Wednesday, July 15, 2015

is your partner a bully?

I'm jumping totally off topic today to talk about things that are not easy to talk about.

And the not talking is part of the problem. Keeping secrets, give secrets power and allow problems to grow instead of shrink.

This post was prompted by a newspaper article I read this morning that stated 80% of people surveyed in a recent VicHealth study don't understand why women in abusive relationships don't leave. This statistic highlights how misunderstood the complexities of family violence are.

It is hard to bear even thinking about the fact that right now there are women and children living in homes with fear in their hearts, fear of physical, emotional, financial and/or sexual abuse.

As I walked back to my car from the cafe where I read the paper I thought about what I'd read, what can I do? How can I contribute to change?

Often we hear about something happening in the world and think "Gee that's terrible. There's not much I can do though". Wrong. The smallest changes can add up to a huge difference.

I can write a blog post I thought. And perhaps by writing this someone reading might recognise some of what I'm writing about in themselves, a friend or family member and take the huge step of finding a way out.

I'm no expert in this topic but as a woman and mother it is a topic that tears at my heart. And because in my own family my grandmother endured years of abuse at the hands of my grandfather who was an alcoholic, their four children including my father suffered. And in turn my mother, my brother and I suffered because due to my father's upbringing he could not be present as a husband and father, leaving when my brother and I were toddlers. So why did my grandmother stay? Because, in her words, "In those days there was nowhere to go".

It is no coincidence that my aunt, my Dad's sister, grew up to become a crisis worker, and who now forty years on from that era that my grandmother spoke of, works with women and children in crisis: still without place to go. The fact that the support system is broken and lacking has already been highlighted at this weeks hearings in Australia's Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Why women stay

The reasons why women stay are as many and varied as why men are abusive. All too often the question is 'Why don't women leave?' instead of 'Why don't men stop being violent and abusive?'

All change begins with recognising the signs and symptoms of the problem.

But for some women and men they don't even acknowledge that they are part of an abusive or violent relationship especially when abuse and violence is inter-generational, the next generation learn from the previous generation that what it means to be in relationship, to be 'loved', is to be treated badly. Violence and abuse is normalised in this situation.

Men and women who grow up with no internal compass to tell them otherwise, to tell them this is not acceptable, keep the behaviour going: men continue to be abusive and violent, and women stay.

This is not to say that all people raised in abusive and violent families grow up to repeat the behaviour.

Then there are the practical barriers to leaving. Finding a safe, affordable place to live, finding employment and childcare, and facing custody issues.

It is a common experience for women in abusive and violent relationships to have had their self esteem completely eroded and to have become increasingly isolated so they do not have the confidence or social networks to make it easy for them to leave.

So, why do women stay? As Melbourne researcher Prue Cameron states in this article, "It's not much of a choice - a violent relationship or chronic poverty and homelessness."

Signs of an abusive relationship

Part of the problem in my opinion is the language we use to talk about this issue.

To many, the words violence and abuse sound extreme, they are not words anyone wants to relate to and therefore even when women are in a situation where they are being called names, being pushed or shoved, being restricted from seeing friends or family, having money withheld from them by their partner, when they hear the words abuse or violence they think "that's not me", so they adjust their emotions a little more, put up a little more psychological armour, so they can cope. All the while hoping things will change.

And that's why I started this post asking 'is your partner a bully?' you don't have to be at the extreme end to be in an abusive relationship.

Unfortunately the phrase 'from little things, big things grow' applies to good and bad. What starts out as name calling, pushing, shoving, jealousy, criticism, if left unaddressed can escalate. Even if the abuse stays at a comparatively low level, when a woman in a relationship doesn't feel safe, valued and free to be herself then there is a problem.

The flip side of knowing the signs of an abusive relationship is knowing what a healthy one looks and feels like. Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, who so tragically lost her son Luke to family violence, is calling on the government to implement compulsory respectful relationship programs in schools. You can join Rosie in campaigning for this by signing her petition.

The key aims of the Royal Commission are encouraging, I pray it is a turning point in how as a society we support women and children to be free of abuse and violence.

Where to find help

If you or a friend require support here are some services to contact:

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) This is the number for the national sexual assault, abuse and family violence counselling service open 24 hours 7 days a week

Relationships Australia 1300 364 277

If you know a doctor you trust and have confidence in they should have knowledge of services in your local area.

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