A Serious Post on Domestic Violence

In my very busy role as a retired person, the least booked up days of the week are Tuesday and Friday. So there I was last Friday week (17th Feb), husband out, house to myself, happily sat in front of the laptop working on my manuscript – when the phone rang.

It was a reporter from the local TV station wanting to film my thoughts on the latest announcement in the domestic violence arena. What announcement? I got him to send me the media release, rang a couple of buddies who work in the front line, and found out they had not heard either. I forwarded the release to them, had a quick chat on what is the current situation, slapped on a smart casual outfit and makeup, and faced the camera.

There are two things I’ve discovered in my limited dealings with the pre-recorded news media. You don’t get much notice, and you have no control over how they edit what you say. Wiser people might decline altogether. But this is an important issue, and my memoir, I Belong to No One has attracted more attention for its glimpses of domestic violence than for its core story of adoption relinquishment and reunion.

And the reason for that is simple. Adoption – at least of the “forced” variety i.e. removing babies from unmarried women in order to pass them to infertile couples, in the course of which the baby’s identity is switched – has become so foreign in our society that many can barely believed it ever happened.

Domestic violence, on the other hand, is so prevalent in our society – still – that if you are not a victim yourself, you are likely to be the relative, friend, work colleague, or professional connection of someone who is caught up in its traumatic cycle.

So domestic violence is an important issue to speak about, and if my voice has any influence, then I am happy to add it.

One of the challenges for people working with victims of DV is funding. This would be true the world over. In Australia it is complicated by the State and Federal governments having two different budget buckets. We hear so much talk about what needs to be done, or could be done, but when it comes to action, it is too easy for the responsibility to be hand-balled between different agencies, and we end up with different approaches per state.

This media release concerns the Legal Aid Commission, which is funded by the NSW Government, allocating some of that funding to private lawyers to represent victims of Domestic Violence, via The Legal Aid NSW Domestic Violence Panel (the DVP). To understand what benefit this may mean for the victim I’d like to talk a little about my experience in DV. And while acknowledging that men can also be DV victims, I will speak from the woman’s perspective, because that is all I know first-hand.

It is hard for many to understand how a woman gets involved in a domestic violence situation in the first place, and the answer is – very easily . . .

If I went on a first date, and the guy was abusive, there is a high probability there wouldn’t be a second date; even if I was young, insecure, lacking in self-confidence, starved of love or affection, under-educated, unemployed, drug or alcohol addicted, from a non-Australian cultural background, marginalised, or any of the other stereotypes that may spring to mind when imagining who are potential victims. It is timely to remember that DV strikes at all levels of society.

But it doesn’t happen that way. DV is insidious, and at first, you are not even aware it is happening. You meet someone, you like them, love them, form a relationship, begin to meld your life with theirs, their friends, their family; your finances, your living arrangements – these things get thrown into the mix. Maybe you have kids together. Maybe there are already kids from a previous relationship. Maybe there is both.

As the relationship develops, things change. It might be that you find more time is allocated to his friends than yours. Maybe your friends don’t like him and they get squeezed out because you are put in a position of choosing one over the other. Maybe you find yourself abandoning the things you loved to do because they are not his interest. But this isn’t DV – right? This is love, because when you love someone, you do the things that they love to do – right? That’s what you do when you’re in love, you give. At least, that is how it looks from your perspective.

Or perhaps, there is something that you really, really want to do – but money is tight, so you hold back. Then hey presto! There is something he wants to do, and it not so much money after all, so the budget gets accommodated for that.

But then maybe there is a disagreement over this, or there is a petty jealousy, or some other little spark; and one day, in the heat of the moment, there is a push, a shove, or a slap across the face. That’s not DV – right? It’s frustration, everyone gets frustrated sometime. It’s just some people are better at controlling it than others.

And so it goes, etc, etc. The violence escalates. Afterwards there are tears and apologies all round. He feels bad, he didn’t mean it, he swears it will never happen again. He may have grown up in a violent household/it was a bad day at work/it was the drink/it’s the money worries/the pressures on him.The woman blames herself . . . it was something she said/didn’t say; did/didn’t do. She excuses him . . . because most of the time he is a good man, and he loves her/her kids/their kids.

It is hard for outsiders to understand, but at the crux of it is this; that the couple still love each other. It is not the man she does not like, it is the behaviour. So the promise of a change in behaviour is a powerful pull to keep her in the relationship. Not to mention how will she cope financially, where will she go, and what are the wider repercussions of her leaving? Sometimes she has become completely isolated from her family and friends. Sometimes if she has retained them, involving them will put them at risk too.

