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Domestic Violence And Abuse In Australia

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Violence and Abuse in Australia
Domestic violence is a significant social
issue that has a major impact upon the health of women in society. Discuss
this statement and identify the factors that may contribute to domestic

Domestic violence is known by many names
including spouse abuse, domestic abuse, domestic assault, battering, partner
abuse, marital strife, marital dispute, wife beating, marital discord,
woman abuse, dysfunctional relationship, intimate fighting, male beating
and so on. McCue (1995) maintains that it is commonly accepted by legal
professionals as “the emotional, physical, psychological, or sexual abuse
perpetrated against a person by that person’s spouse, former spouse, partner,
former partner or by the other parent of a minor child” (although several
other forms of domestic violence have become increasingly apparent in today’s
society). Whatever name is used to refer to it, however, domestic violence
is a very grave and difficult problem faced by Australian society.

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Although domestic violence can include
the abuse of parents, children, siblings and other relatives, it predominantly
involves violence against sexual partners with women being the most common
victims and men being the ‘aggressors’ (Family Violence Professional Education
Taskforce 1991). It is inadequate to view domestic violence as an aspect
of the normal interpersonal conflict which takes place in most families.

According to McCue (1995), many families experience conflict, but not all
male members of families inevitably resort to violence. It is not the fact
of family disputes or marital conflict that generate or characterize violence
in the home. Violence occurs when one person assumes the right to dominate
over the other and decides to use violence or abuse as a means of ensuring
that domination (Family Violence Professional Education Taskforce 1991).

Although all forms of domestic violence
are pressing issues of equal importance, this essay is more specifically
directed at spouse abuse and aims to delve deeper into the issue of domestic
violence by examining its causes with respect to the socioeconomic status
of the particular family and its effects upon women in Australian society.

The FACS (Family and Community Services)
booklet (1995), defines domestic violence as follows:
‘when a woman suffers persistent physical,
verbal, economic or social abuse from her partner with the result that
she suffers a sustained emotional and, or psychological effect.’
Domestic violence is the most common form
of assault in Australia today. However, it remains a hidden problem because
it occurs within the privacy of the home and those involved are usually
reluctant to speak out (Healey 1993). Actually, it extends far beyond merely
physical abuse and incorporates a range of behaviours aimed by the male
to his partner. These behaviours include assault, psychological or emotional
abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, spiritual abuse, social abuse and economic
abuse. The belief that the perpetrators of domestic violence are typically
stupid, mentally ill, aggressive males with criminal records and a generally
vicious and barbaric nature is surprisingly incorrect. According to McCue
(1995), many of the men who present most violently in the household portray
themselves quite differently to the rest of society. They are generally
not lawbreakers, but rather appear to be charming, often handsome law-abiding
citizens outside of their own homes who maintain an image as friendly and
devoted family men. In fact, it is likely that many such aggressors aren’t
even aware
of the major impact their actions have upon their partners.

Violence occurs in families of all kinds and from all cultures and socio-economic
profiles (McCue 1995). As stated previously, the majority of violence in
the typical Australian household is perpetrated by men against women. In
Australia, all available data on family violence indicates that men are
overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence in the home. According to the
Family Violence Professional Education Taskforce (1991), data obtained
by police in Victoria since the proclamation of the Crimes (Family Violence)
Act 1987 revealed that between the 1st of June and the 30th of November
1989, in 88% of reported cases where physical violence was used against
a person in a family violence incident, the perpetrator was male.

The reasons for men being abusive towards
their wives are many and varied. However, whilst the experience of family
violence may differ according to factors such as socioeconomic group, class,
culture, race and the age and health of the victim, the Family Violence
Professional Education Taskforce (1991) maintains that it has not been
demonstrated that these factors play any casual role in the origins of
family violence. Instead, the most consistent impression to be gained is
that violence in the home is best understood in the context of unequal
power relationships between men and women. An example of this lies in data
obtained by the Family Violence Professional Education Taskforce (1991)
which indicates that there is a high correlation between traditional views
of women’s economic subordination to men and approval of husbands’ violence
against their wives. According to the FACS booklet (1995), men from many
different cultures often enter a relationship with a traditional perspective
on the roles of husbands and wives, considering their wives as some sort
of possession and therefore believing they have the right to control them.

Subsequently, many of these men feel that violence is an acceptable means
of enforcing this control. It is important however to consider the fact
that such ideas about the role of women may be antiquated in our western
culture but may be considered acceptable in others. Thus arises the major
issue concerning whether or not it is morally acceptable to impose the
ideas and beliefs of western society onto another culture.

The booklet from the Dept. of Family Services
(1995) states that:
‘…research shows that men who grew up
in violent families are six times more likely to beat their wives than
men who did not.’
Thus, it is obvious that the ideas and
practices which are within the family network reflect upon the customs
and concepts that a male will bring into his own family.

According to O’Donnell and Craney (1982),
domestic violence can also arise in response to various social structural
factors. This fact explains the apparent concentration of domestic violence
occurrences within families of lower socioeconomic status since these families
are more likely to suffer stressful conditions such as poor health, unemployment,
unsatisfactory housing and lifestyles along with many others. However,
in complete contrast to such beliefs that domestic violence occurs mainly
in lower socioeconomic groups, data collected by the Family Violence Professional
Education Taskforce (1991) indicates that family violence is prevalent
throughout all class boundaries.

