Why is this Still Happening in 2020!? - An Open Letter on Domestic Violence in Australia
Sadly, domestic violence can affect everyone, men, women and children and can leave scars that may take a lifetime to heal. Domestic violence comes in many forms ranging from physical attempts to harm to intimidation, control and manipulation.
Earlier in the year I, no doubt like many of us, was shaken to learn of the tragic death of Hannah Clarke and her children. Now, as we have been confined to our homes due to the pandemic, it is concerning to hear that here in Australia, domestic violence is still on the rise.
Monash University conducted a study which surveyed 166 family violence victim support practitioners across Victoria alone, during a four-week period, from April to May. The report found:
- Almost 60 per cent of practitioners said the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the frequency of violence in homes;
- The severity of violence had increased; and
- First-time family violence reports had increased nearly 42 percent.
Further to this, family violence support workers have been reporting new forms of violence, including perpetrators demanding that their victim ‘wash their hands and body excessively, to the point that they bleed’ and spreading rumours that the victims are COVID-19 positive so that no one would come near them.
Perpetrators are finding new innovative ways to attack their victims. On 4 June 2020, the Commonwealth Bank released a statement that after a digital platform review, which was conducted over a three-month period, they had identified more than 8000 customers who received multiple low-value deposits, often less than $1, with ‘potentially abusive’ messages in the transaction description. Commonwealth Bank is now moving to suspend users from online banking services and refuse transactions if they are deemed to be using their online banking as a method of abuse.
On 26 February 2020 the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs was called to conduct an inquiry into “Domestic Violence with Particular Regard to violence against Women and their Children”. Senator Rex Patrick produced a dissenting report in which he addressed the failure of the committee. In this report he states:
“The committee was charged through its clear terms of reference to inform itself of past reviews and then examine where domestic violence policies, programs and services needed improving. The terms of reference called for a full appraisal of the current environment, successes and failures, services provided and services in need, with a view of recommending both immediate and longer-term measures to reduce the incidence of and death toll from domestic violence.”
In other words, the committee was told specifically what was required of it in order to advise and recommend steps to work towards a much needed decline in the rate of Domestic Violence and Domestic Violence related deaths.
Further in his report Senator Patrick states that the committee failed to discharge its responsibility to the Senate and, more importantly, the public. He goes on to say that the committee did successfully identify measures, such as the 1800RESPECT hotline, Mensline, and the ‘Keeping Women Safe at Home’ program. However, they did not seek to investigate whether these measures are being implemented properly or effectively.
At paragraph 6.25 of the inquiry the committee referred to 13 questions that still remain unanswered. Senator Patrick concluded his dissenting report with this sentence:
“The committee failed itself, the Australian public, Hannah Clarke and her three beautiful children, Aaliyah, Laianah, and Trey, and all victims of domestic violence, past, present and future.”
Research conducted by Robert Bornstein, an American Psychologist, indicates that there are a number of factors that contribute to the risk of domestic violence in relationships. Generally speaking, he says that the two biggest factors are economic dependency and emotional dependency and that ‘high levels of emotional dependency in an abused partner may reduce the likelihood that the victimized person will terminate the relationship.’ He further suggests that multimodal intervention strategies are needed to combat this complex issue.
It is time for us to wake up and do more! We are better than this and we can do more than what we are currently doing.