Domestic violence kills

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By Chris Sutton

 

Domestic violence is an issue that features in headlines, shatters families and effects more than one in three Australian women. Despite the fact that a woman is killed almost every week by a partner or ex-partner, still a level of ignorance remains in this country. Communities often believe it is a household problem that should stay between the personal parties, but this is a view many organisations are trying to stamp out.

Violence in this regard cost the Victorian economy $3.4 billion in 2009, but six years later the statistics continue to rise. There is the common argument in the public that suggests a victim can leave a threatening situation if they wanted to, an example of the failure in promoting the severity of the issue.

St. Kilda News interviewed Rodney Vlais, Spokesperson for No to Violence and the Men’s Referral Service, in regards to the current climate of domestic violence and the reasons behind unrelenting statistics.

“I think the community – from the local to the highest political levels – are finding it difficult to accept that violence against women is about power, the power that men feel entitled to use against women to control their lives.”

Mr. Vlais believes this stems from a wide range of issues that revolve around the way women are portrayed and the differences they face in society.

“We see this power through the everyday sexism that women face, through numerous gender inequalities, through the objectification of women in advertising and in violent and patriarchal pornography.”

The key to the message is that men feel entitled to use violence in an attempt at superiority and to live up to what is believed to be a ‘strong’ man, according to Mr. Vlais.

St. Kilda News contacted Gayle Correnti, Senior Manager of Family Violence at Berry Street, who discussed community involvement and behaviour patterns.

“Historically, it has been seen as a private matter and so people haven’t talked about it or labelled certain behaviours as family violence,” said Ms. Correnti.

Ms. Correnti also cites power and control as critical factors, rather than domestic problems being just about physical abuse, which impacts wellbeing and causes harm. She believes most of us know someone who experiences this behaviour. Partner violence is responsible for more ill-health and premature death in Victorian women under the age of 45 then any other risk factors such as obesity and smoking.

Victim blame is a common term heard throughout the service centres across not only Victoria, but Australia-wide. Phrases such as ‘she shouldn’t have married him, it’s her own fault’ and ‘why didn’t she leave’ are raised in discussion.

“It can seem easier to blame victims than to face the truth of how men from all walks of life can behave towards their family members,” said Mr. Vlais.

He believes men use violence to make the woman feel worthless, to isolate her socially, to leave her in financial debt and dependence and to create a fear of leaving.

“It’s about entrapment. They can attempt to control most aspects of their lives, including the relationship with their children.”

Ms. Correnti says victim blame is why women don’t leave the problem and carry the guilt of the situation. She argues that women actually manage violence by monitoring the abuser for signs of escalation.

“It is always wrong to think a woman accepts violence. She wants the violence to stop and often hopes that by taking on the responsibility for managing it, things will get better. Sadly, this is rarely the case.”

Berry Street plays an integral role in helping keep women and children safe. Through the process of creating this safety, the person responsible for the physical and emotional pain goes through nothing.

“We might find alternative accommodation and provide assistance in seeking permanent accommodation. This is always difficult with the lack of affordable housing and interrupting the connection women have with their communities.”

While there are increased services to provide the support for the victims of domestic abuse, are they making a difference as statistics rise?

Mr. Vlais, speaking on behalf of No to Violence and Men’s Referral Service, believes the need can be overwhelming and services are doing the best they can. There was an approximate 55% increase in men using violence during Christmas/New Years 2013 in comparison to the same period in 2014. Services are doing what they can to cope with such alarming spikes.

Ms. Correnti spoke of early intervention and response approaches as necessary focal points, and while the issue does take centre stage that turning around statistics requires a fundamental change in attitudes and behaviours.

“We need a common way of thinking about what safety means for families in their homes. Not just physical safety, but emotional, psychological, spiritual, cultural and economical.”

Domestic Violence Victoria is an organisation that aims to reduce statistics through creating healthier and safer communities where potential victims can live free from violence. On their website, a range of findings from reports illuminates the dangers presented in Victoria alone.

In the 13/14 financial year more than 65,000 family incident reports were submitted by police; an 8% increase on the previous year, on top of a 23.4% increase the year before that. In the 60,000 reports from the 12/13 year period, 29 were murders, slightly less than half of all murders in the state.

But the increase in reports also demonstrates a movement to change.

“Yes, the demand on services is difficult to manage but it is the terrible tragedies and loss of life that have brought overdue attention to the issue,” said Ms. Correnti.

The strongest current push by services is to boost community involvement and awareness, a key mission statement made by all organisations fighting against such heinous behaviour. While the issue generally occurs behind closed doors, the increase in police reports and intervention demonstrates the strength of women and children who take the steps to acquiring safety.

Mr. Vlais noted that there have been important gains in community understanding in the past decade, with considerable improvement in police response through a proactive approach.

“Reports of family violence have increased markedly due to improved community confidence in the service system. But myths and beliefs that excuse men who perpetrate family violence and blame victims are still far too common,” said Mr. Vlais.

In the example of Berry Street, their biggest change happened in 2008/9 when referrals from police were received consistently. This allowed a relationship to be built and changed the practice of their work. The more domestic violence is placed before authorities, communities and people with the ability to enhance support, it will better equip services and organisations to solve problematic and potentially devastating situations.

The Crisis Help Network, part of Melbourne’s Homeless Services, states that “Domestic violence is a crime against women; not a god given right, nor part of a rite of passage for men. It is an indefensible act.”

The message is direct, powerful and effective. Yet too few take domestic violence for what it is; life threatening, disturbing, gory and horrific.

Women represent almost 90% of reported rapes in Victoria. There needs to be more advertisements.

Domestic violence is only second to financial difficulty in the cause of homelessness. There needs to be more funding.

Tags such as ‘victim blame’ need to be stamped out of the Australian culture, which for too long has been seen as tolerant when it comes to the discussion of violence. Rape and murder are the most destructive examples of the worst case scenario, but the statistics fail to reveal the suicides, be they immediate or years later.

Figures help illuminate the severity of a problem. Yet while the numbers are concerning, they don’t capture the impact on a person trapped within their own home.

If you would like advice or support, contact Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre on 1800 015 188 or the Men’s Referal Service on 1300 766 491.

 

Chris Sutton is a freelance journalist and can be contacted via chris_sutton@live.com.au

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