It’s the topic that nobody ever wants to discuss, despite the shocking number of people affected by it.
But in recent years the stigma surrounding domestic and family violence has been stripped back as countless campaigners, government organisations and media outlets thrust the desperate realities of victims’ lives into the spotlight.
A crusade for change
While domestic and family violence has been a serious issue in Australia for decades, the tragic death of Rose Batty’s 11-year-old son at the hands of his father in 2014 seemed to elevate the problem into the national consciousness.
The grief-stricken mother became a tireless campaigner and advocate for victims of violence and has been credited with influencing public attitudes and government initiatives by giving a voice to the many thousands of victims who until then had remained unheard.
In 2015 she was named Australian of the Year for her efforts to bring about change – but despite all of Rosie’s efforts, and the campaigns of countless others, domestic and family violence remains a scourge on Australia’s cultural landscape.
The statistics around domestic and family violence are shocking. According to the White Ribbon Australia website, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of someone they know, while one in four children are exposed to domestic violence.
A landmark report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) earlier this year painted a grim picture of the prevalence of violence, finding that on average one woman a week and one man a month is killed by a current or former partner.
The report also showed that family and domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness.
What can be done?
While the statistics are shocking, more is being done every day to turn the tide around, with governments at all levels investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the issue.
Countless national and grassroots campaigns are also encouraging both men and women to talk openly about, and make a commitment to say ‘No’ to, domestic and family violence, in a longer term effort to bring about cultural change.
But what if you suspect someone is a victim of domestic violence? What should you do?
Signs and symptoms
The first thing to consider is how you can tell if someone you know is in an abusive relationship.
According to White Ribbon Australia, violence and abuse has many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, financial, spiritual and image-based abuse.
Committed by perpetrators in order to exercise power and control over their victims, these types of abuse can have devastating effects on a person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
While it can often be difficult to know if someone is being abused, there are a number of common warning signs to look out for according to the NSW Government’s Domestic Violence website.
- seeming afraid of, or anxious to please, their partner
- stopping seeing friends and family
- being anxious, depressed, withdrawn or losing confidence
- saying their partner is jealous or possessive
- showing signs of physical violence
- saying their partner continually phones or texts them
- not wanting to leave their children with their partner
- saying their partner pressures or forces them to do sexual things
- saying their partner controls their money
- being harassed or stalked after they end a relationship.
How to help
Approaching someone you suspect is in an abusive relationship is never easy. But not speaking up can have devastating consequences.
Don’t broach the subject unless they are alone and it is safe to speak. Tell them you are concerned about them and want to check if they are ok. They may be reluctant, so don’t force the subject, just let them know you’re there to listen whenever they need to talk.
If they do confide in you, making sure they feel supported is the most important thing you can do, as it can often encourage them to seek help.
Don’t show doubt or disbelief around what they tell you and make sure they know this situation is not their fault, regardless of how the perpetrator is trying to make them feel.
Let them know that you’re there to help – but also tell them about other avenues of support, such the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service (1800 737 732) and Lifeline (13 11 14), which are available 24 hours a day.
Victims often feel trapped in the relationship and the cycle of abuse. Don’t get angry or feel frustrated if they do not want to leave, or take a long time to end the relationship. Just make sure you keep in touch. Knowing there is someone who cares can make all the difference in the long run.