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Domestic Violence, Bullying At Home (Dawn Rowan)

Zoe Rathus

I will be focusing on domestic violence which is obviously a form of bullying. It is often taken to mean violence between men and women living in heterosexual relationships but it also includes violence in other close relationships and shared households such as homosexual couples, dating violence, and violence towards relatives other than the spouse or partner.

For the purpose of this paper, I will deal mainly with male violence towards female partners but much of what I say applies equally to other situations.

It would seem to me that bullying occurs when one person who is more powerful than another uses that power to abuse, denigrate or control the other. The power may come from being stronger, bigger, louder or simply seeming to have a higher status. For this reason, male violence towards women in the home is often seen partially as a manifestation of the relative lack of power of women in society.

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WHAT BEHAVIOUR IS INCLUDED? In a speech delivered at the first national conference on domestic violence held in Australia in 1985, Dawn Rowan, a refuge worker, identified five main kinds of behaviour common in domestic violence (1985:27):

1.. Physical abuse

2.. Sexual violence

3.. Psychological abuse

4.. Social abuse

5.. Financial abuse

Physical Abuse

Whilst some forms of physical abuse are obvious, in my experience a common form of physical abuse is damage to property. Breaking furniture, or punching a hole in the wall has the effect of terrifying the other party because the implied threat is ‘this could be you’.

Sexual Violence

With regard to sexual violence, I believe that most women who have experienced other forms of domestic violence have also experienced rape and other sexual violations within their relationships. This is often the aspect of abuse which the women are most reluctant to disclose and hence it is likely that it is significantly under-reported. From the stories told to me by my clients over the years, a common feature of sexual violence within domestic violence involves forcing the woman to engage in sexual acts which she finds humiliating and degrading.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is used to annihilate the woman’s self esteem. It is often achieved by verbal abuse and Dawn Rowan (1985:27) provided common examples such as ‘You’re incompetent, stupid, insane; I’ll have you committed; You’re a hopeless mother; All my problems are your fault; And if you weren’t so incompetent, I wouldn’t have to bash you.’

Social Abuse

One form of social abuse involves verbal denigration in front of friends and family. In my view, one of the most insidious manifestations of domestic violence is social isolation. Many violent men are jealous and possessive and are threatened by the family and friends of their partner who could provide her with a support network. They deal with this by forbidding regular contact.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse relates to the situation where the woman is not given sufficient money by her partner to meet the daily needs of the family, but is expected to do the shopping and pay the bills and is accused of incompetence when she cannot stretch the budget far enough.

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Why Women Stay Dawn Rowan explained the complex dynamics which trap women with their violent partners:

The most fundamental process involved in keeping a woman in a violent relationship is to create in her a belief that she is the cause of the violence, that she has provoked it, and that she deserved to be treated abusively. (1985:27-8)

and recognising the extraordinary qualities of women who managed to break free:

Finally, when everything possible has been done by the woman to please her partner, but the abuse continues to become more dangerous, the woman fears for her life and for children’s lives and she leaves, usually in a severe state of crisis. It amazes me, given the horrendous and debilitating experiences of beaten women, that any are able to leave their relationship at all and I greatly admire the strength and courage of these women who act in spite of their terror and devastated self esteem. (1985:28)

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Cycle of Violence A useful model to understand the nature of domestic violence is the ‘cycle of violence’ which describes an ongoing pattern of abuse within a violent relationship and explains why women cannot easily leave. The cycle has the following phases:

1.. the build-up phase

2.. stand-over phase

3.. explosion

4.. remorse phase

5.. pursuit phase

6.. honeymoon phase

During the build-up phase, tension increases and the violent man usually demonstrates no skills in resolving conflict. As there is no release of the tension, the man moves into a stand-over phase where he relies on his strength and aggression to frighten his female partner. The woman recognises this as a prelude to a violent explosion. By the time of the outbreak, the perpetrator often feels justified and self righteous. Such indulgences may be exacerbated by the woman’s fear and consequent inability to appease her partner.

After the explosion comes the remorse phase. The man may feel ashamed but will also minimise his brutality saying things like ‘she knows I get mad when she does that’. The woman may collude with the man’s remorse because this avoids admitting to herself the danger in which she lives.

Next is the pursuit or buy back phase when the perpetrator becomes concerned about the consequences of his behaviour. The woman who considers leaving or even leaves temporarily is usually pursued relentlessly by a ‘Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde’ partner who oscillates in his tactics between threats and pleas. He buys his way back either through fear or pity. ‘If you don’t come back I’ll kill you and the kids’ to ‘If you don’t come back, I’ll kill myself’.

Finally is the honeymoon phase, if the relationship survives the violent attack. This can involve a high degree of intimacy and emotionality. A woman living with a violent man often loves the man and the couple may be interdependent in many ways. This is one of the complex reasons why women find it difficult to leave a violent partner.

