Bat­tle against vi­o­lence can never end

Con­cern over the pub­lic health im­pact of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is be­hind a new push to tackle the prob­lem. Health ed­i­tor Adam Cress­well re­ports

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

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‘‘‘‘ONNA Zan­der knows ex­actly how deep the roots of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence run — and how com­mon at­ti­tudes keep those roots well wa­tered. Quite of­ten you find peo­ple come out with be­liefs such as there’s some­thing about her that al­lowed it to hap­pen’, or that ‘ he just lost his cool’, or that she pro­voked him’,’’ says the anti-vi­o­lence ed­u­ca­tor. Th­ese are not very help­ful to women and chil­dren who are try­ing to ex­tri­cate them­selves, be­cause of­ten the of­fender is say­ing it’s your fault — if you’d had the din­ner ready on time, or if you hadn’t been nag­ging me, I wouldn’t have lost it’.’’

But Zan­der also knows how hollow those ex­cuses re­ally are.

She is, in her pre­ferred term, a ‘‘ sur­vivor’’ of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence her­self, and now de­votes her en­er­gies to de­mol­ish­ing some of th­ese myths about the causes of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence — such as the no­tion that it only hap­pens to the less well-off — and who is re­ally at fault: the per­pe­tra­tor.

Such at­ti­tudes are ex­tremely com­mon and she says they are held by pro­fes­sion­als and oth­ers right through so­ci­ety.

‘‘ There are many ex­am­ples of women who have come from quite well-to-do homes, and I was one of them,’’ she says. ‘‘ Peo­ple look for rea­sons (for abuse) out­side the re­al­ity . . . cer­tainly men who choose to use vi­o­lence are choos­ing to use vi­o­lence be­cause it makes them feel bet­ter. What I’m aiming to do is chal­lenge some of those com­monly held be­liefs.’’

To il­lus­trate that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is not the mi­nor prob­lem that some peo­ple ap­pear to be­lieve, Zan­der cites the ex­am­ples of Donna Car­son, who was bashed, doused in petrol and set alight by her then boyfriend in 1994. In an­other case, a 16-year-old girl was at­tacked af­ter break­ing up with her boyfriend, and is now in a wheel­chair and com­mu­ni­cates through an ar­ti­fi­cial voice syn­the­siser.

The push to com­bat do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is gath­er­ing con­sid­er­able mo­men­tum, af­ter the Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment last week com­mit­ted $810,000 to 29 sep­a­rate projects that will trial dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to pre­vent vi­o­lence against women.

Some of those projects may be picked up na­tion­ally.

A land­mark study by VicHealth showed that in­ti­mate part­ner vi­o­lence was the lead­ing cause of pre­ventable death, dis­abil­ity and ill­ness in Vic­to­rian women aged from 15 to 44 — a greater bur­den than that caused by ei­ther heart dis­ease or smok­ing.

VicHealth chief ex­ec­u­tive Todd Harper said an Ac­cess Eco­nomics study from 2004 showed vi­o­lence against women cost Aus­tralia as a whole $8.1 bil­lion a year.

While a VicHealth study on com­mu­nity at­ti­tudes last year found that most Vic­to­ri­ans thought women should be free from vi­o­lence, nearly 25 per cent of re­spon­dents also be­lieved do­mes­tic vi­o­lence ‘‘ could be ex­cused if it re­sulted from peo­ple tem­po­rar­ily los­ing con­trol, or if the per­pe­tra­tor gen­uinely re­gret­ted what they had done’’ af­ter­wards.

Such be­liefs cut no ice with Zan­der, who says the is­sue has a ‘‘ huge im­pact on women’s health’’ and that she was her­self di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and de­pres­sion af­ter leav­ing her hus­band and mov­ing into a refuge in 2000.

She is de­ter­mined to chal­lenge what she sees is the blind eye that a sig­nif­i­cant slice of so­ci­ety turns to­wards do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

‘‘ One in 11 women is af­fected by breast can­cer, and one in three women is af­fected by do­mes­tic vi­o­lence,’’ she says. ‘‘ If we said to women af­fected by breast can­cer that you have to leave your home be­cause you are not safe, we would think that was dis­gust­ing.’’

A re­port by the fed­eral Par­lia­men­tary Li­brary last year made clear the scale of the do­mes­tic vi­o­lence prob­lem.

Based on 2005 fig­ures from the Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics, the re­port showed that 363,000, or 4.7 per cent of all women ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal vi­o­lence in the pre­vi­ous 12 months, and 126,100 women (1.6 per cent) ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual vi­o­lence.

The ABS found over 2.5 mil­lion, or 33 per cent of all women, had ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal vi­o­lence since the age of 15, and 1.5 mil­lion (19 per cent) sex­ual vi­o­lence.

There had been some falls in the rates be­tween 1996 and 2005, but th­ese were mod­est: 443,000 women or 5.8 per cent ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lence in 2005, com­pared to 490,400 in 1996.

A pre­vi­ous part­ner was the most com­mon per­pe­tra­tor, ac­count­ing for about 50 per cent of cases.

