Sometimes it seems like the fight against domestic abuse is a losing one. The abuse seems so far reaching and ingrained. Domestic violence abuse includes sexual, physical, emotional and financial abuse from an intimate partner. The very people who are supposed to care for their partners are hurting them in ways we can’t imagine. Can a difference really be made?
Some Hard Facts about Domestic Abuse
The most recent information on domestic abuse in Australia comes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey (national survey of 16,400 adults in Australian aged 18 years and over) conducted in 2005. From that survey, just under 500,000 Australian women reported that they had experienced physical or sexual violence or sexual assault in the past 12 months. 33.3% of women had experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and 19.1% of women had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. This abuse is generally ongoing – they are not ‘one off’ incidents.
On August the 7th of this year, a woman from Sydney died after she had been allegedly attacked in a domestic abuse ‘incident’. She had received serious head injuries at the hands of a 28 year old man who has been charged with her murder. She was 26.
This is the fourth domestic abuse related homicide in the past 11 days. An activist group called Destroy the Joint have been keeping a record of all domestic violence related deaths and they say that this woman from Sydney is the 41st this year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, in regards to recorded crime victims, makes for some sobering reading. In 2015, there were 158 victims of FDV (Family and Domestic Violence) –related Homicide in Australia, which accounted for over a third (38%) of total Homicide victims recorded by police nationally. More than a third of all murders in Australia are domestic violence related.
Domestic Abuse: Hope Is Not Lost
But it’s not all hopeless. There are woman who are leaving these insidious relationships, but escaping is only the first step in trying to rebuild their lives. Many leave with absolutely nothing and planning is not always an option. When Renee left her abusive partner with five children under 13, she didn’t even have shoes. “When you leave, 90 per cent is the practical side of it,” she said. “Where are you going to live, how are you going to get the kids to school, what are you going to feed them, where am I going to sleep tonight?” She said family and friends could provide “one-night fixes” but, in the long-term, women and their children needed practical help to physically rebuild. “When you’re in a situation where your self-esteem is at zero, your bank account is at zero and your strength is at zero, trying to see that far into the future that you can become self-sufficient when you’re standing there with nothing and a few children – it’s ridiculous … right then and there you don’t think you will ever get back to that place again,” she said. “It’s about the second or third day [after you leave] when you realise you have no underwear, nothing’s dry, you literally have nothing.”
Partnerships and being formed and charities are stepping up. Companies like Myer are rising up to the challenge of helping these women in need. In partnership with the Salvation Army they have kicked-off a program that will help to set-up the homes of woman like Renee. When you leave with nothing, there becomes a long list of items that would be helpful for day-to-day living and becoming reestablished. A woman escaping violence needs help to rebuild her life and so the Salvation Army has identified a list of items that are necessary for woman who are in crisis accommodation. The Give Registry contains a list of 30 items which Myer matches item for item as customers donate them. Richard Umbers, the Myer chief executive, said, “We’re not trying to solve domestic violence by giving a set of plates. We are trying to solve it by raising a level of awareness that we could never have achieved through a conventional corporate relationship.” The Salvos say that they need 10,000 of these items each year and this is just from one partnership that is trying and succeeding in making a difference in domestic abuse victims’ lives.
Renee knows just how hard it is to leave when you have children you also need to care for. She hopes the program will make shoppers feel empathy for domestic violence survivors while helping them in a practical way.”So many times you hear ‘just leave, just leave’. That line frustrates me so much because it’s not that simple,” she said.
Appropriate and suitable accommodation can present a massive challenge to domestic violence victims. In fact, domestic abuse victims contribute to 36% demand for homelessness services. The fear of homelessness, or of being separated from children is why many women stay in a family violence situation. Some women’s refuges do not allow teenage boys because of the antiquated model of communal living by which they function. Women then either choose to flee the domestic violence and leave their sons behind or they stay. What kind of choice is that?
Housing for domestic abuse victims is on the radar and dreams are becoming reality. Housing is a serious issue for domestic violence victims and a vital step in helping them to leave and rebuild their lives in safety. There is a proposal that has been put to the Baird government to provide suitable housing for domestic violence victims. It has the backing of Guy and Jules Sebastian’s charitable foundation and includes the revitalisation and rebuilding of refuges into self-contained units. Ms Sebastian said families would find the privacy and calm they need at a time of difficulty if they could stay in a self-contained unit, and it would particularly benefit children. “It is scary, and it is weird, exposing yourself to people you don’t know and other people’s situations,” she said. “Having a place that you can call your own is super important, I think.”
The Victorian government has committed to spending $152 million based on a recommendation of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, to convert refuges into private dwellings after witnesses told of how distressing the experience of communal living could be.
Simple things like raising awareness and providing information can be extremely helpful for domestic abuse victims and for those around them who don’t otherwise know what to do. Coffee with a Cop promotes connection and education. As well as that, Detective Sergeant Dave Britton from Gympie says, “It is a social issue requiring input from all agencies but most of all from individuals. A whole of community response is what is needed and police recognise that they are one of the groups in the community who can and must help. We want to achieve a safer society. Establishing and maintaining collaborations with the community and community groups is a strategy to achieve that goal.”
As well as providing a place for easy and open lines of communication in pro-active measure by the Gympie police in partnership with Suncorp, the coffee cup design includes statistical reminders and contact details for domestic violence organisations.
If you need help in separating from your spouse, please contact one of our friendly and experienced family lawyers today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.