Impact of Domestic Violence on Society

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As Chief Policy Officer for the prevention and reduction of societal crime in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), a directive has been given by Andrew Barr, the ACT’s Chief Minister, to reduce domestic violence rates in the Territory. Violence, whether an action against an individual or against the greater community, affects everyone. In order to come to terms with this dilemma, we must ask: what is domestic violence, how bad is it, how can it be reduced, and what is the benefit in reducing its statistics? This essay will seek to understand the fundamental nature of violence by firstly, providing a definition for the basis of investigation, and looking at the catalysts for this behaviour, and subsequently, who is affected. By establishing a framework in which to create reform, what are the gains for the individual and the broader community, as the burdens that the response – or lack thereof – to acts of violence create as an expense on society, and more specifically, within the ACT, are not only costly but affect society in many ways?. This essay will explore these points in an effort to provide workable solutions.

Domestic violence is a scourge on society and despite best efforts in recent years to mitigate this problem, we still see and feel its impact, whether directly or indirectly. In order to achieve an agenda of reducing the statistics on this form of violence, this essay will first seek to understand the true meaning of domestic violence. What forms the basis for its definition, such as the types of violence that fall into this category, and what are its triggers? Secondly, we will explore what type of impact it has on not only the victims but also the effect it has on the Territory and on society more broadly through social impacts, particularly for women and children. Finally, this essay will outline which measures currently in place are proving to be effective in combating this type of violence and why it is necessary to develop sustainable models so that we are able to tackle current issues, and for providing a framework that will continue into the future, not only for our most vulnerable but for the benefit of the entire community. This essay will argue that we can no longer ignore the evidence, and the only way to deal with this problem is for everyone to play an active role to achieve the best outcomes.

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Whilst it is easy to say that there are laws in many societies that are opposed to violence, or, violent acts are against the law, so perpetrators should be punished, this is too simplistic an answer. It is easy to come by evidence that attitudes may change towards various forms of violence between cultures, and every behaviour that may be considered immoral is a culturally accepted practice elsewhere (Prinz 2011). Although this highlights an engendered philosophy on acceptance of violence, we can take some positives from this. It can be argued that in order to establish a method of approach in tackling this issue, we should not always seek to blame the perpetrator, but merely attempt to understand their behaviour, particularly when factoring in cultural motivations. It can also be argued that the research itself gives some insight into the progress being made in understanding violence in general; this helps in tailoring solutions to the domestic violence issue. Given that we already have laws in place as deterrents, and as we can see nationwide that much has been done to try and kerb the statistics, the numbers keep rising. Perhaps the solution in reducing numbers of violent incidents is in understanding the perpetrator’s motivations. Scheff (2011, p.458) has warned us that ‘emotional motives [for aggression and violence] are invisible to politicians and the public’, so if there is no outward awareness of certain types of violence, then we need to seek other means of investigation. Davidson (as cited in Prinz 2011) believes that we should make allowances for cultural and language difference, as there may be no concept of our laws on violence. However, this is disputed by Chomsky who believes there is a universal grammar and variances in linguistics are only superficial. Both theories should be accounted for when evaluating violence and providing a model for reduction.

Other promising factors worth noting, are growing movements for gender balance that are accounting for types of violence. For instance, despite the growing numbers, there are some positive indicators that suggest that although the statistics are high, movements like Me-Too have identified a workplace gender bias and the need for action on particular forms of violence, such as sexual harassment (Lee 2018). The suffragette movement of the earlier part of the 20th century also saw violence against women brought into public focus. Women such as Rose Scott, Vida Goldstein, and Louisa Lawson should be acknowledged for their work in highlighting this violence, which was the beginnings of what was to become a widespread social movement by the 1970s, working with women who were the victims of domestic violence, through to lobbying for law reforms and changes to practices by the police, courts, and welfare agencies (Murray 2014).

