Australia Must Address Domestic Violence

Judging by our domestic violence rate, women are not “mates” in Australia—and never have been. The statistics go something like this: One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence. One in five women over 18 has been stalked. One in five women have been harassed at work. One in four children have been exposed to domestic violence. And one woman a week dies as a result of domestic violence.

And the intersections of racism and sexism stop us from finding our way out of it.

Michael Coghlan / Creative Commons

Indigenous communities suffer disproportionately in this epidemic. Indigenous girls and women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalized due to family violence than non-Indigenous women. Death by star picket is not uncommon in the Far North, but white observers are quick to blame the “grog” rather than address educational and employment opportunities for people living in remote districts. (Remote, that is, from so-called “civilized” urban Australia—where woman die at the hands of their husbands, often with children present.)

When we do hear about the domestic violence epidemic in Australia, too often the stories are told to amplify racist notions toward refugee and migrant communities. Of course it is popular at present to vilify anyone from the Middle East or North Africa and make the illogical assumption that they are all Muslim and abuse is a cultural hangover. It is easier for the media and the public in general to categorize Iranian or Sudanese communities for their treatment of women. It is harder to hold white men to count and to say that their behavior is not localized, but cultural. That kind of statement is liable to get you into hot water.

Footballers have a high profile in Australia and some have begun talking to groups of school children about how men should behave. This is the tip of the iceberg—but at least it’s a tip. We must begin talking about it, and we must begin to address that it happens in all of our homes—not just the homes of “the other.”

Our resistance to talking about domestic violence makes it impossible for us to solve it. And our silence is having devastating effects.

It is widely accepted that domestic violence is the leading cause in Australia of homelessness—yet the Turnbull government intends to cut funding to support to the tune of $34 million over three years. Beginning July 1, 30 percent of Community Legal Aid Centers will receive less funding. Petitions abound to stop this trend in a society once touted as the lucky country where the sun shines every day.

All too often women have been told to dress differently, look out for strangers and not hitchhike—but clearly the danger lurks inside the home. As social media increases the normality of dating online, the threat to women will grow. The stigma of embarrassment at being victimized by a male aggressor, meant to be a loved one, continues—supported by government policies largely framed by men who have “bigger fish to fry.” Stiffer penalties might be the answer, I hear you say, but that tends to clog up the courts while under-staffed police stations cannot successfully maintain surveillance of men likely to kill. A new leave allowance was introduced for women who had been beaten by their husbands, but this domestic violence leave will need to run the gamut of a society which is inclined to demean it as a luxury item.

Meanwhile, the Safe Steps family violence support group has registered an increase in calls. In March 2017 it received 10,293 calls from distressed, endangered women. Why aren’t we learning?

Recently, an Australian politician uttered the words “the things that batter” in relation to his party’s policy on domestic violence—as a kind of pun meant to entertain. It didn’t. But it epitomizes a culture, doesn’t it?