Domestic violence has finally become a matter of national importance.
Earlier this year I was jubilant when Rosie Batty was named Australian of the Year, 2015. Rosie Batty was a victim of domestic violence. Her son, Luke, was battered to death by his father during an access visit on a cricket oval. She campaigns against domestic violence.
Domestic violence refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship in domestic settings. These acts include physical, sexual, financial, emotional and psychological abuse
Fifty-five years ago, victims of domestic violence were silenced. We were shamed by our predators and by society. They said that women who were battered had obviously ‘caused’ their partner’s anger.
My husband threw me out after battering me. My parents took me and my two babies in. When my husband ‘apologised’ to them a couple of days later, they sent me back. I ‘learned’ to suffer in silence. There were no refuges to escape to. There was no government benefit for single mothers and their children. There was no childcare so that women like me could not work to support ourselves.
I was lucky. After fourteen years and eight children my husband left me for a ‘kinder’ woman.
Forty years ago, I was a member of a tiny group of Catholic lay people who set up the third women’s refuge in Western Australia. We leased a four-bedroom house in Inglewood, and ran it with no outside funding. Because I had a job, my name was on the lease. We called the refuge ‘Emmaus’.
Ten years later, I worked as a marriage and family counsellor. One day the director of the agency I worked for summoned me into his office. He demanded the reason why my statistics included so many cases of domestic violence.
‘No one else has such high numbers,’ he said. ‘Explain!’
‘Because I ask,’ I said.
‘What do you mean? Why would clients tell you?
‘I ask couples, “How do you fight?” and they tell me. Then we can work with their problems.’
Another time in a large country town as the manager of an office the same agency, I arranged a seminar on domestic violence. Participants were social workers, police, nurses and others. They included several church representatives. A social worker with considerable expertise in working with domestic violence facilitated the sessions.
He asked me to role play the victim of domestic violence in three different scenarios. The purpose was to show other participants some ways domestic violence plays out. The ‘perpetrator’ was a social worker from the Department of Child Protection.
We must have overdone the acting!
Two days later, I was again summoned to the Director. I took the day off and a flight to get to the meeting.
‘You have been reported by a church member,’ he said as soon as I sat down in his office. ‘I hear your behaviour was outrageous at the seminar you ran. You acted as a victim of this domestic violence nonsense. What were you doing?’
‘Acting. I was asked to role play a victim of domestic violence. I did a good job.’
‘From what I hear, your behaviour was unprofessional. I am ashamed that someone in my agency acted in that way.’
Back in the country, as a result of the seminar, we formed Domestic Violence Action Group. It worked to educate victims and the general public about domestic violence. It also helped train health and welfare professionals in the area.
What has changed?
- Two women a week die in Australia every week as a result of domestic violence. The number is rising by the year.
- At the same time, funding for homeless people has been cut. Refuges for women are underfunded. In some cases they have lost all funding, for example in Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley.
- Organisations exist to support victims,
- But victims are still blamed for their situation.
‘Why doesn’t she leave him?’ is still a frequently asked question. Because she is afraid of him if she leaves. Because she has no where to go. Because she has no confidence. Domestic violence does that to people.
Today, Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs) are high on the agenda at the Council of Australian Government (COAG) meeting.
At the conclusion of the meeting, it is anticipated that Australian states and territories will agree to implement a national Domestic Violence Order scheme. That will be one more tiny step in confronting domestic violence. A start.
If you need assistance to deal with domestic violence, contact
- 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) a 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line
- Lifeline’s 24 hour crisis line on 13 11 14