In order to develop a policy framework, we must first come to an understanding of how best to define the question: What is domestic violence? A recent study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) into family, domestic, and sexual violence, has provided a description of violence ‘[which] can take many forms, including physical violence, emotional abuse, or attempts to control another person’s behaviour’ (AIHW 2019). It also describes domestic violence as a subset of family violence, which can commonly include a fusion of physical or sexual violence, psychological and emotional domination. Physical violence typically commences in small and inconspicuous measures but can escalate over time. This can be forms of common assault, such as hitting or striking, through to intimidation, deprivation of food, sleep, or liberty, and even abusing children or pets. Domestic violence can also involve financial, spiritual, elderly or even image abuse. The White Ribbon Australia has identified a type of domestic abuse, as what they refer to as social abuse. This particular type of abuse is about controlling the other person, particularly men’s control over women. This is an especially heinous type of isolation by limiting someone’s contact with others, and by asserting authority over another, which White Ribbon explains: ‘Without a network of friends and family for support, a person can find it very difficult to leave an abusive relationship’ (White Ribbon Australia 2020), thus creating a spiral of continued violent behaviour.

Research into public perception of domestic violence is limited and somewhat inconsistent with regard to its nature, prevalence and tolerance. The term ‘domestic violence’ more recently is being used more broadly and inclusively, as the public sees the problem as being more pervasive than previously thought. However, there is still a section of the community that remains ambivalent about circumstances under which they see violence as justifiable or excusable (Carlson & Worden 2005, p.1200). The Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) is broad in its definition of domestic, or family violence, where it can be any form of control in a relationship, be it with family members or partnerships, where the relationship does not have to be in the same home or with people who are living together. Through their research and support services, they have concluded that ‘Domestic and family violence does not discriminate. It happens across all ages, genders, cultural, ethnic and socio-economic groups.’ (Domestic Violence Crisis Service [DVCS] 2020). From the perspective of men as the aggressors, research has suggested that they acknowledge their domestic violence offences being triggered by a single ‘incident’, or ‘episode’, yet overlook other events which can start as something minor, which then becomes more serious through a series of events leading up to the incident. There is also a significant recurrence of the word ‘just’ by perpetrators of domestic violence in linguistically downplaying the significance of their acts and the impact they have caused, for example: ‘just letting out some frustration’. Or, in some instances, in order to differentiate their behaviour from that of other men: ‘[in] heated arguments, I’d call her names, I’d basically just be horrible to her’ (Kelly & Westmarland 2016, p.121). It is therefore argued that we should think of a survivor of domestic abuse as a person being controlled rather than focusing on being abused in order to better understand the dynamics behind those relationships.

So, who does domestic violence affect, and what is its impact? As men are typically the perpetrators of domestic violence, so too they are victims. Given stereotyping of males, and fear of being ridiculed or not believed, quite often men find it harder to access help. However, whilst domestic violence in the ACT occurs across all cultures, races, ages, genders, religions and socio-economic groups, unfortunately, we see a continuing trend for the majority of victims to be women. Every year there are approximately 7,700 women who are the victim of different forms of violence in the Territory alone, and a current or former partner is most likely to be the instigator of these attacks (Domestic Violence Crisis Service [DVCS] 2020). Although women tend to be the most likely victims, further to this, children, whilst not always directly the victim of a domestic violence attack, can often experience violence through witnessing violence in their home. In some ways, this can have a greater long-term impact as it is typical for children to hide their emotions around this type of abuse, often leading to psychological and learning difficulties, or even worse, going on to be offenders themselves through imitative behaviour (ibid). The law factors in the need for protection where the victims are affected by indirect means, s. 8 of the Family Violence Act 2016 provides a concept of violence, where an act need only be implied or overheard for it to be an offence, which effectively means that anyone within the vicinity may be considered a victim. Unfortunately, in identifying the victim through law, it leaves other areas of society to address these causal links.

Vulnerable people, including aged or those with a disability, can be victims, with the pattern of control being exercised by the perpetrator being the most significant factor in many of these cases (ibid). Whilst domestic violence can affect all areas of society, special consideration needs to be given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the LGBTIQ+ community, and other multicultural communities, when dealing with domestic violence issues due to further cultural or social factors, such as the threat of ‘outing’ gay people, or fear of losing residential status for Temporary Australians (ibid). Interestingly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, prior to colonization, had previously used controlled violence measures as an effective means of social control, which can no longer be used as they contradict legal forms of control now in place (McKillop 1993).