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Power and Control Wheel Workers in the field of domestic violence are beginning to criticise the cycle of violence as too simplistic a model. I still find it useful as a starting point for people who are just beginning to learn about the dynamics of domestic violence. However, its critics have legitimate arguments and it is true to say that not all relationships fit that particular pattern.

In Duluth, Minnesota, an internationally acclaimed program has been established to deal with domestic violence in the community. The workers at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project have developed a more sophisticated model to explain domestic violence which they call the power and control wheel.

Using Intimidation-

Making her afraid by using looks, actions, gestures, smashing things, destroying her property, abusing pets, displaying weapons

Using Emotional Abuse-

Putting her down, making her feel bad about herself, calling her names, making her think she’s crazy, playing mind games, humiliating her, making her feel guilty.

Using Isolation-

Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, where she goes, limiting her outside involvement, using jealousy to justify actions.

Minimising, Denying and Blaming-

Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns seriously, saying the abuse didn’t happen, shifting responsibility for abusive behaviour, saying she caused it.

Using Children-

Making her feel guilty about the children, using the children to relay messages, using visitation to harass her, threatening to take the children away.

Using Male Privilege-

Treating her like a servant, making all the big decisions, acting like the “master of the castle”, being the one to define men’s and women’s roles.

Using Economic Abuse-

Preventing her from getting or keeping a job, making her ask for money, giving her an allowance, taking her money, not letting her know about of have access to family income.

Using Coercion and Threats-

Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her, threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, to report her to welfare, making her drop charges, making her do illegal things.

(from the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, 206 West Fourth Street, Duluth, Minnesota 55805 216-722-4134)

It is important to understand that domestic violence tends to become more frequent and more serious as a relationship continues and for this reason, some workers describe the dynamics as a ‘spiral’ of violence.

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This is Serious The Australian community has not yet been convinced of the seriousness of domestic violence. It is necessary to dispel the myth that women are in more danger on the streets. Whilst there are an alarming number of assaults, abductions and homicides of women by strangers, it is estimated that approximately 3% of the female population in marital and de facto relationships experience substantial domestic violence.

In 1987 the Queensland Government established a Task Force to investigate domestic violence in the State. The report of the Task Force, Beyond These Walls, was published in 1988. It provides a detailed picture of domestic violence, the problems confronting the victims of violence and service providers working in the area, and the ways in which government agencies, the law, doctors and other health practitioners, the police and others respond to domestic violence.

A ‘phone-in’ conducted by the Task Force collected information from 661 women. Of these, 144 reported broken bones, 176 reported head injuries, 53 reported loss of consciousness and 293 reported psychological problems (1988:18). Unfortunately, the ultimate price of domestic violence is death. Usually women are the victims, although occasionally long-time perpetrators of domestic violence are eventually killed by their female partner.

The level of danger in which women live is demonstrated by a New South Wales study of homicide victims between 1968 and 1981. This revealed that 47% of all female homicide victims were killed by their spouse-46% of those at a time when the wife was either leaving or had left her husband (Wallace 1986:83&99). This certainly gives reality to the fear that many women have of leaving.

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A Form of Bullying Once the nature, dynamics and seriousness of domestic violence are understood, the fact that it is a form of bullying clearly emerges. The stories which I have heard from my clients over the years contain a common theme of the perpetrators striving to create scenarios of fear and domination. Clients have told me stories of being locked outside their homes (sometimes without clothes) left with the choice of pleading with their abuser to be let back in, or the embarrassment of revealing the humiliating extent of their abuse to neighbours or friends. I have had clients who have been tied up naked underneath spinning fans in winter, others who have been locked in cupboards for long periods of time and those who have been tied up on the bed while their partners have gone to work or left the house for extended periods of time. To me, the enduring theme of domestic violence is the intention of the perpetrator to humiliate his partner and achieve total control over their lives.

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As a result of the work of the Queensland Domestic Violence Task Force, legislation was introduced into Queensland in 1989 to specifically deal with the issue of domestic violence. The legislation has since been significantly amended and the amendments became operative in May 1993.

Who is Covered? The Act is limited in its coverage and only applies to men and women in heterosexual relationships. Specifically, it covers a man and a woman:

a.. who are or have been married to each other; or

b.. who, although not married to each other are, residing or have resided together as husband and wife; or

c.. who are the biological parents of a child (whether or not they are or have been married or are or have resided together) (see Section 12).

This means that the provisions of the domestic violence legislation do not extend to other kinds of relationships such as couples in gay or lesbian relationships, adult child to parent violence, flatmates, and other relatives.

The spouse who is seeking protection is called the ‘aggrieved spouse’ and the 1993 amendments to the legislation allow the aggrieved spouse to ask that the Court protection order made in their favour to also include specifically named relatives or associates. However, these people do not have a direct right of action for protection, it is merely an ancillary right of the aggrieved spouse.

