Content Warning: Domestic Violence
The Australian Federal Government promised this week to provide $10 million in grants toward Domestic Violence programs that take a “whole of family” approach and incorporate couples counselling and “dispute resolution services”.
The government has been in consultation with domestic violence groups for years, none of which have ever endorsed these sorts of programs.
As an organisation that works with victims of family violence, we’ve got some feelings we need to share.
When the government announces funding allocations, they send a message, whether they like it or not.
If they announce a funding cut, they say “This issue is not important to us”.
If they announce a funding increase, they say “This issue is important to us”.
If they announce a change to the way funding is given, it expresses a wish to change the message the government is currently sending about an issue.
In this situation, the government is saying “Domestic Violence is a two way street. Families should stay together and ‘sort it out’ even when it is abusive. There are things a victim can do inside a relationship to stop being abused.”
The message we send? That’s bullshit.
Domestic violence takes many forms, including:
The methods may vary because of the strengths and abilities of the perpetrator, but they also vary because domestic violence isn’t about violence — it’s about control. Abusers will often use the forms of violence that work in achieving their goal, and that goal, more often than not, is to ensure their victim stays in the relationship and under their control.
Because Domestic Violence is about control and not about the methods used to achieve that, any conversation that treats it as a “dispute” that should be mediated or resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.
The middle ground between abuse and no abuse is still abuse.
There is no middle ground in violence of any kind, and any activity that does anything except ensure the swift removal of a victim from their abuser contributes to the 17 women and 5 children killed so far this year at the hands of an abusive partner.
Abuse scenarios are engineered to keep victims in positions where they can continue to be abused.
It does not take “two to tango”.
Any couple’s counsellor worth the value of their certification will thoroughly screen for any signs of abusive or controlling behaviour. If they find them, they would not continue with couples counselling.
The goal of couples counselling is to address the core issues in the relationship while refining communication skills and healthy, effective, engagement with issues as they arise. This requires the relationship to be safe, and none of these things can be achieved where abuse is on the table.
Couples counselling requires both parties to be able to communicate what is happening, and be willing to walk the path to positive change.
When abuse is present, the victim can not communicate the extent of what is happening without fear of punishment, and the perpetrator’s goal is not positive change — it is control of their victim.
Additionally, suggesting couples counselling in an abusive situation encourages the victim to stay and see the counselling through. Any interventions in abuse that suggest anything other than a swift separation of the abuser from their victim is dangerous. Statistics show that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when the victim leaves. Dragging that out, or encouraging contact during this time increases that risk.
It’s easy to be a nay-sayer about policy and shoot ideas down without giving alternatives.
Here’s the alternative.
If you create something that involves other people, whether it’s government policy, a charity project, or an article about a group of people, take the lead from the people it effects.
When we don’t do that, we tell people that we know what’s best, that the voices and experiences of victims aren’t important, and that our project is actually about us and not the people it’s aimed at — that they’re a prop for us, not the other way around.
Do better. Listen. Ask people what their needs are. Act accordingly.
Here’s some quick fire suggestions: More beds. More social workers. More information for victims to make leaving easier and more straight forward. More counselling and support systems. Help in caring for children at the receiving end of abuse. Training for strategic community touch points to identify and help with abuse. Access to case workers that help organise referrals for people uprooting their entire lives. Comprehensive programs to rehabilitate offenders and reduce recidivism without giving them access to their victims. Basically anything that involves a leave first, heal next approach.
1800 RESPECT has counsellors available 24/7 to help people who are experiencing sexual violence, family violence, and abuse for all Australians.