Tag Archives: family violence

Part Two: Family violence and the middle class

1 Feb

Escape

 

Yesterday’s post on family violence and the middle class drew some criticism, in one instance culminating in me being described as a troll, and my point of view as “stupid, sigh” by the male who didn’t agree with it, or the fact that I wouldn’t back down from it. I find that patronising sigh interesting, given that we were discussing gender imbalance and middle class abuse. I’ve noticed lately on social media that if I politely persist in addressing areas of disagreement, abuse almost inevitably results: apparently there comes a point in discussion with some middle class men where if a woman doesn’t capitulate her position is stupid, sigh. A clever woman knows when to shut her mouth, perhaps?

I’ve used as my source for the argument against using class as a determinant in the family violence debate this government document titled Domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia: an overview of the issues, compiled in October 2014.

Quote:

In Australia, domestic, family and sexual violence is found across all cultures, ages and socio-economic groups, but the majority of those who experience these forms of violence are women. However, it is not possible to measure the true extent of the problem as most incidents of domestic, family and sexual violence go unreported.

Risk factors:

As discussed earlier, domestic, family and sexual violence occurs across all ages, cultures and socio-economic groups.[27] However, research shows that some women are at greater risk of experiencing these forms of violence than others.[28] For example, exposure to child abuse or violence as a child, alcohol or drug dependency issues, financial or personal stress and lack of social support are all strong correlates of violence against women.[29] Some women are also more vulnerable to violence, or less able to leave violent relationships, based on factors such as age, Indigenous status, location, disability, ethnicity, and English language ability.

None of these risk factors are peculiar to any particular class, yet it’s far from unusual for such risk factors to be presumed to be indicators of class.

The face of Australian family violence for the last twelve months was Rosie Batty, whose son, Luke, was horribly and publicly murdered by his father. Ms Batty is a middle class woman. Indeed, a woman who was unable to perform the middle class expectations of that role would never have been appointed in the first place.  I don’t recall Ms Batty framing family violence as a class issue: far from it, it seems to me she at all times focused on violence against women and children, regardless of class.

I suspect that a focus on class in the family violence debate draws attention away from the far more threatening perspective of  family violence as an issue of gender inequality. Far easier for the middle classes, males in particular, to distance themselves from gender inequality if its most violent manifestation is said to occur in demographics other than their own.

As long as family violence is associated with the shame and othering of what is perceived as *welfare class* behaviour, middle class women and children will continue to remain largely silent on what happens to them in their homes.

I also do not and will not accept the stigmatisation of low-income, poor and Indigenous people in the matter of family violence as a class issue.

As a woman explained to me today, her middle class status changed overnight when she reported some twenty-five years of family violence to police.  The consequences of reporting saw her lose that status, and become a member of the *underclass.* How would I be represented in the statistics, she asks. How indeed.

Women and children who leave violent relationships frequently suffer financially and socially, as well as running a high risk of further injury and even death at the hands of the perpetrator.

Assistance, protection, legal help and sanctuary should be available for every woman and child who is a victim of family violence, regardless of class and any other consideration. When services are being increasingly withdrawn by the LNP government, either directly or through reduced funding to the states, it seems rather ludicrous to be quarrelling about the class to which victims belong.

I don’t buy the argument that establishing the class of victims allows policy makers to best direct funding. As the cited overview states, those who experience family violence are predominantly women, and it is impossible to measure the true extent of the problem as most incidents go unreported. Were adequate services available, women would be enabled to report. We might then see what place class has in family violence.

What is indisputable is that it is women who are most urgently in need of assistance, and that the problem is at its source one of gender inequality and not class, though class certainly has an effect on reporting, and perception.

 

 

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Family violence and the middle class

31 Jan

 

Family ViolenceI’ve just read yet another white, middle-class journalist, female this time, assert that there are forces other than misogyny and gender inequality that are accountable for family violence, and that this type of violence is perpetrated in predominantly low-income families. This view is also held by Miranda Devine.

I wrote about this last year when Martin Mackenzie-Murray made the same claims in The Saturday Paper, and Mark Latham also claimed that current opinion on family violence had been hijacked by feminists who wrongly hold that the problem is rooted in patriarchal notions of male entitlement and domination that result in gender inequality. According to both men, domestic violence predominantly occurs in low-income families, including indigenous families.