What is a Protection Order? A protection order is an order made by a Magistrate which places certain conditions on the behaviour of the respondent spouse. All protection orders require the respondent spouse to be of good behaviour towards the aggrieved spouse and not to commit domestic violence (see Section 22). Most protection orders also require the respondent spouse to surrender any weapons and all weapons licenses are revoked. This condition can only be waived in exceptional circumstances.

The Magistrate can impose a variety of other conditions and prohibitions upon a respondent spouse which can be tailor-made to suit the circumstances of each case.

Definition of domestic violence To obtain a protection order an aggrieved spouse must prove that the respondent has committed an act of domestic violence against them (Section 20). Domestic violence is given a wide definition under the Act which accords with the types of behaviour I described earlier as being forms of domestic violence.

Section 11 states the domestic violence includes the following:

1.. wilful injury;

2.. wilful damage to the spouse’s property;

3.. intimidation or harassment of the spouse;

4.. indecent behaviour to the spouse without consent;

5.. a threat to commit any of the above acts.

Perhaps rather alarmingly, but not surprising for those aware of the incidence of domestic violence in the community, over 31,000 applications were taken out in the first four and a half years of operation of the Act.

STALKING LAWS At the end of 1993 the Queensland Government introduced amendments into the Criminal Code which created an offence of stalking. Being followed and watched continually by a former partner is a common experience of women who have left violent and controlling men. The stalking laws are intended to provide these women with an opportunity to enlist police assistance and have their partners charged with an offence before physical violence has been committed. Although the drafting of the law leaves much to be desired, the following kinds of conduct are identified as stalking:

1.. following a person;

2.. loitering outside a person’s home, workplace or place frequented;

3.. interfering with property;

4.. watching a person;

5.. telephoning or otherwise contacting a person;

6.. leaving offensive material for the person to find;

7.. threatening, intimidating or harassing the person.

(Criminal Code: section 359A)

For the conduct to amount to ‘stalking’ it must occur and be reported to the police on at least two occasions. The stalker must intend the other person to be aware the behaviour is directed at them and the other person must be put in fear of violence as a result of the stalking.

DIFFICULTIES WITH THE LAW Ironically, the specific and intended consequences of domestic violence make it difficult for victims to take effective legal action. The destruction of self confidence and self esteem are very effective in preventing women from consulting with lawyers and entering the legal system. The overwhelming and immobilising fear created by the bully means that the victim often believes in the omnipotence of their abuser.

The problems experienced by women generally are even worse for those women who are already marginalised and afraid of the legal system. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of non-English speaking background, and women with disabilities have enormous problems accessing information and developing the confidence required to achieve success within the legal system.

SOLUTIONS Although it is not possible here to discuss the kinds of solutions which may be available, it is clear that training on issues of domestic violence, gender, race and class bias are essential for judges, lawyers, court staff, police and other players in the legal system. It is also necessary that time and resources be committed to developing an integrated response to the problem of domestic violence so that key agencies work together and provide a consistent response. The type of model which has been developed in Duluth provides a useful example from which we can draw on in Queensland.

One of the main features of this program is that all key players in the system give the same messages to the perpetrators and the victims regarding domestic violence. It is made clear that domestic violence is a crime; there are no excuses for violence; and that safety and support for the victim are a priority.

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WOMEN’S LEGAL SERVICE STRATEGIES Because many of the women who contact the Women’s Legal Service have experienced domestic violence, we have had to develop strategies to ensure appropriate responses to these women. In particular, our staff and volunteers never trivialise the violence which our clients are describing to us and affirm its seriousness and unacceptability. We anticipate our clients’ fears and acknowledge them as valid. Safety is an absolute priority and as a result of this, unless we have specific permission from a client, we never leave a message with anyone at their home or work that the Women’s Legal Service has called.

Women nearly always fear taking legal action against a violent partner. Most are afraid that the violence will become worse because they have been threatened with severe beatings or death if they turn to the legal system for help. Again, their fears of increased violence are entirely justified and should not be lightly ignored. However, it is possible to explore with these women, that past decisions not to take legal action or to withdraw proceedings already commenced, have not usually reduced the violence.

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CONCLUSION I think it is important to recognise the different manifestations of bullying in our society. Although domestic violence is only one kind of bullying, it could well be the source of many other kinds. In other words, boys who bully in the school playground may only be emulating conduct which they have seen at home.

Community attitudes must change before domestic violence can be eradicated and this change of attitude requires a recognition of the gendered nature of domestic violence and an understanding that until we live in a society which genuinely allows all people equal opportunities to participate in public and private life, violence against women will continue to be one of our most serious social concerns.

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a.. Queensland Domestic Violence Task Force (1988). Beyond These Walls, Brisbane.

b.. Rowan, D. (1985). ‘The Syndrome of Battered Women’, National Conference on Domestic Violence, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.

c.. Wallace, A. (1986). Homicide: The Social Reality, New South Wales Bureau of Crimes Statistics and Research, Sydney.



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