What are the root causes of domestic violence?

August 14, 2015
Violence against women is the biggest contributor to ill health and premature death for Australian women aged 15 to 44.

One in three women is a victim of domestic violence. I am one of those.

The violence did not happen until I was pregnant and, as a result, vulnerable. I did not report it to the police as I was too scared: it was carried out in the privacy of our flat; there was no obvious injury and he was very contrite afterwards.

I vividly remember him buying me breakfast at a cafe the next morning, an unusual event, while I sat too traumatised and depressed to say anything. Before that, I had never suffered a physical assault from anyone.

It was a wake-up call. I realised I had to get out, no matter what, or I was doomed.

I was lucky. I was able to escape a lifetime of living in fear and terror, domestic servitude and countless pregnancies because I had money to run away, as well as the confidence that an education provides and the knowledge I could support myself and my child.

Many women don’t have that possibility and become trapped in a cycle of violence and despair.

Violence against women is the biggest contributor to ill health and premature death for Australian women aged 15 to 44. Yet governments — state and federal — are cutting funding to vital services that support women who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in the same difficult situation I was in.

A rally to highlight this shocking reality was organised by Australia against Male Violence Towards Women in Sydney on July 26. Writer and contributing editor to Women’s Agenda Jane Gilmore was one of the invited speakers.

It was a very moving, although small, protest. A cross with a purple ribbon for every woman who had been murdered since the start of this year was lain on the ground. There were 34 names. The cross bore the name of the perpetrator, if known, and the details of where and how the women were murdered. It was gruesome reading.

Domestic abuse hidden

Most dangerous, abusive and violent behaviour is committed by men against women at home.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey — a national survey of 16,400 adults aged 18 and over — found that of those over 15, women were more likely than men to experience violence by a partner.

In 2012, an estimated 17% of all women aged 18 and over (1,479,900 women) and 5.3% of all men aged 18 years and over (448,000 men) had experienced violence by a partner since the age of 15.

It also found that women were more likely than men to have experienced violence by a partner in the 12 months prior to the survey.

In the 12 months prior to the survey, an estimated 132,500 women (1.5% of all women aged 18 years and over) had experienced violence by a partner compared to 51,800 men (0.6% of all men aged 18 years and over).

A fundamental principle of any democratic society is that women and children are safe. That means that they need access to a safe, secure and, importantly, secret refuge at all hours of the day and night to flee domestic violence.

Not all women have families or networks they can turn to, or tell about the horror they endure. Refuges and other services have to be provided by governments. But this is the opposite of what is happening. In NSW, the Coalition government has cut funding and tendered out community-run women’s refuges to charities and religious organisations.

If women are to be protected, this must be reversed.

Gilmore noted that the federal opposition Labor Party is only committed to funding $47.4 million to legal services over three years — about one-tenth of what is needed — and there is no money budgeted for women’s shelters. It is calculated that NSW alone needs $200 million a year.

Will Labor come up with a comprehensive, costed position on stopping gendered and family violence? It is unlikely, especially since former Prime Minister Julia Gillard cut the single parent pension — a devastating attack on a vulnerable group in society.

Support is needed for all those who experience family violence, irrespective of gender, race or sexual orientation. The expertise and programs that have proven to be effective in providing safe emergency care for women and children leaving home are available.

The programs to address long-term cultural change among responders — police, ambulance workers, emergency rooms, GPs and schools — are also available. The problems have been identified and there are important remedial solutions that we have to fight for — but not at the cost of defending, or covering up, the root causes of domestic violence.

Against misogyny

Successful campaigns against sexual violence and misogyny do not involve talking to a handful of men at football clubs about not beating up women. This will not cut the mustard. We need to talk about how domestic violence is hardwired into capitalism — a system that oppresses the majority of women and men, but which relies on sexism and misogyny to ensure women stay second-class citizens.

The argument that women are no longer a reserve army of workers is not true. Most women work but we are congregated in low-waged jobs, with little or no security and poor working conditions. Women are also still only able to easily get some types of jobs, and then only when bosses need more workers or want to undercut men’s wages and conditions.

More worker-friendly industrial relations policies, and stronger unions with a good feminist orientation, are part of the solution. Accessible, affordable tertiary education and training is also part of the long-term solution for both women and men.

Capitalism also makes most men feel powerless and frustrated. It perpetuates the myth that women and children are a type of property and as such have fewer rights. The structural inequalities that lead to this type of thinking have to be challenged and changed.

Capitalism perpetrates the myth that women and children are revered in the family. The truth is the opposite.

Women carry out an essential role in the home and that is to carry most of the burden of unpaid domestic labour — cleaning, cooking and raising the next generation of workers. The value of women carrying out this unpaid domestic work is around 50% of the national Gross Domestic Product.

If we refuse to comply or step out of this role we can be beaten or, in the worst-case scenario, murdered.

The economic unit on which capitalism relies — the family — has shown its weaknesses and failures. The high rate of domestic violence in the home underscores this in a chilling way.

Capitalism relies on sexism and misogyny. It also divides men and women. We cannot get rid of the violence of men towards women until we also get rid of the economic system that puts women and men under the gun. But we can take steps to alleviate women’s suffering.

Those steps include mounting campaigns to reverse the cruel funding cuts to shelters and refuges for women and children fleeing violence.

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