What all these commentators fail to grasp is that while poverty, unemployment, alcohol, drug use and any number of disparate justifications can be found to *explain* male violence against intimate partners and children, all of these factors are the symptoms, and not the cause. A violent male believes that he is entitled to harm his partner and children. Whether he is poor, unemployed, drunk, sober or stoned, or middle-class, he first believes he is entitled to act out his dissatisfactions on the bodies and minds of his family.

I’m at a loss to understand why some journalists are so anxious to deny that family violence occurs in middle-class families. The assumption they make is that because domestic violence isn’t as evident or as frequently reported by middle-class women, it can’t be happening. This is ridiculously disingenuous, and bordering on the ignorant. Data about domestic violence comes from samples to which researchers have access. Women who report family violence to police are more likely to be from a low-income demographic, and/or living in poverty. Middle-class women have far more options available to them to either hide the abuse, or escape it. They are far less likely to end up in a system to which researchers have access.

There is no reason at all to assume that middle-class men have less of a sense of entitlement than men in the so-called “welfare classes,” to use Ms Devine’s phrase. For example, middle-class men sexually abuse children: educated priests, teachers, judges, entertainers, business men, coaches, there are abusers in every profession, as we know from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse. Middle class-men rape women. Middle-class men murder women. Are we to assume, for some reason I can’t for the life of me fathom, that middle-class men, while capable of every other kind of violence against women refrain from attacking their families, leaving that particular expression of entitlement and domination to their lower-class bros?

There is no “typical” female victim of domestic violence. There is no “typical” male perpetrator of domestic violence. All that is required is that a man believe he is entitled to abuse his partner and/or children, and this sense of entitlement crosses all classes.

It might be more comfortable to think of family violence as an us and them problem: it’s only the “welfare classes” and indigenous families, not people like us. While the middle-classes readily acknowledge gender inequality expressed in the imbalance of women on boards, in unequal pay, in the lack of female CEOs, in child care services that keep us out of the workforce, in sexual harassment in the workplace and so on, for some reason it is assumed that male entitlement and domination will not manifest in middle-class family life: that expression of patriarchal culture is apparently reserved only for the disadvantaged.

Well, no, it isn’t. And the questions we need to ask are: a) why is there a current push to persuade us otherwise, and b) what effect does the denial of middle-class family violence have on our so far futile efforts to reduce/end all domestic violence?

 

 

After White Ribbon Day: put your money where your oath is.

28 Nov
Elsie. Australia's first women's refuge.

Elsie. Australia’s first women’s refuge.

 

November 25th is the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, known as White Ribbon Day after the organisation that works to prevent male violence against women, an organisation led by men with the aim of supporting women, and calling violent men on their behaviours as well as assisting them with change. Men are required to take an oath that they will protest violence against women, and the wearing of a white ribbon signifies that they’ve taken that oath.

FACT: Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women Project keeps a record of the names, lives and circumstances of all women in Australia who have died in incidents of violence against women in 2015. The total so far: seventy-eight.

FACT: Every three hours, somewhere in Australia, a woman is hospitalised because of injuries inflicted on her by her intimate partner. These partners are overwhelmingly male.

FACT: Every week, three women injured by an intimate partner in Australia suffer a debilitating brain injury.

FACT: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $101.1 million Women’s Safety Package designed to prevent and eliminate violence against women. This went some small way to replacing the $300 million in cuts inflicted on the frontline domestic violence service sector by the previously Abbott-led government.

This sector provides refuges, support and trauma counselling for women and children fleeing violence, and community legal centres where woman can obtain assistance with intervention orders, and the legal processes involved in obtaining protection from violent partners. Then Minister for Women Tony Abbott’s cuts seriously crippled the ability of these already overstretched services to cope with the increasing numbers of women and children attempting to escape violent domestic situations.

Less than 5% of Turnbull’s $100 million “restoration” of that Abbott- withdrawn funding will go towards the provision of those frontline crisis services

In spite of the White Ribbon Day hoo haa (which included, bafflingly, a fighter jet fly past over Canberra because nothing says let’s end violence like fighter jets) the Turnbull government has done practically nothing to restore frontline crisis services that will help save women’s lives, and help prevent injuries to women and children by actually giving them somewhere to go when a violent man violently erupts in their homes, and they have no choice but to flee.

While education, the raising of awareness, the provision of special phones, alarms and all the other measures the $101.1 million will fund are absolutely necessary, there is nothing, absolutely nothing as urgently vital as actually giving women and children somewhere to go in that terrible moment when they have to get out of their home. Yet this life-threatening urgency appears to be beyond the imaginative comprehension of politicians, both federal and state.

