This week, a group of doctors and other health professionals – collectively called Doctors Against Violence Towards Women – came forward with their story that they’d been campaigning for the establishment of Australia’s first domestic violence trauma centre.
The trauma centre would be built in New South Wales, and offer ongoing care for victims of domestic violence. It’s an important step, because while frontline services do amazing work with the funding and resources they have, long-term support is not as easily available.
As I was reading about this centre, one word stuck out to me: trauma. Of course surviving domestic violence is a traumatic experience, but I had the sudden realisation that I’d never really heard it described as such.
Karen Williams, a psychiatrist with Doctors Against Violence Towards Women, told the ABC that she “saw 13 women last week and none of them had been referred to me with trauma.
“They had been referred to me with anxiety or depression, but all 13 of them had histories of abuse.”
The effects of surviving an abusive relationship or growing up in a violent household are deep and lifelong – that’s a well documented fact. So why aren’t we giving the experience the label it deserves?
Rosie Batty, Australian of the Year 2015, talks at #SMACC. “Family violence can happen to anyone. No matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are, it happens to everyone. It may happen behind closed doors but it needs to be brought into the open”.
— Amy Craike (@AmesCraike) March 27, 2019
The way we speak about domestic violence is important. It might seem trivial, but language is powerful, and has a real impact.
In 2015, a report was released that showed lawyers had been using language that minimised the role of domestic violence perpetrators, and even sometimes tipped into victim blaming. Cases where a man had a long history of abusing a woman were described as ‘volatile’ or ‘stormy’ relationships.
A man who had been convicted of stalking was described to the court as “making a nuisance of himself”, and another court was told that a man who SET HIS GIRLFRIEND ON FIRE did it out of simple “jealous anger”.
Imagine, just for a moment, what that would do to your ability to function in the world. Tell me that isn’t the definition of traumatic.
We need to remember this when we’re having these conversations. We need to start saying things like ‘he chose to abuse her’ and stop saying ‘she provoked him’. Start asking ‘why does he beat her?’ instead of ‘why does she stay?’. Start saying ‘one woman a week is murdered’ instead of ‘one woman a week dies’ when talking about deaths linked to violence.
To do otherwise takes the onus off the perpetrator. And please, for the love of God, stop saying ‘real men don’t hit women’.
I think of how people are almost numb to the gun violence in America due to its horrific frequency. But we are no better here in Australia with violence against women. We mark the days between these disgusting attacks. It’s so frustrating and exhausting to always be on guard.
— Bridget Hustwaite (@BHustwaite) March 5, 2019
It’s not just how we have these conversations that should change either, it’s where we should be having them.
Until very recently women only spoke about these issues among themselves, quietly, and then just continued on with their lives – it’s only been in the last few decades that conversations about domestic abuse have made their way into the public arena.
It needs to go further than just women, though: we need discussions around domestic violence to extend into men’s spaces. Men’s Sheds, the change rooms after a footy match, barber shops – these are the places that we need to see change from the ground up.
“This morning we heard about the effects of terrorism. We are fearful of terrorism. But we are more likely to be effected by terrorism in our own homes by someone we know, yet it does not have the same community fear and social condemnation.” – Rosie Batty #SMACC #familyviolence
— Amy Craike (@AmesCraike) March 27, 2019
“Locker room talk” – the shorthand for the things men say when there are no women around – needs to be redefined. That Trump-esque “grab them by the pussy” crap just isn’t going to fly any more.
If we’re going to tackle domestic violence statistics in this country, we need to start by having the right conversations, and we need to be giving those conversations the language and impact that they deserve.