Domestic Violence: Let’s Get Real About It
Domestic violence affects many. It causes fear and intimidation, and starts from an entitlement to have power and control over another person.
Living with domestic violence has a profound effect upon children and young people, and may constitute a form of child abuse.
Is it domestic violence only when it becomes physical?
No, domestic violence includes a wide range of controlling and intimidating behaviours:
Physical abuse – including direct assaults on the body, use of weapons, driving dangerously, destruction of property, abuse of pets in front of family members, assault of children, locking the victim out of the house, and sleep deprivation.
Sexual abuse – any form of forced sex or sexual degradation, such as sexual activity without consent, causing pain during sex, assaulting the genitals, coercive sex without protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease, making the victim perform sexual acts unwillingly, criticising, or using sexually degrading insults.
Verbal abuse – continual ‘put downs’ and humiliation, either privately or publicly, with attacks following clear themes that focus on intelligence, sexuality, body image and capacity as a parent and spouse.
Emotional abuse – blaming the victim for all problems in the relationship, constantly comparing the victim with others to undermine self-esteem and self-worth, sporadic sulking, withdrawing all interest and engagement (eg weeks of silence).
Social abuse – systematic isolation from family and friends through techniques such as ongoing rudeness to family and friends, moving to locations where the victim knows nobody, and forbidding or physically preventing the victim from going out and meeting people — in effect, imprisonment.
Economic abuse – complete control of all monies, no access to bank accounts, providing only an inadequate ‘allowance’, using any wages earned by the victim for household expenses.
I’m in a domestic violence relationship. Can counselling help?
In our experience, women who have been abused are often traumatised, living on edge and ‘walking on eggshells’. These women may have no one they can turn to. They feel disempowered and scared to to take any action. They may feel it is partly their fault, such is the extent of the psychological abuse.
The first step is to get support, information and advice about your options. There are many support services that are only a phone call away, such as 1800 Respect. But even with the best of information and advice, it is vital to have the patient, wise and personal support of someone who can help you make clear-headed decisions.
The top priority with anyone working with family violence situations is safety. Safety for the mother. Safety for the children. Victims may need a very carefully thought out safety plan. The purpose of police interventions and AVO is to ensure safety for the vulnerable.
I’m in an highly abusive relationship? How can I get my partner to change?
Sadly, we see far too many relationships where the abused partner ‘hangs in there’ in hope that somehow the violence will stop.
More commonly, the cycle continues. After violence there is a cooling off or honeymoon period, but after maybe days, weeks or months, the cycle of abuse and violence resumes.
In our experience, we see many men ‘get it’ and have a ‘wake up call’ to just how damaging their behaviour is. This generally occurs after a partner leaves, after an assault, or after the police have issued an apprehended violence order (AVO).
At this stage, many men reach out for help and enter a men’s program or counselling. In this, they generally stop their physical violence quickly, and start the much longer journey of truly understanding how they emotionally abuse. This brings the best hope for a relationship to be restored. However, sometimes too much emotional damage has occurred for the couple to repair.
I know I go too far in my anger. I’m scared of losing my partner. What should I do?
Change is possible. Especially when men (and women) are this honest about the emotional damage they are causing.
When such men are willing to do whatever it takes, they can learn to take responsibility for their choices and behaviour. This can be the start of a process of deepening empathy. In turn, this can lead to a mutually respectful power-sharing relationship.