FACT: In NSW there used to be seventy-eight women’s refuges. Since the reforms of the LNP Baird government, some of which were necessitated by the federal funding cuts to states, there are now only fourteen specialist women’s refuges, the rest having been converted to “generalist” refuges under the umbrella of “homelessness.” This means women and children fleeing domestic violence can find themselves sharing a refuge with homeless men. It means that previously women-only refuges now must agree to accept homeless men in order to keep their funding.

FACT: Since the Baird reforms only half of the refuges in NSW have 24/7 contact and accessibility facilities, so make sure you get bashed between nine and five. If you go to the police in a crisis outside of these hours, there is nowhere for the police to take you.This does not help the police, apart from anything else.

After tweeting relentlessly on White Ribbon Day about the destructive “reform” of categorising those fleeing domestic violence as “homeless” (they aren’t: they have a home, they just can’t stay in it because of a violent co-habitant) I was contacted by Brad Hazzard, NSW Minister for Family and Community Services and Social Housing, who referred me to his media release on the topic.

This release tells me nothing I don’t already know about the Baird “reforms.” These “reforms” have led to many highly experienced refuge workers finding themselves ousted by faith-based organisation such as the Salvation Army, who, when the tendering process for DV funding was changed to the provision of “homelessness” services, were experienced in that field as specialist DV and trauma workers are not, and so neatly fitted the tendering criteria.

In case you don’t know and I didn’t, there are criteria for tendering so apparently it’s necessary to tender for the right to tender.

A study commissioned by the World Bank and published in the American Political Science Review — conducted over four decades and in 70 countries — details the context of violence against women. Its core finding: the mobilization of local grassroots feminist movements is more important for positive change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. 

Local grassroots feminist movements first introduced women’s refugees in this country. Local grassroots feminist movements developed a model for the assistance and protection of women and children escaping violent men with whom they shared their homes. Decades of training, experience and specialist knowledge informed the provision of frontline specialist crisis services by feminists and others who followed the feminist model. The model has its faults, as do all models. But it unfailingly prioritised the needs and rights of women and children fleeing violence.

There was never enough funding. There were never enough refuges. There were never enough adequately funded community legal centres.

After White Ribbon Day 2015, the situation for women and children fleeing domestic violence is more parlous and tenuous than it has been for decades. At the same time, there are more and more women attempting to flee violent situations, only to find fewer and fewer services able to assist them.

To Prime Minister Turnbull, to NSW Premier Mike Baird, to the White Ribbon organisation and all it supporters: look at the facts, and put your money where your oath is. Because as long as you wear that white ribbon AND refuse us the crisis services we so desperately need to save us from injury and death, you have no credibility at all.

What will it take for politicians to grasp the urgency of the situation? Turnbull and many others have articulated what it will take: a cultural change.

That cultural change begins with acknowledging that all women and all children share equal rights to a safe environment, and when that is not our own home due to male violence against us in that home, it is a government’s absolute responsibility to provide an option, until such time as we  are enabled to provide our own.

If the law can be changed overnight  when a handful of men are king hit on a public street, yet women’s crisis services are not available and adequately funded, despite the appalling statistics that tell us of the intolerable violence visited upon us, this tells me everything about this culture and how it does not equally value me, and it does not equally value everyone else of my sex. It tells me that there is not the political will to change the culture, and therefore it is unlikely to be changed.

Change the culture: Put your money where your oath is. Then you can wear your white ribbon, knowing that every night and every tomorrow, somewhere in Australia a woman will escape injury and death, and a child will escape injury and death because they have somewhere to go, and all the assistance they need to begin a new life in which they can be safe. Then you will send the signal to all men that violence against women will not be tolerated.

If you can’t do that you will not even begin to achieve cultural change, and your shiny white ribbon will be forever stained with our spilled blood.

It’s not complicated.

 

 

 

 

Give us shelter: why new DV funding isn’t anywhere near enough

27 Sep

RefugeLogo

 

The Turnbull government’s announcement last week of $100 million worth of funding to address domestic violence is better than than silence, and goes to some small way towards acknowledging the enormous problem this country has with male violence against women.

But what it does not do, and for this appalling omission the government should be unrelentingly and loudly pilloried, is fund the urgent immediate need for frontline services such as refuges and community legal centres, both of which are a woman’s first stop when she’s forced to flee a dangerous domestic situation.

What this says to me is that safe, secure, un-threatened people such as politicians have absolutely no idea what it is like to be in a situation of  such extreme danger that you have to flee, or risk injury or death to yourself and your children by staying.

And flee to where, exactly?