Many of the projects funded by the VicHealth grants fo­cus on ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple in dif­fer­ent walks of life — schools, eth­nic groups, work­places, and men and boys. Many will chal­lenge the com­mon no­tions that it is ac­cept­able for a man to vi­o­lently lose his tem­per oc­ca­sion­ally — or, even worse, the non­sen­si­cal idea that do­ing so makes him more of a man.

‘‘ In the last sur­vey I looked at, about onethird of boys thought it was to­tally ap­pro­pri­ate to be phys­i­cally vi­o­lent with women for sex,’’ says Mary Crooks, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Vic­to­rian Women’s Trust, an in­de­pen­dent or­gan­i­sa­tion that seeks to im­prove con­di­tions for women in many dif­fer­ent ways.

‘‘ There’s so much of an em­pha­sis on men be­ing strong and coura­geous. But you can be strong and brave with­out be­ing vi­o­lent — in fact you are a stronger and braver man be­cause you don’t have vi­o­lence in your life.’’

The Trust’s pro­gram, called Liv­ing in a Man’s World, takes a dif­fer­ent tack from ex­ist­ing cam­paigns, such as the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s ‘ Aus­tralia Says No’ se­ries of ad­ver­tise­ments and sup­port­ing ma­te­ri­als.

In­stead the Trust’s cam­paign will, in Crooks’s words, ‘‘ fos­ter un­der­stand­ing of how you can live a de­cent and honourable life as a man, with­out vi­o­lence play­ing any sort of role’’. The cam­paign — which may be taken up na­tion­ally if the pilot is suc­cess­ful and fur­ther funds can be raised — aims to de­velop a set of ma­te­ri­als that men can draw on to chal­lenge some of th­ese old-fash­ioned ideas about gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

This could be rel­e­vant ei­ther in ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion — for ex­am­ple if a man over­hears oth­ers mak­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments — or in more for­mal teach­ing set­tings.

‘‘ The ma­te­ri­als that we de­velop are look­ing to sup­port men in their com­mu­nity, to as­sist young men and boys to un­der­stand that there is no role for vi­o­lence in re­la­tion­ships,’’ Crooks says.

‘‘ It’s about har­ness­ing the lead­er­ship ca­pac­ity of men to play a lead role with young boys grow­ing up, other than just be­ing dads — whether the men are in the soc­cer club or the foot­ball club or the scouts, so they feel con­fi­dent go­ing in on the front foot.’’

Doc­tor Michael Flood, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Aus­tralian Re­search Cen­tre in Sex, Health and So­ci­ety at La Trobe Univer­sity, agrees pro­grams like this are sorely needed, be­cause much of the at­ten­tion to date has been di­rected at re­sponses — look­ing af­ter women who have al­ready been abused, and deal­ing with per­pe­tra­tors.

Flood says the ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralians — many of them women — hold ‘‘ vi­o­lence­sup­port­ing at­ti­tudes’’, which un­less chal­lenged can re­duce in­di­vid­u­als’ will­ing­ness to be sup­port­ive or in­ter­vene, and in­crease a so­ci­ety’s tol­er­ance for vi­o­lence gen­er­ally.

If men hold such at­ti­tudes it greatly in­creases the chance the man will be vi­o­lent, for ex­am­ple if the man be­lieves that in some sit­u­a­tions a wo­man wants to be raped, or de­serves it.

But th­ese at­ti­tudes can also greatly slow a wo­man’s re­cov­ery from a vi­o­lent re­la­tion­ship, whether held by oth­ers or the wo­man her­self.

‘‘ A wo­man with vi­o­lent-sup­port­ing at­ti­tudes is more likely to blame her­self (for be­ing at­tacked), to feel guilt and shame, to not seek help or not re­port the vi­o­lence she has ex­pe­ri­enced,’’ Flood says.

‘‘ She might think ‘ he was my ex-boyfriend, I shouldn’t have had a drink with him’, or ‘ I shouldn’t have been wear­ing a miniskirt’, or ‘ I shouldn’t have been danc­ing’.’’

The third im­pact of vi­o­lence-sup­port­ing at­ti­tudes is on friends and by­standers, who if they hold such views might re­act in less than sup­port­ive ways even with­out know­ing it.

This might in­volve ask­ing an as­saulted wo­man what she was wear­ing at the time, or what she was do­ing be­ing in the place where the at­tack hap­pened.

Flood says pri­mary pre­ven­tion pro­grams gen­er­ally have been over­looked, and the Vic­to­rian pro­grams put that state well in the lead na­tion­ally in re­spond­ing to the vi­o­lence prob­lem.

‘‘ There’s well-doc­u­mented eval­u­a­tions of th­ese kinds of poli­cies in­ter­na­tion­ally, and they show that well-de­signed pro­grams can im­prove com­mu­nity at­ti­tudes, and lessen men’s and women’s tol­er­ance for vi­o­lence and in­crease their will­ing­ness to in­ter­vene,’’ he says.

Pic­ture: David Ger­aghty

Cru­sader: Donna Zan­der talk­ing to Se­nior Con­sta­bles Paul Grif­fiths and Liz Joyce at Eltham Po­lice Sta­tion in Melbourne

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