In order to make positive changes, we need to identify what are the answers? To find solutions on how to solve the domestic violence issue, and to reduce the statistics, we first need to understand where it stems from. Gilligan (2017a, p.174) has identified that studying the psychopathology behind violent behaviour is too limited in its scope, and we need to expand our intellectual horizon. In researching a broad spectrum of subjects, he has identified a common theme of “shame” in each case that was studied (2017b, p.177), which is not a new concept, but with further investigation into cognitive and ideological factors, a clearer understanding begins to emerge. So, whether in relation to domestic violence, or other forms such as terrorism, there is a belief that the act of violence may be a cognitive effect of the modern mind. This theory also diminishes the concept of religion, for instance, that certain terrorist acts are purely based on either belief or non-belief in Islam. This concept can be applied to non-belief across all forms of religion, and as an extension, to all forms of morality, law and government (Gilligan 2017c, p.177). What this means is there is a repudiation in some, of the modern mind and central structures of social and political ideologies, particularly those with a “premodern”, or “traditional” mind. For Marx, these “ideologies” are mere masks of selfish interests of the wealthy, serving to manipulate the poor into self-defeating behaviour (Gilligan 2017d, p.178), which in turn leads to vulnerability of the mind. So, where there is skepticism in these central cognitive structures, this then leads to a threat to the inhabitants of this world and their own self. This, in turn, leads to a means of escape from this fear by then inflicting terror onto others. In coming to grips with the chaos caused by modernity it has been found that through education, particularly with those from violent backgrounds, plays a key role in reducing this type of behaviour, as lack of education is one of the most powerful predictors of violent behaviour (Gilligan 2017e, p.184).

Despite the Federal Government committing $723 million in funding to tackle domestic violence with the aim of reducing the statistics, it seems that initiatives are failing in their efforts. Some studies that have traced a history of domestic violence have shown that the most accurate forms of analyses are by tracking statistics rather than human assessment, whilst others believe that clinical studies can more accurately track human emotion (Weisz, et al. 2012). So, rather than following the same measures of statistical analysis that departments have been doing for the past 12 years on the current programs with little-to-no success, there is a growing call for change in the way the issues are approached (Laschon 2019). Perhaps education holds the key to solving this conundrum; as Scheff (2011a, p.458) in studying Gilligan and Websdale postulates, ‘shame… haunts ALL social interaction’, and ‘[this] secret shame leads to violence’. Therefore, his solution is to open dialogue where different forms of shame are identified, particularly ones associated with emotion. Two suggestions he has proposed is firstly, to run classes in school that identify and acknowledge students’ emotions, and secondly, encourage outcasts to form clubs (Scheff 2011b, p.459). Other ideas, such as the formation of the Aboriginal Coordinating Council (ACC) have been established to develop culturally appropriate integrated community development programs. This not only empowers local communities, but brings ownership of the problems back to within the community structure, which has shown significant results in reducing domestic violence, and other crimes (Miller c.1992, p.20). When people can move beyond shame and remove any inhibitions they may feel toward self-love and pride, when they can outgrow moral emotions of shame and guilt, they will be in a stronger position to engage in a positive attitude toward others (Gilligan 2017f, p.183). So, communities must look beyond the issue of blame and create support groups to assist with better educational access, identifying marginalised and isolated people, then violence may be assuaged (Scheff 2011c, pp.458-459)

This essay has identified how domestic violence, despite best efforts in recent years, is still impacting on our community. It has sought to understand the true meaning of domestic violence, such as the types of violence that fall into this category, and what may cause it. This essay has explained what the impact of violence has on individuals and the community through social impacts, particularly for women and children. In order to develop a framework for reducing the statistics around domestic violence, this essay has provided examples that have identified some of the triggers for violence such as shame, along with measures that are proving to be effective such as education and collective involvement in assisting one another. As communities grow larger and people are becoming more aware and taking a more proactive approach in responding to the issues most prevalent in our society, we can’t ignore what is happening, so we all must respond as we have blueprints to move forward, and only by working together can we see a decline in the statistics.


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