • Anon I'm concerned about you. When I was in a very dark place I remember wandering the streets thinking, 'I just want one person to stop and ask if I'm ok". Well, I'm your one person. Are you getting help? If it's difficult to leave the house do you have online support in any form? Support forums? I know that even picking up the phone can feel so very hard but please call someone. Lifeline - 131114. I've never regretted calling them during my darkest nights. That thing you're thinking about? I tried that. Life is still bloody hard sometimes but I'm so glad I'm still here; I would have missed out on some amazing things. You can get through this, I promise.

        Commenter
        etoile
        Location
        `
        Date and time
        March 11, 2014, 11:53AM
    • Good article. As sad as it is, it took reading this to highlight some sexist verbal behaviour from colleagues that has been all too easy to let slide. That's not who I want to be, because as mentioned we all have our part in fixing our culture. Thank you for ShiningALight Clementine.

      Commenter
      AH
      Location
      Surry Hills
      Date and time
      March 08, 2014, 2:04PM
      • Yes, I agree with you wholeheartedly Clementine. I wish to add another step. As a former teacher, I believe young people need to be taught the 'four Rs'. The fourth R being relationships. Relationships are the foundations of our lives, but sadly there is next to nothing in schools for students to learn about good relationships. They need to be taught just what is entailed in developing and maintaining a healthy and productive relationship. Too many relationships start too fast and after drink-sodden nights. Chemistry and chemicals often interfere with good sober judgment. A good relationship takes time to develop. Students need to be taught to get out of a relationship upon the first signs of violence or controlling behaviour. We, as a society, need to foster healthy relationships and educate out children from an early age in just what this takes.

        Commenter
        Clem
        Location
        Sunshine Coast
        Date and time
        March 08, 2014, 2:05PM
        • I called someone out recently after he had sent me several sexist jokes. He didn't get the hint when I emailed back after the first one and said I didn't find disparagement of women funny. When I saw him in person some weeks later, he said he likes to do it to get a rise out of me! Aparently, this is because I am an assertive woman and he doesn't like that. Sometimes, with men who are a bit lacking in grey matter, they just don't get the message.

          Commenter
          trinch
          Date and time
          March 08, 2014, 2:10PM

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