We’re almost half-way through January and for some of us, this means the rush of the festive season is over and we might be already be making headway on the resolutions we set for 2017. This might be to eat better, move our bodies more, or to learn something new – but for a growing number of women in Australia, these resolutions are much more urgent.
January marks the time of year they will be most likely to contact a Family Violence service for assistance. Violence against women is a widespread problem in Australia, with significant impacts for the individuals, families and communities who experience it. During late January, many women who have been holding together extremely difficult situations find they can no longer bear them, or they feel that now their children are back at school, it may be safer to take steps to leave or access help.
An astonishing 1 in 3 women in Australia will experience physical violence in their lifetime and 1 in 5 will experience sexual violence. On average, one woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner.
Identifying violence is the first step to taking action.
What is Violence Against Women?
Violence against women comes in many forms. It refers to any act of violence directed at a woman because of her gender that causes or could cause physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering. This includes threats of harm or coercion. Women who experience violence come from all backgrounds. Violence Against Women is caused by one individual’s need to exert power and control over a woman. The abuser uses violent behaviours to maintain that control.
All forms of violence are damaging and can wear down a woman’s confidence, making it extremely difficult to tell anyone or leave the violent situation. The responsibility for this violence lies with the abuser. It is never, ever, the woman’s responsibility or fault if she experiences violence.
What does violence look like?
Physical violence may include:
- Hitting, pushing, slapping, kicking, punching, burning, biting, scratching, pinching, holding against your will, blocking your path - or any physical
act intended to hurt, intimidate or deprive a person of their ability to move freely.
- Controlling behaviour like refusing to allow women access to their money or possessions
- Threats that a partner will harm himself or others ( including children or pets)
- Isolation from family and friends
- Extreme jealousy or stalking behaviours
- Constantly making a woman feel guilty or blaming her for things that are not her fault
- Hacking emails or social media accounts or checking a woman’s phone without her consent
- Verbal abuse such as name-calling, swearing and put-downs directed at a woman.
- Any sexual activity that a woman is forced or coerced into without full and informed consent, this includes with intimate partners or non-partners
such as friends, family or colleagues. It may include things like touching, rape, pushing boundaries during sex that hurt or make you feel ashamed,
or not using contraception when asked.
The above list of behaviours is not exhaustive. Any behaviour that a man directs towards a woman to make her feel threatened, unsafe, or afraid is violence. All forms of violence against women are unacceptable.
Violence can be difficult to identify, because an abusive person may not use these behaviours all the time or seem like they mean them. Sometimes they
can be extremely loving or apologetic (particularly after they are violent). At other times they might excuse their violent behaviour because of their
own personal problems, stresses or fears – but there is simply no excuse that justifies violence.
A good indicator of violence is if you often feel afraid of upsetting the other person, and if you change your behaviour to avoid upsetting them or “setting them off”. (If you’re still not sure if this describes your experience take the Domestic Violence Resource Centre’s helpful Warning Signs Quiz).
Where can I get help for myself, or a friend?
If you have any concerns about yourself or someone you know being abused, the best step is to contact a counselling or outreach service. They will be able to explain steps you can take to protect yourself and will respect your choices without judgement. Including deciding to leave or stay with a violent partner.
There are many in Victoria, including:
- Safe Steps (formerly Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service of Victoria)
- Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria (FVPLS)
- Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) Forum
- Domestic Violence Victoria
- Elder Rights Advocacy (ERA)
- inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence
- Men's Referral Service
You or your friend might also want to think about:
- Telling someone you know and trust like a family member, friend or counsellor: While it can be hard to find the strength to reach out, talking to someone can help you decide what to do and make you feel you don’t have to do this alone. It can also be a great support to speak to someone who cares about you and reaffirm your right to feel safe.
- Know your rights: Violence is never acceptable and it is never your fault. Physical violence, threats or sexual violence are illegal. Everyone, regardless of their age, ability, ethnicity, sexuality, religion or culture, has the right to live free from abuse, fear and threat.
- Finding support for your children: If violence is happening to you, your children will most likely be aware of it. They also need help to cope and understand with the situation. Services like SafeSteps also encourage parents to help their children make a Safety Plan.
- Protecting yourself:If you are in immediate danger, or if you have been physically or sexually assaulted, threatened or stalked, you can call the police on 000. If you urgently need to stay somewhere safe, contact SafeSteps to find out about women’s refuges. Refuges provide free and safe accommodation services.
Family violence can happen to anyone. It is never your fault if you have found yourself in a violent situation and there are many organisations ready to help you if you need it. Cultural, religious and social norms are sometimes used to justify violence against women and children, but violence is never acceptable or legal. Positive Women Victoria has a zero tolerance policy towards violence and we are here to support you if you or someone you know, have experienced or are currently experiencing violence.
If any of this blog post has triggered any experiences for you, or you need to discuss how it has made you feel please contact Peer Support (03) 9863 8747.
For more facts and figures about Violence Against Women in Australia, please visit Our Watch.