Tackling the tough issue of Domestic Violence

Tuesday, 31 Aug 2021

Australia has an intimate partner violence problem. The pattern is clear: most offenders of domestic violence are men and most victims are women, with one in three women reporting having experienced physical or sexual violence from the age of 15. 

Yet, arguably, the most vulnerable group is children. One in six women and one in nine men have reported to have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse before the age of 15. That equates to nearly 2.5 million Australians who are not yet consenting adults experiencing direct abuse. Further, children can experience family violence as both a victim of the violence, or as a witness to it, and more than two thirds of mothers who experienced violence reported that their children had been witness to it. 

These statistics are alarming, and as a community, we need to take action to reduce this epidemic, quickly. Change will come from individuals altering their attitudes and actions, coming from both our families, and organisations such as schools, community groups and government, to educate, support and triage. 

There are a number of strategies we as a society can implement to address this alarming issue.

Education is the key. Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon stated that  “There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence… is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.” All parents and formally trained educators need to be clear with our children that violence is never the answer. 

We also need to reframe masculinity at schools and in our homes. Traits traditionally viewed as masculine in Western society include strength, courage, independence, leadership, and assertiveness. We need to reset this definition for our boys and girls with the addition of the importance of mutual respect. Buddha noted that “mutual respect and mutual listening are the foundations of harmony within the family”. 

Silence is not productive. Domestic abuse thrives in secrecy. Creating an environment where individuals feel safe to disclose their experience without stigma is essential. We need to create an authorising environment that gives people courage to step into places that aren’t easy. Children and women need to feel supported in their decision making, and educated about options and pathways for support. 

Behaviour is changeable but intervention is required. Men’s behaviour change programs are predominantly group-based programs and services that focus on working with perpetrators to recognise their violent behaviour and develop strategies to stop them from reoffending. These programs aim to ensure perpetrators acquire new skills to help them to develop respectful and non-coercive, and non-abusive relationships with their partners, children and family members. 

Linking to partner services is essential. There are a host of services that can support children, young people, women and men, including: 

Many schools also have counselling services that can support these links.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” And the same can be said for recognising this support can extend to anyone in our community who is in need. I am asking our society to tackle this tough issue; we can model respect, take time to listen to individual stories, and to validate them. We must not interrogate the victim, but instead be respectful and value them. 

Leadership can come from each of us, so long as it is driven from a place of mutual respect, inclusivity, integrity, and a generosity of spirit.

Nick Johnstone

This article first appeared in the September edition of Focus Magazine


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017. Personal Safety Survey, Australia, 2016, ABS cat. no. 906.0. Canberra: ABS.