John Paul Langbroek brought me to boiling point the other week with his comments about domestic violence. This shows how out of touch and neanderthal the QLD LNP’s thinking is on this issue. Langbroek blamed the QLD economy for Domestic Violence. He had the audacity to use the serious crime of domestic violence to take a political stab. If any issue needs to be bipartisan, it is this one. Mr. Langbroek, domestic violence can happen to anyone. It is caused by controlling and violent behaviour by the individual perpetrator. Nothing else. There are no excuses.
For Langbroek to say this sickens me, as it gives the perpetrator an excuse for their violence. To use the recent tragedies as political point scoring deeply disturbs me and his own party should question his leadership and personal character.
I think it is important that many people speak up about how we as citizens see what important changes are necessary to develop an effective system to eradicate domestic violence. Many victims, survivors and their family and friends need a safe space to share stories and provide recommendations. I have outlined some of the changes I feel that need to occur to protect victims, below. These are simply talking points and do need further debate:
National Domestic Violence Portal – Listening to voices
Although domestic violence is receiving a lot of attention and progression and enhancement of services is now in the spotlight, I believe we need to hear more. I have discussed this issue with many women and some men and everyone’s story is different. We need to gather data about the stories and concerns of victims who have suffered and are suffering and listen – really listen to their recommendations. I say this because our country is a diverse country. Something that may work for people in the inner city in Melbourne, may not work or be enough in my town of Rockhampton in Central Queensland or further out west in rural communities.
There are so many antecedents of domestic violence, so many antecedents of victims not receiving the support they need and so many factors which prevent victims from remaining safe from harm. There are many victims who do not want to speak up about their own ordeal in public or online and that should be completely respected. The fear of domestic violence for some never goes away. For some people in small towns or close knit suburbs, there are family and friends to deal with, as well as the ex-partner forever more. If a victim is suffering from domestic violence in their current relationship, it is highly unlikely these victims will speak up. Sometimes for child custody reasons, or caring for aged parents, both people from the relationship need to remain in the same town.
I believe a National Domestic Violence online portal will also capture the men who do not want to publicly speak up. The issue of men as victims of violence is relatively silent. We need to understand the underlying constructs of domestic violence for both genders in heterosexual relationships and also same-sex relationships, as well as many men and women from different ethnicities. These people should have a confidential voice, which is linked to a Government Department with professionals working in this area to receive their stories and recommendations. Alternatively, Universities could be paid to collect this data and analyse findings for recommendations.
Violence is violence
Domestic Violence perpetrators need to be viewed the same as a stranger. Government, agencies, law enforcement and our justice system need to stop looking at domestic violence through a lens of ‘a personal situation.’ If it was a stranger who committed these violent acts, then they would be arrested and charged and the victim could probably even sue them as a victim of crime. Police and the legal system need to treat this as individual violent behaviour on another. Justifying the violence within the relationship as not as important as if committed by a stranger, gives the perpetrators even more power and it says that violence within a relationship is acceptable in our society.
The line of questioning
I hope this doesn’t happen now; but if the police still ask questions about what the victim did to provoke the violence (do you make his meals on time for him etc.,), that needs to cease immediately (this example is from a story from a victim of domestic violence more than 20 years ago). A review of the line of questioning needs to be undertaken so that victims are understood and supported. A victim should never feel that the violence is their fault, or the violence is acceptable due to the line of questioning developed through a gender-role lens, a religious lens, a disability lens or a culture lens.
Rape is Rape
Rape and excessive violent rape within a relationship have been crimes for a long time. It needs to be treated that way in all cases and the perpetrator arrested and charged and complaints taken seriously. Domestic violence agencies, need to promote advice about the safest procedure to victims. The authorities need to treat this as serious violence inflicted onto an individual. Victims of rape need to be supported. Legislation needs to be scrutinised and court processes need to be scrutinised. For example, if a woman was raped and remained in the relationship out of fear, would the police drop the case or pursue it? This is a question I do not know the answer to, but I fear at times victims of rape are not supported due to current procedures in our police work and legal systems. However, considering the current climate, a review in my opinion would assist as well as collating and analysing the data from stories from victims, who have gone to police or the court process with rape as a factor and improvements could be recommended from there.
Media portrayal of domestic violence
The portrayal in the media of domestic violence using pictures of women with black eyes etc., does disturb me. There are many techniques a perpetrator can use which show no marks. For example, being dragged around the house by the hair and given Chinese burns, placing a plastic bag over a person’s head, being locked in cupboard and covered with vile filth etc., does not give a woman a black eye. Making a woman beg does not give a black eye. Controlling every move a woman makes and not allowing her to have any of her own thoughts or decisions or autonomy does not give a woman a black eye. My main fear with this is some women will think they need to be battered, bruised and bleeding before they are in a domestic violent situation. My other fear is that there is such a gender focus on women, that this will make men even more reluctant to speak up if they are victims.
The way societies belief system is shaped so quickly through intense media, I fear, will have some victims not be believed by people they reach out to if they ‘don’t look like a victim.’ I am concerned this will reduce the self-efficacy of victims to use the complaints system. The Government through the media needs to be more three-dimensional and tell people what exactly constitutes violence and the many different forms of violence and use strong words to explain the actions. “This behaviour is a crime and we will take you seriously.” The Government through the media also needs to discuss all relationships including male victims and LGBTI victims in same sex or various gender-spectrum relationships.
