Family and domestic violence are destructive for everyone – for society, its victims and for the perpetrators.
While every relationship is different, domestic violence usually involves an unequal power dynamic where one partner tries to assert control over the other. Some perpetrators may even use children, pets, or other family members as emotional leverage to get the victim to do what they want.
This vicious cycle means victims often experience diminished self-worth, anxiety, depression and a state of helplessness. Domestic violence has a tendency to be passed down over generations which makes it even more important that we develop effective methods for combating abusive behaviours.
Domestic violence can be physical or psychological, and it may include behaviours meant to scare, physically harm, or control a partner.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone
There is this misconception that domestic violence only happens amongst those with lower socioeconomic racial background.
Violence against women occurs in all communities regardless of cultural, education or socio-economic background. Certain cultural groups may get more media exposure on the issue of domestic violence and some communities have higher rates of domestic violence than others.
However, it’s important to know that domestic violence doesn’t discriminate and can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, or sexual orientation – physically or psychologically.
An example of someone who society would least expect is actress and singer, Mandy Moore. She courageously shared her story earlier in February of how she escaped a psychologically damaging 7-year marriage when she divorced musician, Ryan Adams.
Moore shared what it was like to live in a dysfunctional marriage in the hopes she could help other women and men recognise the signs of a toxic relationship and ultimately speak out about it.
She described enduring extremely controlling behaviour, especially when it came to her music career. Moore’s experience is what clinical psychologists and domestic violence experts would call "coercive control."
Coercive control is a form of psychological abuse. Tactics including isolation, monitoring, controlling and micromanaging aspects of daily life such as eating and sleeping. Repeatedly, victims would be made to feel guilty. They’re constantly criticised and disapproved for everything they do.
These tactics are used to intimidate and maintain power and dominance. This behaviour can often be so extreme that the victim’s freedom is completely taken away to the extent they’re not able to leave the home at their free will.
The dangerous myth of “If it’s so bad, why not leave?”
This is one of the most damaging myths of domestic violence. The fact is, the most extreme violence, including murder, often occurs when a woman tries to leave the relationship.
On average, one woman in Australia is killed by her current or former partner each week. Many others are injured, either physically or psychologically.
There is this assumption that a woman who is a victim of domestic violence stays in the relationship by choice. This assumption is dangerous because blame and accountability are taken away from the perpetrator.
This puts the responsibility for dealing with the violence on the victim, who might not be able to leave a relationship because she fears for her life or the safety of her children. Often, she may not be a financial position to do so.
Domestic violence campaigns can do better
Public understanding of gendered violence and the types of support available has increased thanks to campaigns such as the Federal Government's Let's Stop it at the Start campaign.
However, there is still victim blaming attitudes towards domestic violence in the community according to The National Community Attitudes Survey. This is concerning because research shows a clear link between victim-blaming attitudes and tolerance of domestic violence.
In order for campaigns to be effective, attention needs to be drawn to make domestic violence everyone's business, rather than an issue exclusive to women (even though the statistics, sadly, favour women). There needs to be more awareness on how perpetrators can manipulate victims, their families and their communities, and how we all play a role in speaking out against such violence.
With this in mind, the Queensland government has put together a campaign called “Do Something” which encourages people to not stay silent on the issue when confronted with signs of abusive behaviour.
If we aren't able to collectively speak out on this, women's deaths will continue and Australia will continue to tolerate the disturbing frequency of domestic violence in our community.
Further information and resources
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and needs help, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) 1800respect.org.au the national 24/7 counselling helpline for family violence.
The Men’s Referral Service (MRS) provides anonymous and confidential telephone counselling, information and referrals to men to help them take action to stop using violent and controlling behaviour 1300 766 491
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