Spouse abuse occurs throughout all aspects
of society. However, as shown in Figure 1, it rates around two times higher
among families where the male partner is unskilled (and thus more likely
to be unemployed) relative to families where the male partner is skilled
or trained in a particular field (and therefore more likely employed).

These statistics are unlikely to have improved with an increase in unemployment
over the last fifteen years (O’Donnell and Craney 1982).

It is evident that a complete and sound
understanding of domestic violence would rely on explanations which place
responsibility for the violence with external factors such as stress and
alcohol. The excessive use of alcohol is often linked to domestic violence
as indicated by Figure 2 where in 48% of abuse cases, alcohol was a predominant
factor, (Queensland Domestic Violence Task Force booklet, 1988). Although
society may believe that alcohol is a possible cause of domestic violence,
the Family Violence Professional Education Taskforce (1991) maintain that
it is more of a contributing rather than a causative factor of family violence.

In addition, Larouche (1986) maintains that although alcohol may lower
both awareness and self-control, a person who uses it is responsible both
for drinking and for their behaviour.

Somewhat contrary to other studies, Van
Hasselt (1988) maintained that occupational status rather than employment
status seems to be a significant stimulus to violence where women of higher
socioeconomic status than their partners are at a higher risk of being
victims of domestic abuse. It is still commonplace (although rather old-fashioned)
in our society for men to see themselves as the ‘breadwinners’ whereas
women are not expected to be so success-orientated, but rather are expected
to look to men for economic support. When men think of themselves as providers
for their family but see that they are no longer in a position to perform
this duty as their wives are of higher occupational status, abusive men
tend to experience intense feelings of insecurity and a deep sense of failure.

Thus, men who cannot cope with this particular type of failure are most
susceptible to violent behaviour. (O’Donnell and Craney 1982)
The Family Violence Professional Education
Taskforce (1991) indicates that other factors related to inferiority and
superiority such as levels of intelligence or education have also been
linked to domestic violence. For example, the level of one’s education
is a component of socioeconomic status which greatly influences the risk
of domestic violence within a family. According to Steinmetz and Strauss
(1974), female abuse is recorded as highest among men who have not achieved
a great deal academically. This reasoning explains why domestic violence
is more prominent in the poorer sectors of our community where members
of society are generally less educated. Steinmetz and Strauss (1974) also
suggest that men in the violent group are often less educated than their
wives and so by abusing their partner, these male aggressors may feel that
they are able to compensate for their low academic status by maintaining
their supremacy at home.

A study conducted by Steinmetz and Strauss
(1974) establishes that full time employment of the male partner is related
to lower rates of spouse abuse, and that higher rates of spouse abuse are
associated with women having more education and/or higher occupational
status than their male partners. Thus, it seems that a relationship exists
between lower socioeconomic status and a greater tendency to domestic violence.

Such a relationship can be interpreted into terms of frustration, low self-esteem
or oppression.

Consequently, it seems imperative that
a community education and awareness program be targeted at the more socioeconomically
deprived groups in the community with the primary objective of increasing
society’s overall awareness of domestic violence and the drastic and quite
permanent effects it can have on the abused. Additionally, it is essential
that those community members of higher socioeconomic status be involved
in such an education program, for it is evident that domestic violence
also presides in the many of the homes of these theoretically less susceptible
social groups. However, it is important that community education on domestic
violence should not be considered a substitute for legal action against
serious offenders.

The effects of domestic violence on the
individual are quite severe and traumatic. Reported cases have suggested
numerous forms of abuse ranging from the more common forms of physical
abuse to psychological and emotional abuse. There are even some cases that
involve various forms of sexual abuse. Although vastly different, all forms
of domestic abuse leave the victim permanently scarred. It is apparent
that even in cases that involve physical abuse, the wounds may heal although
the emotional damage can never be repaired. O’Donnell and Craney (1982)
suggest that as a result of having been a victim of domestic violence,
many people will spend the rest of their lives in fear of the opposite
sex. Aside from simple fear, there are many other emotional scars that
the perpetrator inflicts upon the victim such as a permanently low self-esteem
and possibly, the belief that they are insane (Family Violence Professional
Education Taskforce 1991).

All families and relationships have their
problems, although violence should never be regarded as a solution. It
is no longer tolerated in the workplace, nor is it tolerated in the schoolyard.

Why, therefore, should it be tolerated in the home where all should be
striving towards building a safe, caring, loving and happy environment?
Department of Family Services and Aboriginal
and Islander Affairs booklet (1995).

Family and Community Services (FACS) booklet

Family Violence Professional Education
Sydney, Federation Press.

Healey K (1993): A VIOLENT SOCIETY?, N.S.W.

Spinney Press.

McCue M L (1995): DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, California,

O’Donnell C and Craney J (1982): FAMILY
VIOLENCE IN AUSTRALIA, Melbourne, Longman Cheshire.

Report of the Queensland Domestic Violence
Task Force (1988): Beyond These Walls.

Steinmetz S and Strauss M (1974): VIOLENCE
IN THE FAMILY, New York, USA, Harper and Rowe Publishers.

Van Hasselt V B (1988): HANDBOOK OF FAMILY
VIOLENCE, New York, USA, Plenum Press.


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