Family violence: change the conversation

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When Rosie Batty bravely spoke to news cameras outside her home on 13 February 2014, the day after her son, Luke, was murdered by his father, she spoke up for women and children all over  Australia.

Filled with grief from losing her 11-year-old son, her moving address to the nation shone light on family violence across Australia.

“No one loved Luke more than Greg, his father. No one loved Luke more than me. Family violence happens to everybody, no matter how nice your house is, how intelligent you are. It happens to  anyone and everyone,” she said.

From that moment on, Rosie has dedicated her life to changing conversations around family violence, giving the issue the recognition it needs. It was for this reason she was awarded the  Australian of the Year accolade in 2015. Her campaigning has paid off, as on 24 September, the Federal Government announced a $100m package to tackle domestic violence. Rosie welcomed this announcement, while acknowledging there is still a long way to go.

Speaking to the WA Department of Health this year, Rosie highlighted some of Australia’s grave statistics.

“It’s a huge issue because its two women a week on average being murdered right now, one in three women affected by violence, one in four children,” she said. “It means that you know somebody who has family violence in their lives, or has experienced family violence.”

Dr Deidre Palmer, moderator of the Uniting Church in South Australia and president-elect of the Uniting Church in Australia, has also been involved in speaking up on the issue. Last year she  launched the Beyond Violence campaign, a Christian response to dealing with domestic violence in our communities. With a background in social work, Deidre knows all too well that abuse comes  in many forms. While physical abuse often leaves visible marks, emotional, financial and spiritual abuse are also debilitating.

“Domestic violence can take forms of financial control, it can take forms of emotional abuse, it can take forms of physical abuse and it can take forms of spiritual abuse.” Deidre said.

Rosie agrees.

“There is a spectrum of violence you see,” Rosie said. “It begins with that put-down derogatory language and at the very, very, other extreme we’ve got harsh, physical violence. And inbetween all  of that, all the different forms of violence are equally as dangerous, equally as damaging and equally as controlling.”

Deidre believes that part of moving beyond a situation of domestic abuse lies in growing strength. Often, women in abusive relationships are told they’re worthless, which they may eventually start  to believe.

“Part of the journey out of that is the migration of identity,” she said. “Part of it is rediscovering who you are and moving into a space where you feel confident to move out of that scenario.”

This is where community service providers can help.

UnitingCare West’s Wyn Carr Women’s Services and the Indigenous Family Violence Program provide a range of support networks for women  in Perth experiencing abuse, including a live in  program. While accessing their services, women are encouraged to build their self-esteem and are helped to understand the cycle of abuse.

Margaret Muntinga is the service area manager for Independent Living at UnitingCare West. Part of her role includes managing Wyn Carr Women’s Services and the Indigenous Family Violence  Program. While women who come to these services are in extremely vulnerable situations, she believes they are much stronger than they think.

“In all of this work we’re operating and focussing on their strengths and their resources. We work with women to assist them to understand their options. Because at the end of the day, for a  woman to even make that phone call shows that she’s got that strength,” Margaret said.

Rosie, Deidre and Margaret all agree that domestic abuse occurs right through all socio-economic backgrounds. This includes members of the church.

“There were many things about family violence that we have incorrect assumptions and ignorance about,” Rosie said. “We assume it happens to other people, we assume it happens to those people  in different areas of life, different professions. To people who have tattoos, to people who are of different colour and culture. We think it happens elsewhere, to other people.

“But what we do know now; it happens to people like us. We are part of the problem, the solution and we have to join together to make sure that we no longer blame or judge or criticise.”

At UnitingCare West, women from all backgrounds come for support for domestic violence.

“We’ve had a doctor, students from university, professionals, nurses, teachers and stay at home mums,” Margaret said. “It covers the whole spectrum. UnitingCare West aims to raise awareness  around domestic violence in the wider community.”

One of the ways UnitingCare West achieves this is through its White Ribbon Day school workshops, helping students understand the importance of respectful and loving relationships.

Through Deidre’s work with Uniting Communities, a Uniting Church community service provider in South Australia, she knows that the church community is not immune to domestic violence. As  part of the Beyond Violence campaign, Deidre provides a resource to ministers and pastoral workers titled, Domestic Violence Handbook: for clergy and pastoral workers. The resource was  developed to assist ministers and pastoral workers to support people who may be experiencing domestic violence.

Deidre said one of the best ways for people to support a vulnerable woman is to  listen to, and believe, her story.

“In the best case scenario, the minister would listen and ask how we can support you, get alongside the woman, believe her. In the worst case scenario, they may not believe, or say [she needs] to  hold this marriage together.

“The beyond violence campaign is to work with pastoral carers and local churches to say that we need to hear these stories. We need to support these people and journey with them in ways that are  healthy, so they can flourish in ways that God intends for them in respectful, mutual and loving relationships.”

There is a lot of hope for a woman in a domestic violence situation. Hope that her partner will change, hope that someone will notice the abuse and support her, and hope that she can break free.

Amongst all this hope, there is plenty of room for a new culture around domestic violence in Australia. Rosie believes we need to approach this issue looking for prevention and generational  change.

“If we want our children to grow up in a better world, we have to take a long hard look at ourselves,” she said. “Our culture, our gender, our expectations of how we conduct ourselves, and how we  are projecting our views of the world onto small children.

“We have always placed the onus of safety onto the victim’s shoulders. We have not really until now looked at serious perpetrator accountability. We have spent more time judging, critiquing and  asking questions of the victim, than we ever spend talking about the perpetrator.

“When you find yourself doing that, when you hear somebody else doing that, change the conversation. Change the conversation and say ‘what about him? Why is he doing what he’s doing? How  can he be so violent? What makes him act in that way?’

“Let’s start the discussion around the perpetrator and let’s try and support the journey of the victim through compassion, not through judgement. That is when you will engage with somebody.  That is such a powerful moment.”

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit http://www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Fast facts

  • Domestic or family violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women and their children in Australia, and can take a number of forms,including: physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, spiritual, economic or stalking.
  • One woman in three has experienced physical violence, since the age of 15.
  • One in four women in Australia has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
  • Both sexes are more likely to experience violence at the hands of men. Men are more likely to experience violence by other men in public places; women are more likely to experience violence  from men they know, often in the home.
  • Women in Australia are three times more likely than men to experience violence at the hands of a partner.

Inspired?

  • White Ribbon Day is held annually in Australia on 25 November. It is a male led campaign to end male violence against women. To find out more and to become an ambassador visit  http://www.whiteribbon.org.au.
  • The Annual Silent Domestic Violence Memorial March commemorates and honours people who have died from family violence related incidences throughout the year. It will be held on  Friday 27 November from 10.00am at Stirling Gardens, Perth. For more info visit http://www.womenscouncil.com.au/annualsilent-march.html or like their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Silent-Domestic-Violence-Memorial-March.
  • Rosie Batty recently launched the Never Alone campaign as a support network for women and children affected by family violence. To add your voice to this movement visit www.neveralone.com.au.
  • The Uniting Church’s Beyond Violence campaign supports respectful relationships and aims to educate and bring awareness of domestic violence to individuals, people in placements and  pastoral carers. For more info and to download the Domestic Violence Handbook visit http://sa.uca.org.au/beyond-violence/.
  • To donate to UnitingCare West to support its services working with people affected by domestic violence, and many other programs, visit https://www.unitingcarewest.org.au/donate/. If   you or someone you know is affected by family violence and requires assistance, contact UnitingCare West on 1300 663 298.

Heather Dowling

Top image: Rosie Batty, 2015 Australian of the Year and domestic violence campaigner.

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