The fact is, that once a man has turned to violence, he is unlikely to stop. In fact, the interim between attacks is likely to lessen, as he becomes emboldened. In extreme cases, the loss of respect for the woman can lead the man to think that he should “teach her a lesson” when things go wrong. Equally, the woman can become so cowed and anxious, that it is impossible for her to draw the strength to leave, nor think clearly enough to formulate a plan.

Many women do not speak up at first because of shame. Society expects an instant reaction, so if a woman confides that she has been assaulted, then continues living with her abuser, society blames the woman’s choices, rather than the perpetrator’s actions.

It is hard to leave. I spent three years on and off with a man who became increasingly violent. Yet whenever I was ill, you couldn’t have asked for a better nurse. Looking back, I guess it was a control/submissive thing – but I didn’t have that language in my toolbox at the time. On one occasion I tried to leave him, he smashed up the flat of the friend I went to. Another time I moved into a room in a pub for a week. I was the only woman there and subject to many curious looks, but no one spoke to me in that week. He tracked me down at my workplace and convinced me to return. During one fight he broke my nose in thirteen places. Yet while I was in hospital recuperating, he brought chocolates and flowers. Ultimately I saved in secret, bought a ticket to London, and kept my mouth shut till the last possible moment. He wrote a few times, and I gave curt replies. In one of his letters, he said, “You seem angry with me for some reason?” Get it? He still loved me, and saw nothing unusual in his behaviour i.e. from his perspective he was thinking: sometimes, you just get so mad at something your girlfriend has said or done, that you just have to hit her. And why did I write back? Because, for a long time, I still loved him. It took me a long time, and miles of distance without seeing him, to get over that.

Today’s statistics suggest that by the time a woman leaves a man permanently, she has had eight failed attempts. So by the time she finds her way to a women’s refuge, that’s a lot of broken noses and broken promises she has had to process. When she gets to the refuge, it may be the first moment in a long time for her to get a different perspective on what has become of her life. It may be the first time she learns her rights in the courts, and certainly the first opportunity for her to have a trained support person accompany her there.

Means-Tested Legal Aid has been available to both victim and abuser for some time. Others have had to fund their own actions. Those who qualify for legal aid often have to repeat their story over and over as the solicitor is whoever is on duty that day. If the police bring the action it may reach the court so quickly that the victim has no representation and the matter gets adjourned. Conversely, there may be such a long delay in getting to court that the victim remains at risk in the interim.

By the time a woman (and her children) come anywhere near a court, a lot of trauma has already occurred. This latest initiative may mean, for a select group, that she has continuity of representation from a lawyer who has tendered for this type of work, and who professes to have the special skills and understanding needed to understand the complexities underpinning DV.

One of the grabs chosen by the news media was my comment “We have yet to see how this plays out” and I stand by that. Let us hope that this programme is a part of the solution, and not a gratuitous gesture. Even if it is successful, laudable though it is, this programme is dealing with the back-end of DV trauma.

 What I would really like to see is effective action in the early-intervention sector.

Footnote: When women and their children come into a women’s refuge it is usually an unplanned flight and they have left everything behind with little chance of retrieving larger possessions. If the refuge is able to find them new accommodation it is often unfurnished. Over the past year I have donated several items of second-hand furniture. If you have surplus furniture you may care to make enquiries in your local area. Please expect the location of the refuge to be kept secret for the protection of its clients.

37 thoughts on “A Serious Post on Domestic Violence

  1. I’m amazed at how many organizations claim to be doing their part to stop domestic violence but, they all start out like fire and brimstone but, the real issues are going unaddressed, in my community anyways. My local Women’s Shelter both said to leave my emotionally abusive husband. It was good to get the clarification because, without any physical violence, wife’s like me think we must be babies and I should suck it up. When you figure out you are in a dysfunctional marriage due to his abuse, your shocked you didn’t see it and the complexity of being manipulated for 18 years, leaves you paralyzed. You can’t think straight , your just barely getting through the day and so you crawl into an attorneys office and put all your faith in you lawyer and pray he will work on your behalf. And when they don’t , you will suffer with serious consequences!! Send me your stories, let alert the Attorney Grievance Commission that, we aren’t going to take it anymore!!!

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  2. Talking about the legal aid :/ in the UK there has been huge duanges and many girls are being faild by it . This also the same about the family courts as it is al secretive and judges are getting too much pwer and control and able to override the criminal justice system. I was faild along with many other women. Please what are the courts like over there and do they have a jury……?

