Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Movement For Change - A Family Violence Forum


"I want to tell people that family violence happens to anybody, no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are."    
Rosie Batty, Australian Of The Year 2015.

Here's a statistic that I didn't know existed before I took notice of Rosie Batty and her anti-family violence campaign. Domestic violence happens to 1 in 3 women here in Australia. 1 in 3. The Breast Cancer Australia Network suggests that 1 in 8 Australian women are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 60 - that's a high and pretty devastating statistic in itself but 1 in 3??! If that's the case, how do we not all know at least two women around us suffering some kind of family violence? Truthfully, the answer is we probably do. We probably just don't know about it because of a) the stigma attached to being a victim of domestic abuse and b) because a large portion of society suggests that in some way the woman is to blame if she doesn't "just leave".

And therein lies part of the problem. Stigma, a lack of understanding and support, and silence.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a panel discussion on the difficult subject of family violence, hosted by The Nappy Collective (look them up - they're doing amazing work in the community). The panel of experts hosted by Giaan Rooney included Sandra Jacobs, founder of The Nappy Collective, Detective Superintendent Rod Jouning, Head Of Sexual And Family Violence, and Australian Of The Year 2015 Rosie Batty. While I felt incredibly privileged to be asked along, I also felt like a bit of a fraud. What do I know about family violence? What can I do to help? I knew there was a lot to learn about the subject and I initially felt as though I wasn't going to be able to contribute much, given I was so far out of my depth on a subject that was too important to pretend I truly understood.

But then I met Rosie. I heard her speak. I asked her questions. She spoke to me knowing that I was not an expert and gave me the sense that it was perfectly acceptable to feel passionate about a cause even without any personal experience to draw upon. Throughout the course of the evening, I quickly realised the purpose of my inclusion in this campaign. As bloggers, we may or may not have personal experience with domestic violence but we have a voice. We have the ability to communicate a message however we choose, to a vast number of people who trust us for our words and who perhaps share our passion for a cause. As bloggers, we have a voice that the media or the support organisations aren't allowed to have; we have freedom to express our feelings towards a cause and as long as we're sharing accurate and helpful information, we too can make a difference. That being said, here are some key messages from the panel discussion that stayed with me.

Key Points From The Forum

  • Already in Australia this year, fourteen women have been killed due to a domestic dispute. And as I write this very sentence, the story of Tara Costigan from the ACT who was killed by her ex-partner ONE week after giving birth to a baby girl has literally just surfaced on my newsfeed. There's now fifteen women dead and it's only the beginning of March. 
  • Family violence is NOT a socio-economic problem. It is occurring across all classes, races, and cultures here in Australia. Rosie's quote, "I want to tell people that family violence happens to anybody, no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are" rings true especially when you meet her and hear her speak. Indeed there are symptoms of abuse such as unemployment, mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse but they are not the sole root of the problem. Gender inequality is the problem.  Men needing to feel power over women for whatever reason and a general lack of respect for their female counterparts. That's the issue. And this needs to change.
  • Clearly, the judicial system requires change. So often in recent times, we've seen how the system has failed a woman and her kids, Rosie's case being no different as she described her journey through the court system as "navigating a minefield in a war zone". The five key organisations of child protection, police, corrections, family violence services and the courts are currently not working together as effectively as they could be so we need to see a unified front for all these key areas before real change for the better can occur.

    What Can We Do?

