Domestic Violence and Australia

Yesterday in Australia was White Ribbon Day, a day for standing up against domestic violence. My university held a symposium, where various speakers talked about the true impacts of domestic violence. This is my reflection on what i heard. 

Domestic violence is a global problem. It is recognized as a global health concern and it is estimated that it impacts 36% of women worldwide, and is the 10th leading cause of death for women.

But my heart breaks particularly for how this abomination affects my home country, beautiful sunny Australia. 2 women a week have died in Australia at the hands of their current or former partner in 2015. 1 in 4 Australian women have experienced domestic violence. Yet still so much of it is not reported, and it’s impossible to know the true figures.

Domestic violence is everyone’s business. It is not a new problem for our country. Recently though, there has been a shift in the public’s perception. More people are speaking up about it. More people are recognizing that we cannot allow this to continue. 96% of Australians say they are against domestic violence. But why then, does it still continue?

White Ribbon Day focuses on violence against women and children by men, so this is the focus of this post. This is not to ignore male victims, or to say that women are never violent or abusive – but statistically, we must see that the overwhelming, heartbreaking majority of domestic violence is committed by men, against women. So we must address the cause, for ignoring it only helps those who commit this violence – we must address gender inequality. We must stop blaming women.

Domestic violence affects all kinds of people from all kinds of walks of life. It does not discriminate based on faith, race, age, gender or sexuality. Anyone can be a victim. We need to stop asking why women stay when we have seen women are often murdered when they try to leave. Instead we need to ask why this is happening. Then we need to take action. Our priority in it all should be that women and children are safe.

Over the course of the symposium, I heard from experts who work in many fields where they encounter victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.

I heard from a midwife who talked about how women often try to cope through alcohol and drugs, and that often domestic violence begins or escalates during pregnancy – and how midwifes are in a unique position to support those women.

I heard from a Magistrate and a Family Law expert who outlined the problems in the Family Law Courts, and how the 2006 Family Law Act in Australia that prioritizes the nuclear family and tries to, when possible, allow shared custody of children. Unfortunately, as separation often does not halt the abuse, shared custody can sometimes continue to expose the children and women to violence. I heard how this Family Law expert was working to include the wider support network – grandparents, aunts and uncles – into caring for children, to find the best and safest solution for each individual case.

I also heard how when the no fault divorce act came through, reports of domestic violence dropped, because when women did not have to declare their reason for leaving, they often choose to not report. I was struck how all our best efforts often have unintended consequences.

I heard from an economics professor who had been researching in this area for a long time – and his staggering estimation that domestic violence costs Australia 21.7 billion – and that was only taking into account the violence that is reported. Health costs, funding for shelters, court costs, the hours and hours given by volunteers – even without a heart, you can see this issue is draining our country.

I heard from an academic whose research was in child protection, speak about focusing on prevention. His research into how toxic masculinity teaches boys violence instead of emotional expression from an early age showed clear links between the stereotypical gender roles and this kind of violence.

As I listened to them all, I was very thankful that there are people doing something. When I feel helpless that I cannot do anything, I will try and remember that there are people who are doing something. I will remember that there are people who see the problem and will not be silent. I will remember that there is good happening, slowly, step by step.

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