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    • The system here depends on what action is taken in which court. The majority of victims of DV appear in the local magistrates court to obtain an apprehended violence order (AVO) which does not require a jury. On the other hand, cases may escalate to criminal charges, including manslaughter and murder, which certainly requires a jury.

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  4. Powerful post! It would be so much easier to avoid abusive people if they were not so manipulative. You very adequately explained domestic violence and it’s effects. Love this… “By the time a woman (and her children) come anywhere near a court, a lot of trauma has already occurred.” Yes, so much damage is already done by the time the legal system is involved. I pray that more victims of domestic violence are set free from their abusers. Thank you for posting this.

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  5. I believe that bullies always use their best weapons. Most men use their physical dominance but many men are victims of more subtle but equally damaging verbal and psychological abuse. In many ways we have potential to be both victim and perpetrator.

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    • Absolutely. And as I mentioned on another comment, there is growing evidence that victims grow up to be perpetrators. You know however, how government funding relies on statistics, so for those purposes there is often a distinction made between domestic VIOLENCE as opposed to ABUSE. And those waters are even further muddied by different states using different definitions. So my article was written on violence, as that is the sector that is being targeted with this latest announcement from Legal Aid.

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  6. Thank you Gwendoline for being a voice for all woman shocking that our PM Turnbull is wanting to close more safe houses for mothers and young one homeless

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  7. I’m against violence of any kind, against anybody, whether it be man, woman or child. I’ve never suffered bullies and though somewhat small in physique had been know to belt a bully or two into submission in my younger days.

    My wife tells me I have a violent temper, and bullying brings out the best, or worst, in me; She’s been pretty lucky I suppose, 🙂

    It seems to me, however, that the only violence, domestic or otherwise, that receives any attention, is the violence to women.

    There is undoubtedly a great deal more, suffered by women, than men, but the numbers of men subjected to domestic violence is not insignificant and it too should be highlighted and condemned for what it is………..

    Bullying of the worst order!

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    • There is no doubt that men are also the victims of DV. Within that world, I can assure you that they also receive attention. Statistics are hard to quantify, as each state defines DOMESTIC Violence differently, and there is no single record. Different states also muddle boys with men when counting. However, the general consensus is that across Australia one in six women and one in 20 men have experienced at least one incidence of violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15. The fact is though – it is our women who are dying. Australia-wide, 71 in 2016 and 80 the year before. And I knew one of them. And that’s pretty hard to take. So I make no apologies for the media attention falling more to the female side than the male. Until we convince both sexes to stop hitting each other – then we should be shouting from the rooftops!

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  8. Excellent piece. I have been lucky never to experience such situations, but this is the clearest description I have read about the slow, inescapable traumatic sequence of domestic violence and the real difficulties that make escape so difficult. Hope your message works.

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  9. Superbly written and a very clear explanation of how you can gradually get trapped in a very bad place both physically and mentally. How clever, brave and strong you were.

    I was lucky as even though I was living in mainland Europe my parent’s hired a van and came from the UK to rescue my daughter and I when my husband was on a business trip on the other side of the world. It was still very frightening. Refuges are absolutely essential as many women have no one left to turn to. I agree with you early-intervention is where the resources should be concentrated. I think it is especially important when there are children involved in order to try and stop the cycles of violence being passed down the generations.

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    • Yes, there is a groundswell of evidence emerging that children raised in a violent household go on to be abusers. While it would be nice to imagine it the other way around, it seems to be that such behaviour “normalises” violence. I am quite sure that was the cause in the case of the partner I mention in the article, and possibly in my husband’s also. I could have written so much more, and gone into great detail about how the woman’s personality becomes repressed, but I am glad I didn’t. The article seems to be having more impact for its succinctness. In my “victim” years, police would not attend a domestic, there was no mandatory hospital reporting (eg the broken nose event) and no such thing as a women’s refuge. We’ve moved on, but forty years later and we still haven’t go it right! Nowhere near it!

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      • Oh yes – we most certainly have moved on, but still it’s surprising how some of this comes as news to people who are lucky enough not to have had their lives blighted by domestic violence. At least people are prepared to talk about it more these days and informing and educating must surely be the way forward. Well done you for speaking up loudly and clearly.

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  10. You have explained DV very succinctly enabling someone like me, who had no notion of what it all meant, to understand the very real problems. I’m very grateful for my ‘lucky life’ with decent people around me.

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