  • It sounds obvious but apparently it's not. We need to stop blaming the victim.  The question, "why doesn't she just leave?" is ignorant and unhelpful. There are many reasons why she doesn't just leave including fear and no guarantee that she's any safer on the run. And why should she leave? Why does the women need to turn her life upside down to fix the situation when the man's behaviour is the cause? Why should the woman be on the run, living in fear without the guarantee of absolute long term safety? Behaviour from the perpetrator needs to change and victim-blaming and judging needs to stop.
  • We need to draw upon good men around us and ask them to speak out and support the cause. Rod Jouning described a police incident at a local country footy game where in front of a crowd of mates, a man broke the jaw of his partner, then picked her up by the hair and one leg, and threw her into the car after she requested that it was time to get the children home for dinner. The act of violence is clearly appalling but what's just as hideous is that NOT ONE person, male or female stepped in to prevent this incident from happening as it took place. Everyone simply watched and let it happen. That's totally unacceptable and a clear indication of why this problem has gotten so bad. Where were his footy mates? Why did they not leap to her defence and challenge him on his abhorrent behaviour? Men need to speak up, challenge bad behaviour and help incite change. 
  • If we know someone who is experiencing family violence, as friends or family members we need to be careful about offering them advice. According to Rosie, during her journey through domestic abuse at the hands of Luke's father Greg, she found the well-meaning advice of others unhelpful and it felt like a precursor to their judgement. What Rosie does suggest is that we assist those in the situation to tap into support services such as Domestic Violence Victoria or equivalent crisis lines; these services were crucial in her navigating her journey due to the real support they provided and their lack of judgement. 
  • Perhaps we need to start looking at school programs which focus on educating kids about respect for each other, about gender equality and how to have meaningful relationships? I'm a big believer in starting the conversation and inciting change in the earlier years before unhealthy behavioural patterns are formed. While I know that a child's environment plays a significant role in their learned behaviour, perhaps proper education and discussion at school could make the difference as kids grow and begin to form relationships with each other or with the opposite sex? Teaching kids about respect and boundaries seems crucial in this campaign and feels very much a part of the 'prevention is better than cure' argument.
  • Finally, we need to starting talking loudly about family violence in Australia and not make assumptions about it being irrelevant in our own communities. Fifteen women have died at the hands of their partners or ex-partners in the two months of this year. We need to give this issue the same level of support as cancer research, or as much exposure as the threat of local terrorism.

IMAGES : MARC ALPERSTEIN  | The Movement For Change

So I intend to talk loudly about this issue. I'm still learning about it, and I may express myself clumsily at times, but what I do know is that family violence has reached epidemic levels and something needs to change. I hope you'll join the movement and begin to talk loudly too; the silence has gone on for too long. Family violence may not be an easy topic to be loud about but we owe it to these women and indeed to kids like Luke Batty to support the cause for change however we can. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence and immediate support is required, get in touch with Domestic Violence Victoria for access to further resources and assistance.

Domestic Violence Victoria 

Safe Steps Response Line
Phone: 1800 015 188

Police, Fire Or Ambulance
Phone: 000 


  1. Brilliant post. I think there were probably quite a few of there feeling like frauds at the start. I'm so grateful to have attended and learned so much.

    1. Thanks so much, Rebecca - so great to be involved and to have met you on the night.

  2. Very moving and humbling post. Thank you Sophie for both attending the panel discussion and for bringing the message to us. Please keep the energy going. You have my support in every way.

    1. Thanks FGM - really appreciate your support and enthusiasm for the cause. xx

  3. thankyou soph for such an important and helpful post.
    I want to express how important it is to sit down and talk to our children both boys and girls about how it is important to speak out about violence, to educate and shape attitude in the school yard that violence is not ok and that we should encourage vocal disaproval for the physical resolution of differences. to above all be vocal about how unacceptable it is to stand back and not voice our disapproval of such violence. it has to start early and as mothers its more important than ever to teach our kids both boys and girls about equality.
    I know my brother always spoke out about the intimidation that occurred In our family and for that and many other reasons I respect him greatly.

    1. Such a great comment - thanks so much for taking the time. You're absolutely right about educating the kids early on - it's a part of this campaign I feel very strongly about. Please stay in touch through the journey, especially given your personal experience. x

  4. Great post Sophie. You have discussed the issues in a thoughtful and sensitive manner and also outlined a way forward. One more articulate voice calling for change can only be a good thing.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Danielle. Really appreciate your feedback. x