Not only do these fortunate politicians have no idea what this situation feels like, they apparently don’t care. Neither do have they the imagination to picture such a scene, and how they might feel in it.

Legal services are outraged at Minister for Women Michaelia Cash’s apparent spin on funding cuts that will directly affect women suffering domestic violence, and will see the centres in dire financial straits by 2017.

If politicians had the capacity to imagine themselves in such a situation, they would perhaps begin to understand that providing refuges for women and children must be the first priority in any plan to end family violence, in conjunction with some of the other options funding currently covers.

As I write this and as you read it, there will be women, alone or with their children, trying to get out of a house which is not a safe environment for them because it’s inhabited by a violent male intent on doing them harm. They need somewhere to go. Right now.

This ought not to be a difficult situation for a government to remedy. Providing funding for women’s refuges and legal centres is not going to break the budget. Yet, after decades of feminist activism we are going backwards: closing refuges, threatening the funding of community legal centres, handing over the refuges that remain to religious organisations who have little or no experience with the repercussions of domestic violence, and whose workers are primarily trained to deal with homelessness, not specifically with traumatised women and children fleeing abuse.

Solutions to domestic violence can’t be a one size fits all. Some women will be able to stay in their homes. Others will absolutely not. The period when a woman attempts to leave an abusive situation is well-recognised as the most dangerous for her, and for children involved. It is when she is most likely to be murdered, or severely injured, as the perpetrator’s rage escalates at the prospect of abandonment, and loss of control over his partner. Nothing will help in such situations if first-off, the woman has nowhere to go.

This is not complicated. Why will politicians not act to save women’s lives in the most pressing, the most obvious way, by adequately funding and staffing refuges and legal centres for the increasing numbers of women and children who have to get out, and have no place to which they can flee?

Minister for Women, you are CRAP at your job.

12 Sep

Domestic Violence is terrorism

In what other portfolio would a minister who remains consistently silent about his responsibilities to the huge demographic covered by that portfolio, even in the face of a staggering number of the cohort dying, be permitted to retain his job? Yet Tony Abbott continues to claim for himself the title “Minister for Women.”

Has there ever been a greater political insult to Australian women than this? He’s having a laugh. He always was.

In spite of an enormous recent increase in media and public attention directed towards intimate and family violence, the Abbott federal and the Baird state LNP governments have cut funding to specialist women’s services since Abbott won government in 2013.

These cuts have resulted in women’s refuges in NSW urban and regional areas being re-situated under the umbrella of homelessness services, thus denying the specific difficulties faced by women who are not primarily homeless, rather who are fleeing their homes because those homes are inhabited by a violent partner.

Many refuges are now run by faith-based organisations. Experience in addressing intimate and family violence is not a prerequisite for winning a contract, indeed the criteria for determining the awarding of contracts don’t even mention domestic violence concerns.

This Women’s Agenda headline would seem premature: Our Watch Awards celebrate the power of journalism in ending male violence against women. Neither journalism nor anything else has ended male violence against women, and while media attention to the appalling statistics and the stories behind them is absolutely necessary, the power of journalism alone to end violence against women and children is yet to be demonstrated. There has to be action with the talk, and I mean direct action against perpetrators, such as immediate custodial sentences when an AVO is breached, for a start.

As long as we have privileged and ignorant male politicians redesigning frontline domestic violence services in ways that can only make the plight of women and children fleeing violence worse, we will not end that violence, indeed we will only make it easier for perpetrators, as women’s options are eroded. Already, the legal aid situation is so dire a perpetrator can access free advice and representation, but the woman he assaulted may not be so lucky.

The toll of one man’s violence against his partner is inestimable. It has long-term effects on children, immediate family members, extended family members, neighbours, workmates, and when perpetrated in public, as have murders and attacks in the last week in Queensland, has traumatising effects on every witness, and every member of the public who attempts to intervene.

Then there’s the cumulative toll domestic violence takes on services such as police, paramedics, hospital staff, counsellors, and those who provide legal aid services. In terms of its capacity for widespread and generational damage, intimate and family violence is a catastrophic event far exceeding any terrorist threat we face.

Yet the Minister for Women’s only intervention is to cut funding to frontline services when they ought to be urgently increased, and by tenfold.

As a salve and to appear as if he’s interested, Abbott promised an awareness campaign. However, he’s failed to address where women and children will go for assistance and shelter after our collective awareness is raised. We don’t need another government awareness campaign when services are inadequate, or don’t exist. We need the services. Abbott’s promised awareness campaign, in conjunction with service cuts, is one of the most cynical moves this government has made. That is saying much.

