DOMESTIC and family violence is a pattern of behaviour that establishes power in a relationship and the victim is controlled through a sense of fear and isolation.
More men, says Domestic Violence Action Centre’s Heather Ellis, need to be brought into the conversation and start holding perpetrators to account.
“There are a lot of barriers to rural women because talking about domestic violence is uncomfortable. It is a major problem, but it is fixable.”
Ms Ellis, who recently won a Queensland Regional Rural and Remote Women’s Network leadership award for her work, is based in Ipswich but offers support to women in regional areas.
“If you think back to what happened in the 80s in terms of drink driving, that social change happened,” she said. “We don’t have nearly the same number of people on the roads drink driving.”
The same has also happened for smoking in public venues – a public campaign along with legislative changes shifts behaviour.
“It is about behavioural change and we can all be part of this process,” Ms Ellis said.
Self-education was a key, and websites including the federal government’s Ourwatch.org.au and the White Ribbon organisation offered information, she said.
Women’s Legal Service’s Phoebe Kahlo agreed and said it was about changing the underlying attitudes in the dominant culture, the roles of masculinity, and what was acceptable behaviour and what was not. She said people also needed to understand that domestic violence was a choice. It was not a one-off incident, but a pattern of behaviour.
“There is a misguided view in our community that domestic violence is a mental illness – it’s not,” Ms Kahlo said. “It can be exacerbated by drugs, but it is a choice based on ideas around control and power.
“It’s a pattern of behaviour that establishes power in a relationship and the victim is controlled through a sense of fear and isolation.”
In order to change this, more men needed to be brought into the conversation and had to start holding perpetrators to account.
Ms Ellis would also like to see men call out gender stereotyping, which was at the core root of domestic and family violence.
“If you are the dad coaching the local footy team, you don’t have a go at the boys and tell them they throw like a girl.
“It’s really simple stuff and it’s about changing the conversation and educating ourselves about how we do things differently. There will always be elements of conflict in relationships, but the difference is having those disputes without fear.”
Because financial and social isolation played a significant part for women in rural areas, it was also about other women playing a part, she said.
“So if women come into your life or community, welcome them.”
Women living on remote properties needed to have support with neighbours and even develop strategies for the neighbour to call and check if they had not heard for a while, she said.
Being non-judgemental when a woman did not leave an abusive relationship was also important, Ms Ellis said.
IF you have been affected by domestic and family violence, there are phone numbers and websites you can contact to offer you support.
- In an emergency, contact the Police on 000.
- DVConnect Women’sline 1800 811 811 DVconnect.org
- 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 7373
- Domestic Violence Action Centre www.dvac.org.au
- Women’s Legal Services 1800 677 278 www.wlsq.org.au
- DV Connect Mensline 1800 600 636