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White Ribbon Night, 31 July

The hidden violence

Is it ever okay to use your power to get your own way in relationships? Ask Barry Gittins and Carolyn Russell.

White Ribbon Night 31 July 2015The ABC recently reported that so far 42 Australian women had been murdered through violence this year.

More than one woman dying, every week, as a result of intimate partner violence. That’s most likely at the hands of her male partner, in her home.

This abuse of power lessens us. It costs us, also, in terms of traumatised survivors and scared kids; one in four Australian children are exposed to family and domestic violence (FDV).

The ABC reports that across the nation police forces respond to one FDV incident every two minutes: that’s an estimated 657 domestic violence matters on average, every day of the year: 239,846 instances per year around the country where police show up when called, or make FDV court orders, or deal with threats and physical violence, or reports of same from associated agencies.

This brutality also adds up in dollars and cents. Domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrated against women costs the nation $13.6 billion annually. By 2012-2022 it’s believed that FDV will cost Australia $15.6 billion per annum.

That’s a lot of dollars, and a lot of damaged people. It’s also a wake-up call for us all.

You might think, sitting reading this, that you’re okay. You don’t clobber anyone. You haven’t been charged with assault. That’s excellent. But without wanting to guilt-trip you, look at the bigger picture.

Do you hang it on your spouse, abusing your partner and/or kids verbally? Manipulate their emotions and lives because of your frustrations? That’s FDV.

Do you hang around when a relationship is over, unwanted? That’s stalking, which is FDV.

Do you hurt or threaten to harm your ex-partner’s animals or property? Do you stop them from worshipping in their own way, or participating in their culture?

Do you strangle their access to the purse strings, or their visits to and from family and friends?

Do you disparage those you love constantly, or put the hard word on them for sexual intimacy?

Those kinds of behaviour are FDV – the deliberate use of personal power to punish and get your own way.

Sadly, recent national research showed that one in five Australians think that women who’ve been abused caused and deserve that abuse, at least in part.

One in four Australians surveyed thinks abusers get excused if blokes cannot control their anger, or are sorry after the fact.

That’s exonerating the childish, self-absorbed behaviour of adults who should know better. That’s blaming the victim and perpetuating FDV.

Looking the other way and justifying abuse leads to where we are now; 25% of Australians are homeless because of FDV; 55% of homeless women with kids are escaping violence.

FDV is practised by exes and partners, family members (including ‘steps’) parents, children, carers, guardians etc. It happens in all cultural groups, all religious groups, irrespective of gender or sexuality or age.

FDV is everyone’s business. It’s no longer a conversation to be ignored, minimised or trivialised in society, our workplaces and within our families. The consequences are lethal.

Individually and collectively, we all need to speak up and step up. White Ribbon Night events are opportunities for men to step forward and raise awareness and for the wider community to say that domestic violence is not okay. Ever.

We teach our children that it’s never okay to hit each other. To be aware. Schools teach students that violence is not the way to solve problems.

Can you help get those messages home to those close to you?

Research and projects have shown that workplaces and industries play an important role in prevention work. You can play a role too, along with your mates, your families and your kids.

The Salvation Army introduced a range of work-place entitlements in 2014, including a Family and Domestic violence leave policy, access to employee assistance programs, and leave to seek therapeutic counselling and services.

What about suggesting these to your boss?

If you hit a total stranger, it’s assault. If you hit your partner, it’s FDV. Next February, a Victorian Royal Commission is due to report on the possibility of a new criminal charge, which would relate specifically to domestic violence offenders. (There are no specific offences that relate to family violence incidents under current law.)

So, just when is it okay to use your power to get your own way in relationships? Never.

The Salvation Army encourages Australian men to get together, raise awareness and money to support ‘White Ribbon Night’ on Friday, 31 July (www.whiteribbon.org.au/night).

Don’t put up with it

In 2014, The Salvation Army spent more than $6 million nationally to help more than 2,000 women who survived FDV, and more than 8,700 women and children who were affected.

If you are facing physical danger, please call 000.

If you wish to speak to someone about your situation, please phone LifeLine on 13 11 14 (www.lifeline.org.au)

or the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line on 1800 RESPECT, 1800 737 732 (www.dvrcv.org.au/1800-respect).