Tony Abbott is a crap Minister for Women. Probably the most crap Minister for Women in the world. The sooner he takes his sorry arse out of that portfolio and appoints someone who gives a damn, the better. With Abbott at the top, violence against women and children is never going to decrease in this country, and with his funding cuts he’s making it easier for perpetrators to be left on the loose and unaccountable.

Someone once said you can judge the state of a country by the way it allows animals to be treated. I think you can judge the state of a country by the way its government allows women and children to be treated. And by any measure, this government’s attitude to violence against women and children is absolute crap.

 

 

Men. This is what you can do for us.

24 Feb

 

keep-calm-and-respect-women-37

The increasing tension provoked by men participating in public discussions about family violence is serving only to distract us from our focus on the topic.

This excellent piece by Amy Gray in The Guardian in which she analyses the problematics of a dominantly male panel on ABC TV’s Qanda last night (unfortunately titled “Family Violence Special”) affirms my assertion and I urge you to read it.

Denying anyone a voice is not my thing, often to my own disadvantage and at times almost ruin, but on this topic, at this stage, I don’t think men on panels are doing us much good at all.

I speak only for myself, and when I see that a panel on family violence, perpetrated by far more men than women, is a panel actually dominated by men, my question is WTF?

Followed by, I’m tuning out because there is nothing men have to say on this topic that I am ready and willing to hear at this point. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, respect you and in some instances, love you. It means you need to step away because we need our moment, like we need the air we breathe.

I want the issue handled publicly by women, and there are thousands of women in this country who have the most extraordinary insight, expertise and personal experience to keep a thousand panels going for a thousand and one nights.

If I was a man I can’t imagine fronting up to such a gig and thinking my point of view counted for very much at all in that setting.

Addressing reasons why men are violent towards women and children is of course fundamental to prevention. Perhaps this is a topic that could sustain a panel all of its own, and not be conflated with the rare opportunity for the primary victims and survivors of family violence and their advocates to speak publicly on the topic.

I am likely going to cop all kinds of shit for saying this, but what I ask of men is that you focus your attention on other men, and vacate the space, just quietly leave the space of public discussion such as last night’s Qanda, for women. This is what you can do for us.

I know not all men hit women and children, and I know it’s offensive to some men to be lumped in with the hitters. But what I say to you is your sense of offence is nothing compared to us being hit, so don’t ask us to deal with it, and don’t expect us to listen to it because we can’t, and there’s no reason why we should.

We cannot stop violent men making non violent men look and feel bad. You have to do that yourselves.

Women need our moment. We need it like the air we breathe. You can do this for us. Respect.

 

 

 

Family Violence. Where’s THE MINISTER FOR WOMEN?

26 Jan

I can’t help wondering what Prime Minister Tony Abbott, also known as THE MINISTER FOR WOMEN, thought and felt when he announced as Australian of the Year the most outstanding advocate for women and children I’ve heard in a very long time, Rosie Batty.

Ms Batty’s son Luke was brutally murdered by his father, a man with history of serious violence towards his family. Their story is at the worst end of the family violence continuum, as are many others.

That we even have the phrase “family violence” in our lexicon, with the most appalling statistics to justify its existence, ought to be a matter of serious concern for THE MINISTER FOR WOMEN, whose responsibility it surely is to give political backup and practical support to people like Rosie Batty, who shouldn’t have to work as she has without a word of encouragement from the LEADER OF THIS GREAT NATION AND MINISTER FOR WOMEN, TONY ABBOTT.

Somehow, in the brief time since Luke was murdered by his father, Ms Batty has garnered the strength and courage to campaign with vigour and a resounding authenticity, against family violence. No voice could be more convincing than hers on this topic at this point in time.

While the “king hitting” of  a handful of young men brings out Abbott’s anger and righteous indignation, as does the threat of terrorism and the horrible, unspeakable, spine chilling crime of asylum seekers breaching the sovereignty of our borders; as the thrilling notion of going to war, some war, somewhere, anywhere, for whatever reason causes the bedraggled budgie in the Prime Minister’s rapidly fraying smugglers to sluggishly stir, the slaughter and suffering of women and children in our own backyard goes unaddressed  by THE MINISTER FOR WOMEN, in fact he NEVER EVEN MENTIONS IT! 

I can’t imagine any other minister NEVER EVEN MENTIONING the topic of his portfolio. Can you?

Rosie Batty. Woman of calibre. Salute.

Rosie and Luke

Rosie and Luke

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