Photographer : Wade
The term domestic assault, also known as domestic violence, does not refer to just physical assault, but encompasses many forms of abuse that occur between family members and partners, both current and former. Because it can take many forms, it is sometimes hard to recognise, both from an outsider’s point of view, and from an insider’s. Both abusers and the abused often fail to recognise behaviour as abusive for a variety of reasons.
This may be because the abuse is not overt, or either partner may be making excuses for the behaviour: they may feel it is the victim’s fault, blame alcohol, the abusers promise they will change, blame life stress, believe it is a ‘private matter’, or do not classify financial or social control as abuse.
Abuse can cover:
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- psychological/Emotional abuse
- social abuse
- financial abuse.
Who does it affect?
Abusers and abused are men and women from all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Domestic violence is more common among certain groups of people. Statistics show that women are far more likely to be abused, and men the abusers. Young women are more susceptible than older women, and people in rural and indigenous communities are more likely to be affected than those who are not.
Domestic violence in one area influences the level of domestic violence in other areas. If a woman experiences physical or sexual abuse, then she is more prone also to experience other forms of abuse, such as social, financial or psychological.
It is also important to recognise that domestic violence does not affect just the abused and the abuser, but can heavily impact on children in the family also. If there is domestic violence between parents, it is likely that the children also will be abused. And, children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to offend and let offences occur in their teenage and adult relationships.
Why does it still happen?
Why do people stay together and what drives people to do so?
Women who experience domestic assault often want to deal with it themselves, or talk with a friend, and often do not seek any professional intervention by police or support services. Men who are victims are often too ashamed to admit to being victims. Victims may believe that it is normal, that they are at fault, that they can change the perpetrator’s behaviour or that the abuse is only temporary. Victims may also fear that their perpetrator may become more violent if challenged or left. Women often feel that they will not be able to survive without their partners or that they may lose their children. Perpetrators may be reluctant to admit what they are doing is wrong, believing they have a right to their actions. They often believe that such behaviour is normal.
What systems are in place that let it continue?
Victims are often isolated by their perpetrators, which inhibits their physical and emotional contact with the world outside. This results in victims feeling as if they have no one to turn to. In addition, many women are not even aware of the resources available to them. In many circumstances, a victim’s particular social constraints, such as religious or cultural beliefs, also inhibit them. In many indigenous communities, there is a greater tolerance of domestic violence and a perception that it is a part of life. This results in victims feeling they have less power and less of a right to challenge their abuser or change their circumstances.
It is also important to note that abusive behaviour affects multiple aspects of a relationship. Other dynamics in the relationship between an abuser and the abused, such as love and a common history, are affected.
What’s the situation in Australia?
There are no accurate figures regarding the extent of domestic violence, as many victims, both men and women, are reluctant to report or get help for domestic assault. Some figures roughly estimate that around 20% of Australian women have experienced abuse. Due to under-reported incidents, this can be seen as a minimum only. Research suggests that women who experience either sexual or physical abuse are more likely also to experience other forms of abuse, such as emotional or financial.
The research however, suggests that the majority of victims of physical, sexual and financial abuse are women and most abusers are their partners. Statistics suggest that young women (18-24) with low socio-economic status are the most vulnerable. Other vulnerable groups include pregnant women and indigenous women.
Domestic violence is illegal and punishable under Australian law. While awaiting prosecution, victims can be protected by an Apprehended Violence Order, which places restrictions on the respondent; eg how far away they must stay from the aggrieved and anyone else named in the order, for example, children.
What’s going on overseas?
Domestic Violence is a global phenomenon, with varying rates of frequency and overt aggression. The varying forms of domestic assault are often the result of the level of social acceptability. Canada, for example has similar attitudes towards domestic assault and similar statistics of incidence as Australia. Countries such as Pakistan, however, report a much higher level of DV, with over half of women admitting to being beaten by their husbands. This is influenced by factors such as the practice of Honour Killings.
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, defines Violence Against Women as:
"any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."
Thus international action against domestic assault is primarily directed towards combating assault against women.
How do I know this?
Amnesty International UK, Defining violence against women, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/svaw/vaw/definition.shtml
Australian Bureau of Statistics, http://www.abs.gov.au
Carrington, K & Phillips, J 2003, Domestic violence in Australia—an overview of the issues, http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/SP/Dom_viol...
If you need support regarding this issue, head to http://www.reachout.com.au