Tackling Domestic Violence Requires Cultural Shift

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“I started to dress and told him I was going to a hotel. He grabbed me and ripped my bag from my hands that had all my money, ID and keys inside. When I lunged for my bag he swept it away and started to dangle it in front of me, laughing, it was all a game to him. We started to fight, we hit each other and shouted and finally Pete* threw me onto the bed holding me down with his body and locked his hands around my throat.

“He kept pressing further and further down, he was very strong and I couldn’t move. I tried to scratch his eyes out, to jerk away but I was losing consciousness.”

This night was one of many when Grace* was attacked by her partner Pete. Grace was just 22-years-old when she left everyone she knew in Hungary, imagining an exciting new start to her life in Australia.

She was beautiful, bright, educated and her vulnerability was taken advantage of by the insecurities of a violent man.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of death for women under 45 and its prevalence increased 18.4 per cent between 2012 and 2013 accounting for almost 40 per cent of all crime against the person in 2013.

The statistics expose a dark trend in Australia and the way domestic violence is excused has become an ignored social undercurrent.

Paul Linossier from The Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and Children says domestic violence has been neglected in public conversation over the last 20 to 30 years.

“It has been a private matter and when it has come into the public eye it’s often about blaming the victim,” says Linossier.

Chief Executive Officer of Domestic Violence Victoria, Fiona McCormack, agrees.

“It is an automatic default when domestic violence occurs that rather than saying ‘That is completely unacceptable’ we have people ring up and say ‘but women use their children to be emotionally abusive’.

“That is completely irrelevant. There is never any excuse to harm a child or a partner,” she says. 

It is the ‘but’ in these opinions that foster the continuance of domestic violence. McCormack explains communities often assume a woman has pushed their partner past his limits and has caused a man to become violent.

Grace experienced this type of blame herself.

“He’ll find anything to create an argument. And after a while you really start to believe that it is your fault, you are initiating it all.

“You lose reality, he puts it in your head that it is you,” says Grace.
 
For many women, leaving an abusive partner is not as easy as walking out the door. It took Grace 11 years. 

She tried leaving twice and finally thought she had escaped when she left the state, only to have Pete follow her and become entwined in her life again.

“These men, they are like the Terminator. It is very rare when women end these violent relationships for the violence to end,” McCormack explains.

“That’s when the violence is most likely to escalate and that’s when we see women and children murdered.”

When a partner controls your finances, what you wear, where you go, who you see and have contact with; when he terrifies you into acting the way he wants while at the same time loving you, it is almost impossible to leave.

“He crawls on his knees and cries crocodile tears for you. He promises the world and he praises you. He’s never ever had anyone like you before and he puts the terrifying idea in your head that he loves you so much that you’re never going to feel or have that kind of love in your life ever again,” says Grace.

“I can tell you that every girl and woman who are in abusive relationships experience the same thing; they think they are getting so much love that they are scared to leave that behind.”

A 2009 national survey found 22 per cent of Australians believed domestic violence could be excused if the perpetrator regretted what they had done.

Fifty three per cent believed slapping and pushing a partner to cause harm or fear was a “very serious” form of violence, a decline from 64 per cent since 1995.

Although they are dark figures, Linossier says they highlight the challenges ahead.

“The task is not something that will be achieved in one year, or three or five. We’re talking about establishing an approach that will take place over a generation. We are looking for long term generational change,” he says.

The immediate challenge for domestic violence is to alter the mentalities of women already trapped.

It was not until Grace was hospitalized (after nearly breaking her back following a particularly violent episode) and provided with a counsellor that she began to understand she was in an abusive relationship.

Before this she believed her relationship was normal.

“It is purely being alone. It’s very hard to try and establish deep relationships with [other]people,” Grace says.

“When someone gives you direction – something to focus on – you stream all your attention and emotion and strength into that because it makes the insecurities numb.

“And as much as he was my pillar, I was his. It gave me purpose.”

When Grace finally left Pete, he turned everyone they knew against her.

“They believe I’m a bitch who ripped him off,” she says.

McCormack describes how gender roles are fueling the engines of domestic violence.

“The social constructions of what it is to be male and what it is to be female are so subtle and so deeply entrenched in our conscience psyche.

“Abusive partners see women and children as a threat to their masculinity. They believe ‘I have a right to control you, I have a right to behave this way’, and we subtly endorse this and they think the community supports them,” says McCormack.

For 11 years Pete mentally, sexually, emotionally and financially abused Grace. Every possession was in his name and he made her regret ever stepping a toe out of the cage around her life.

She lost her life savings and her friends, she wasted over a decade of love on a man who did not deserve her and had to spend a further $200,000 on lawyers and court expenses.

A transformation of our culture of excuses and the attitudes towards the roles of men and women needs to change for Australia to see a decline in domestic violence.

*Names have been changed.
 

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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