Domestic and Family Violence: Helping women, and men, who experience abuse
For far too long, Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) has been swept under the carpet in Australia.
So it’s encouraging that awareness of the issue has increased markedly over the past decade, particularly regarding its impact on women and children.
Women continue to be devastatingly over-represented in statistics showing them on the receiving end of abuse, and there still exists great need for more support for women and children affected by DFV.
Recent government studies revealed that 72,000 women sought help from homelessness services in 2016-17 due to DFV and that, on average, one woman every week was killed by a current or former partner in 2012-13 to 2013-14.
But we know that men are also affected by DFV too, and, just like women, they require support to regain their safety and independence.
The same studies revealed 9,000 men sought help from homelessness services due to DFV in 2016-17 and, on average, one man every month was killed by a current or former partner in 2012-13 to 2013-14.
We spoke with three Mission Australia staff members from across the country who work directly with people affected by DFV to find out about their experiences on the front line.
All three revealed the vast majority of people who present to their services are women who have been abused by a current or former male partner. They all believe this heavily gendered skew is largely representative of DFV more broadly in their regions.
But despite receiving significantly fewer requests for help from men, all three acknowledge that DFV doesn’t discriminate and admit that there are almost no services that specifically cater for men as there are for women.
“We had one case where a dad was the victim of DFV because his partner’s family perpetrated violence against him,” says Paul Royce, Area Manager for the Midwest region in Western Australia.
One of the things we found once we did try to support this father was there were absolutely no services available.
[Mission Australia] provided a significant level of support, but it was difficult. In that case I stepped in as a male with some experience with DFV and provided that support to him.”
Marnie Alefosio, Program Manager Community Services in the Pilbara in WA, agrees that support is limited for men experiencing DFV in her region, but laments that “there’s not adequate assistance in the Pilbara for anybody who needs help”, male or female.
If they come through the police, our domestic violence triage officer can speak to them about a safety plan and options, and then they can get a domestic violence restraining order. But in the Pilbara there are only three women’s shelters for the whole region, and not much of anything else.”
Liz O’Connell, Program Manager Community Services in the South Coast region of New South Wales, says her DFV pilot program has only received referrals to assist women in the two years since its inception. That’s set to change soon, however, as a male client affected by DFV perpetrated by his female partner has recently been referred to them for help.
While Liz has no doubt that women account for the vast majority of people affected by DFV in Australia, she says it’s likely there are a number of men affected who are not being identified.
“Research has been around for 20 years showing that men are affected by domestic violence, but I think … men are less likely to come forward and report it. There’s a bit of shame with that, that they’re weak and not able to defend themselves and things like that.
Looking ahead, what the community probably needs to do is identify it in an open way so that people know it exists and give options of what to do if you’re in that situation, and make it a safe place where men can feel comfortable reporting what happened and not feel ashamed.
If they start getting identified and the demand is there then I’d hope that [governments would] start setting up some services specifically for men like they have with women so that they’re not left out with nowhere to go.
Liz says on the NSW South Coast, Mission Australia delivers a similar level of care for both men and women affected by DFV. The main difference, she explains, lies in her case workers’ ability to refer clients to external services.
We case manage men as we would anyone else, but it’s limited in some ways. There’s still counselling and general things they can access, but for women there are domestic violence refuges we can refer them to and they can get help. We can’t do that with men, so it’s about finding different ways, and that might be linking in with the local housing provider to tell them about the situation. There are always ways around it, but there are not those services that are specific.
Liz says a new program introduced at Mission Australia this year has been an eye-opener, revealing that many male perpetrators carry with them the trauma of abuse from their own childhoods. The program, Caring Dads, is a healthy relationships and behaviour change group for male perpetrators of DFV.
“With Caring Dads, the men we’re working with have actually been through trauma. The ones who perpetrate the violence, they were children who have been through trauma and go on to perpetrate because that’s what they’ve seen in their home. Of course not all children do that, but I would suspect most of them have been victims as a child. There’s a lot of research to support this.
So we’re looking at how do we help the fathers address their own trauma, because that’s something that’s really lacking. No one ever looks at that.
In 2016-17, almost 11,000 of the people Mission Australia worked with disclosed they were experiencing DFV. Another 7,700 didn’t disclose violence, but were suspected by our staff to be experiencing it.
The problem of Domestic and Family Violence remains a big one throughout Australia, with wide-reaching implications for families and communities. More awareness, more education, more programs and services, and more donations and funding are all required if we are to turn around the devastating statistics and ensure all Australians can live free from the fear of violence in their homes.
Paul in WA speaks for all the staff and volunteers at Mission Australia when he says: “For us, violence is never acceptable, in any context, whether it’s by a man or by a woman.”
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