Can you imagine a world where women sit frightened and alone, too scared to move? A world where a simple trip to the shops could mean another broken bone? A world where the threat of violence is an everyday occurrence?
Sadly, many women don't have to imagine it. They live it. According to UNICEF, domestic abuse is the most widespread form of violence against women today. It has no boundaries and affects every community regardless of class, culture or background.
Young or old, weak or strong, anyone can fall victim to domestic violence. Even men. In fact MensLine Australia Program Leader, Randal Newton-John said, "Of the men who speak about abuse in their primary relationships, 50 percent report as having 'experienced' abuse."
While most agreed that sexual and physical abuse was a form of domestic violence, the lines for emotional abuse seemed blurred with one in five believing "yelling abuse at a partner" wasn't that serious.
The reality is any form of threatening or intimidating behaviour from a partner is domestic abuse. It's a crime of control which can cover many areas:
- Emotional: like blaming, humiliating and manipulating
- Verbal: like name calling and screaming
- Physical: like threatening or actually causing harm, smashing property
- Financial: like controlling money and jobs
- Sexual abuse
Secrecy, denial and shame are all very real consequences of domestic violence as women try to juggle keeping the peace at home with putting up a front to the outside world.
This can cause devastating mental and physical stress on the body, leading to depression and anxiety disorders, not to mention drug and alcohol dependency.
Not only are children likely to blame themselves for what's happening at home but they can learn its acceptable behaviour.
Sometimes the effects from living in a violent household can emerge years later. Just look at pop-singer Rihanna's ex-boyfriend Chris Brown. In 2007 after admitting on TV he witnessed domestic violence growing up, Brown said he'd not only wet the bed in fear but became a "scared and timid" child.
"I don't want to go through the same thing or put a woman through the same thing my mom went through," he said. Just a few months later Brown was arrested for the horrific assault on his then-girlfriend, Rihanna.
Weeks after Rihanna's attack, the world was stunned to see her and Chris back together. She explained it was "unconditional love" that made her stand by her man. "It's completely normal to go back. The moment the physical wounds go away you want the memories to go away. You start lying to yourself."
Rihanna admitted she only left after realising the damaging message she was sending out to the world.
One of the most common reasons to stay in an abusive relationship is love. Or rather the belief that the person we first fell in love with, is still there underneath it all. Hanging on to that small amount of hope prevents many women from rebuilding their lives, away from the abuse.
Other reasons are:
- Guilt about breaking up the family
- Shame, belief that it's their fault, low self esteem
- Hope that they will change
- Fear of further violence
- Financial burden
- Nowhere to go
"Often an abused woman copes with the shame of the situation by cutting herself off from support networks, which can be dangerous physically and emotionally," she said.
Tread carefully. Remember the abusive partner has caused significant damage to their self esteem. "Sometimes women have lost the power to judge if what they're going through is normal or not, so don't be too challenging," Anne said.
Make sure your loved one feels safe and trusted. Offer moral support like going to the police station with them or standing by as they ring a helpline. Above all, listen without judgement, show you believe them and reassure them of your unconditional support.
You should also:
- Respect their decisions
- Tell them about services (listed below)
- Protect their safety, especially if they have left the relationship.
If you're one of the many women too terrified to say or do anything, Anne said it's a totally understandable feeling. "Many women are going through this, so it's important to recognise you're not alone. Find someone you trust to open up to and take baby steps."
Relationships Australia is just one organisation out of many that can help with domestic violence. From the practicalities of legal advice and accommodation concerns to counselling and support groups, Relationships Australia works closely with help lines and refuges to provide caring and neutral support.
Ph: 1300 364 277
Ph: 1300 78 99 78
- The National Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault helpline 1800 200526
- Lifeline: 131 114www.lifeline.org.au
To support White Ribbon Day on November 25, visit www.whiteribbon.org.au/myoath.