By Kim O’Neill, CEO, On the Line
Family, domestic and sexual violence is a major social health issue in Australia, predominantly affecting women and children. In Australia, approximately one woman per week and one man per month are killed by a current or former intimate partner as a result of violence. 95% of all victims of violence, both women and men, experience violence from a male perpetrator, although violence perpetrated by women, or in same sex relationships, is not uncommon.
Despite an increase in efforts to reduce occurrences of this problem, we are not seeing a decline. Why? The lack of a reduction could also be due to more women reporting it – with more awareness resources and support available, the stigma surrounding reporting is reducing and along with it, the reluctance to report.
Another important reason why we are not seeing a reduction in reports is because the majority of our endeavours, well-intentioned as they may be, are failing to address the systemic issues that perpetuate this behaviour.
But first, let’s better understand what we are dealing with.
Domestic violence and family violence
The most appropriate terminology for describing violence between intimate partners has long been debated. ‘Family violence’ and ‘domestic violence’ are the most commonly used terms to describe an ongoing pattern of behaviour where the perpetrator exercises power and control over another person.
Family violence is the preferred terminology in Indigenous communities, and is also used in the general population where there is a pattern of violence between family members that includes partner/s, children and even pets.
Domestic violence usually refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship in domestic settings. Domestic violence includes acts of physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, social, economic, spiritual and psychological abuse (Mitchell, 2011).
While there are a host of factors that can lead to domestic and family violence, its frequency and impact, gender inequality plays a big role. Gender attitudes and roles play a part in forming our attitudes, beliefs, norms and ideologies. We need to work to change these norms and find a new way of understanding and respecting the different roles that men and women play in our new world. We know that men are more likely to engage in violence against women if they hold negative attitudes towards women, so we need to challenge negative and damaging portrayals of women in our society at every turn.
There is also a perception of society’s acceptance of this behaviour. Social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) suggests antisocial behaviour, like other behaviours, is learned through imitation, modelling and vicarious reinforcement. Patriarchal traditions, where a man has dominance over this partner/wife, are a significant contributor to the attitudes that enable violence against women. These outdated beliefs about our social hierarchy are no longer of value to us.
The path forward
The solution to reducing the number of incidences of domestic violence doesn’t lie solely with men or with women. There needs to be a national collaborative approach to prevent the violence before it occurs and to prevent violence recurring.
To do this we need to change the norms, practices and structures that cause gender inequality. Australian values need to shift towards normalising equity between women and men in key areas such as health, education, economic participation and political empowerment. We also need to change how we foster male entitlement, power and control.
We need to continue to confront and change community attitudes that condone violence as a method of resolving conflict and hold individuals accountable to strengthen social norms and attitudes.
To stop the cycle of violence from continuing, a psycho-educational bystander and community campaign is required to address the consequences of the exposure to violence and to ensure it is understood that this behaviour is unacceptable in society. This includes introducing these concepts at an early stage, reinforcing child education programs in gender equality and to offer a foundation as to why violence is not acceptable.
Community role models have a big role to play. We are seeing more thought leaders coming forward all the time to challenge the deep seated beliefs about ‘manhood’ and programs such as the White Ribbon ambassador program are a significant step in the right direction. But we need more high profile influencers to step up and make their voice heard.
We need to continue to work as a community to never accept domestic and family violence as part of our society. This needs to be our new normal. The path to true change requires a seismic shift in the attitudes and structures that support the continuing cycle of violence.
Working collaboratively, we can create the foundations for a new society that works to prevent domestic and family violence. It’s up to all of us.