Dedicated response units
The Government needs to have special dedicated response units for immediate response in every single town. This should be their only job. There are so many anecdotal stories by victims who say that the police did not show up, or there wasn’t an officer available. My concern is for regional and rural communities where they often have skeleton police staff. I understand some people think a surplus is the most important thing for our country; but I would be happy to excuse the debt or pay extra into a levy to fund a dedicated domestic violence response unit in all towns. It should not be something that ‘we desire when we get the money.’ It is an absolute necessity right now.
There are also many victims who flee to another town and live in constant fear they will be found. If we established dedicated response units, we have the technology to enable victims to register with these response units to be on high alert. A victim is not always safe just because they have left the immediate area where the perpetrator lives.
Safety is paramount
Many times victims are embarrassed to go to the police and they just think everything will be OK – they can deal with it, there are children and extended family to worry about too and the judgements passed by family and friends. It is a complicated situation and everyone’s situation is different. Police need to put in place a process where a victim is immediately counselled by a professional (not a police officer) about their safety needs. It should not just be a statement to the police and you go home. The threat of violence and the violence towards men by other men or women also needs to be treated seriously.
A network needs to be set up so victims are removed from their town immediately if they are in immediate threat of their life. Being in the same town is unsafe. The Government needs to pay for flights and immediate accommodation in another town. Victims should not have to save on no income until they can have enough to get out. I knew a woman once who told me that she had an allowance from her husband of $10 per week and she saved out of that for six years to get out. This is not acceptable.
Safety rights versus custodial and access rights
There are victims forced to remain in towns due to custody arrangements. If violence has been a factor in the relationship breakdown, this in no way should apply. The safety of the victim and children must be the only concern. The custodial and access rights of the perpetrator should not ever be given a higher priority than the safety of the victim. I understand this is a complicated issue and I do have a concern that some will use this as a tool to prevent access from the non-custodial parent in a non-genuine case. However, it is a point worth debating and solutions provided by those within the family courts and domestic violence systems.
Relationship awareness needs to start in Primary School. I think if girls and boys are educated about how we should treat each other in relationships all through primary and highschool, warning signs will be evident and it will strengthen people. Relationship awareness must include the cycle of domestic violence. Victims must be made aware that some perpetrators will continually be violent, plateau, adorn the victim with gifts and love and then back to violence and how to recognise these signs and how to respond.
Often, domestic violence is a slow progression in a relationship, from manipulation and control, complete erosion of self-esteem, to financial dependence to physical violence, some victims do not understand that what is happening is not normal, as it is gradual. They do not understand the violence they experience is a crime. What goes on within a couple’s walls sometimes, some women and men think is normal and they are reluctant to go to the police when the violence starts to occur. If relationship education was put into place early in life and continued throughout, warning bells would occur and hopefully many will end the relationship before physical violence occurs.
Disclosure to religious organisations and other organisations or professionals
Victims disclosing to professionals such as doctors and counsellors must have an obligation to act. Domestic Violence agencies also need to work with churches and other organisations and professionals to educate them on the advice that should be given to victims of violence. It is not helpful to a victim if a religious organisation, doctor or counsellor encourages a victim to stay and ‘work it out.’ It is my concern that there are some organisations or professionals who victims feel comfortable to disclose to, but the response is ill advised and harmful. I do not know the answer to convincing a religious priest or pastor or a deeply religious doctor etc., that the sanctity of marriage is more important than the safety of the victim, but the conversation does need to be started and solutions need to be recommended from the hierarchies within these establishments in conjunction with the Government and penalties should be applied where appropriate.
It is our duty as parents to speak to our children about what a respectful relationship means. I am not going to say how this should be done as each family is different and each family has different dynamics; but it should be as essential as driver safety, drugs and alcohol and stranger danger. It is a continuous conversation we must have.
Be a real friend
Speak Up. There is no point being sympathetic after the victim has left the relationship. There is no point recounting the number of times you thought about how wrong it was the way the perpetrator treated your friend after the victim has left the relationship and is probably in more danger now than if they got out earlier. Tell your friends that what is happening is wrong at the time and support them to speak to someone who can help them leave the relationship and stay safe. Don’t just sit back and think you are interfering.
Mental Health funding
Some survivors of domestic violence can spend the rest of their lives suffering from PTSD, Anxiety and Depression and other illnesses. Mental Health funding needs to increase so victims can access services that can assist them to heal. This is critical for victims and perpetrators for not only self-healing but also for future healthy relationships. Once again, this is not something we ‘should do when we have the money’ it is a necessity now.
There are undoubtedly going to be some perpetrators who are violent and will have an intent to cause harm regardless and our legal system does not keep offenders jailed indefinitely. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are many antecedents which do enable controlling and violent behaviour in people and that there are some perpetrators who can be rehabilitated and never offend again and go on into healthy respectful relationships. Sometimes this could repair a family and sometimes they may move onto another relationship. If we want a collegial and civil society, we must invest in community education and programs to assist perpetrators in changing their behaviour and thought patterns forever and provide any other treatments they need. This must be treated in the same way as other offenders for other crimes. Like other offenders rehabilitation must be a consideration and a commitment from Government and funding to community organisations provided. As with other suggestions, this is not a ‘we will do when we have the money, we need a serious investment in this now.’
These are my suggestions, built from my own awareness of domestic violence and discussions with many people over many years. I welcome any further suggestions or continuation of a discussion on any of the points I have raised. I have purposely kept this post gender neutral, as I do not want to discount any individual who may be a victim of domestic violence or discount their lived experience or what they may recommend.