Preventing domestic violence can be a challenging and rewarding area of work. At the Queensland Law Society’s recent Legal Profession Breakfast, preventing domestic violence was a key theme. The event was run in support of the Women’s Legal Service and was sponsored by the College of Law. Insights spoke to two of the event presenters, Danny Blay and Rebecca Poulson, on their work to address domestic violence in Australia.
Changing attitudes about the causes of domestic violence
“The most satisfying aspect of my work is the long-term collaboration with other practitioners,” said Danny Blay, a policy advisor, supervisor and trainer in Gender Equity and Preventing Violence Against Women and Children.
Being able to collaborate with people who agree that domestic violence is caused by dangerous perceptions about gender, relationships, masculinity and family is what Danny finds most rewarding about his work.
“In my experience, it is very easy for experienced and well-meaning practitioners to attribute or misread the causes of men’s use of violence to outside influences and justifications. This can mean missing opportunities to engage men in conversations about their capacity to choose or not choose violence as a means to an end, and their responsibility for ensuring the safety of women and children, and themselves. Without shared agreement on these principles, practice is often unaccountable and, in some circumstances, can make things worse. And that means increased risk to women and children.”
Providing a victim’s voice with ‘Killing Love’
Rebecca Poulson was attracted to advocating for domestic violence victims because of her own experiences.
“There are just not enough victim voices in the area! The fact one in four women have been a victim of domestic violence yet account for only a handful of public speakers speaks volumes,” said Rebecca.
Given the daily impact on women and children, Rebecca is committed to supporting domestic violence victims to safety, recovery and in some cases, simply staying alive.
“Often women are warriors for keeping children alive and safe yet have so many systems working against them. I live this still four years after leaving my violent partner.”
She described the Family Court system as a ‘minefield’, and the child support system as a tool of financial abuse used against some women by some men.
“Women don't speak out publicly as they are fearful of custody implications or of their own safety. If my voice - and those of other campaigners like Rosie Batty - can be used for the voiceless, I am absolutely going to keep doing this for as long as I can.”
Consensus needed about causes of domestic violence
Danny feels consensus is needed as to the primary drivers of domestic violence – particularly why men use violence. Without this, responses to the problem can be disparate.
“There can often even be disagreement between practitioners and within organisations, and so, without consistency of practice informed by expertise and commonality, risk can be exacerbated. There is also a distinct lack of real insight into what primary prevention should look like in this space, as well as how to evaluate a prevention program’s success beyond social media ‘likes’ and shares, and people’s responses to marketing tools being ‘very powerful’.
“For example, while social marketing strategies might look worthwhile, they often do not successfully engage the desired cohort, and that the real desired outcomes are not tested. I do wonder and fear how often men see an advertisement about family violence and think, ‘Well, that’s not me,’ and move on.”
Education is key to preventing violence
Rebecca has written about her experiences in ‘Killing Love’, which has won four awards, including the 2015 Sassy Prize for Non-Fiction, and made the top 3 of the prestigious Ned Kelly Crime Awards.
“Being a victim survivor voice can be exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating and confronting. It leaves me open to trolls and judgment about a personal and painful story, which is likely why there are so few victim voices out there. I am also proud I wrote my book as a single mother with three young children and becoming an Ambassador of Our Watch and White Ribbon.”
Given her own experiences, Rebecca feels much more should be done to combat domestic violence, starting with more education about the issue.
“Family violence education should form part of the school curriculum, and training of lawyers, police, nurses, and medical practitioners. I am constantly stunned by the lack of understanding of even the most basic concepts of family violence by professionals.”
Rebecca feels that, more than ever, children are being placed in unsafe conditions as some perpetrators of violence use the Family Court as a tool of abuse. She describes the sentences given to perpetrators of family violence as ‘shockingly short’, with limited rehabilitation resulting from short anger management courses often prescribed for perpetrators.
Telling her own story has exposed Rebecca to trolls, and the pain of confronting blunt media questions about her experiences. At times, she has found it challenging to convey her very personal story. Just as difficult is being approached by victims who come to Rebecca for help, often in crisis themes.
“Most have terrible and heart-breaking stories that they want to share with me. That can be a hard burden to bear sometimes,” admitted Rebecca.
Gender inequality a major contributor
According to Danny, one of the greatest challenges in preventing domestic violence is a failure to recognise gender inequality is a major contributor to men’s violence towards women.
Many reject the notion that, as men, they may be unknowingly supporting gender inequality.
“Sometimes, and perhaps ironically, this resistance to even acknowledging gender inequality can be violent and abusive,” said Danny.
He called for consistency in the principles informing responses to domestic violence, especially robust risk assessment and engagement of women partners.
“Only when all male family violence work is held accountable by stringent standards of practice and practice review can we begin to remove the roadblocks of misinformed beliefs.
“Culture change can be personally challenging and difficult. This is particularly so when men are being invited to consider their gendered entitlements – overt or subtle, known or unconscious – and commit themselves to sometimes radical changes in belief systems and behaviours. Yet, if preventing men’s use of violence towards family members was simply a matter of law enforcement, ‘just say no’ campaigns, ‘anger management’ or attempts to identify which ‘types’ of men are more likely to use violence, we would have solved the issue long ago.
Introduction to Family and Domestic Violence Workshop - 22 Feb 2019, Brisbane
Advanced Family and Domestic Violence Workshop - 29 Mar 2019, Brisbane
Child Abuse and Domestic Violence: Working with Clients - 6 Mar 2019, Sydney
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