May is Domestic Violence Prevention Month, a time to actively highlight the symptoms, effects and collateral damage of this ongoing societal problem, and to assure victims that there is always help available.
Maxine Revell is an Intensive Family Support (IFS) Case Manager at IMPACT Community Services and sees the effects of domestic violence up close almost every day. She feels strongly about finding approaches and interventions that work – to stop the abuse, violence, neglect – and to help us heal and thrive as stronger, more compassionate human beings.
Maxine doesn’t particularly like the term “domestic violence”, explaining that the language makes invisible the person who bullies and uses coercive control to terrorise their partner, siblings or parents, and children.
“Domestic Violence” or “Family Violence” is against the law and if people are not certain what the problem looks like or sounds like, Maxine encourages you to look up the Domestic Violence Act on the internet.
“This is the month to take time out and understand what domestic violence is, break it down, call it what it is, and take a stand to stop it,” Maxine said.
“Domestic violence is a pattern of behaving and having power over someone that acts to disempower, confuse and erode the victim’s sense of self and self-worth.
“People (victims) do not hand their power away – it's ignored or stomped on. When one person is dominating the relationship, the other person's sense of power within is diminished or squashed, making them feel insignificant, unsure and usually depressed.
“Children in this mix can become unhappy, oppositional, confused and mimic the behaviours.”
The good news, Maxine said, was that violence, abuse and coercion were learnt behaviours and could be unlearned.
She said she believed in the global Restorative Justice Movement, born out of the Marae system of Mana Motuhake in Aotearoa, New Zealand where restorative justice principles call for making right the wrong committed by the perpetrator.
It is an accountability model known to teach empathy for the victim/s and this is when behaviour change happens.
Maxine said that the local Bystander Campaign was also great because it was a call for family members and friends to get involved if they thought there was domestic or family violence around people they cared about, and not simply be a bystander to violence and abuse.
“Relationships with each other that are equal and equally satisfying where each person is getting their needs met will ensure a functioning, happy family,” she said.
"Every family’s experiences of domestic and family violence is different. However, children who have lived with ongoing aggression and abuse in their homes often say they fear for their lives and their parent’s lives.
"This can spark neurological difficulties leading to psychological difficulties which is why it is important to take a stand and say #notnownotever."
Prevention of more abuse is key, and safety plans can be a perfect guide for family meetings and conversations for everyone concerned.
According to Maxine what is also key in stopping the abuse is not to dehumanise the abuser. There are good programs for men, for example, that can help guide the process from someone you know being controlling, aggressive and entitled, to becoming respectful, contributing, happy and trusting (call MensLine on 1300 789 978 for more information).
“If drugs and alcohol are involved, take some video and show them the aggressive and/or abusive behaviour the next day,” Maxine said.
“Call a family meeting, discuss what happened and how everyone was affected, especially the younger members of the family.
“Make everyone accountable. Take responsibility. If someone says they are only violent when they are drinking or drugging then no drinking or drugging.
“I have never met an abusive person who is happy more than 25% of their time.
“And I often wonder, is this how they want their partners or their children to be, feeling sad and mad most of the time?”
Maxine believes there needs to be a cultural shift of believing that both men and women are equal – different but equal with equal rights.
This will take time, considering all the stereotypes of male roles and female roles that get reinforced through media, schools and "traditional" family values.
“Silence continues the violence and there is evidence that aggressive and abusive behaviour will get worse if there is no intervention,” Maxine said.
“Brothers are good to do this, or uncles and cousins and fathers, sisters, aunties, grandmothers and grandfathers. And, if your family intervention doesn’t work, call the Police or DV Connect.”
May is Domestic Violence Prevention month. What are you doing?