Nearly one in three Australian women experience physical violence and almost one in five women are victims of sexual violence. In any one calendar year nearly half a million Australian women experience physical or sexual violence. And at Christmas time it’s worse – last year more than 5000 women in NSW alone reported domestic abuse over the Xmas period! .
Regular Mamamia contributor Nina Funnell explains why:
“I had just turned 14 when I was first exposed to domestic violence. It was Christmas Eve and, while home alone, I heard a knock at the door. I answered it to see a local neighbour with bruises all over her face and body. She came inside and waited for my parents to return home.
Meanwhile, up the road, her drunk husband was keeping their two children hostage. Police were called and when the children were released unharmed it was decided that they and their mother would spend the night with us. The following day — Christmas Day — they packed the car, took the pets and left to stay with a relative.
Each year police and support services prepare themselves for a spike in domestic assault cases over the Christmas to New Years’ eve period. A combination of financial strain, families spending more time together, and increased alcohol consumption contribute to the rise in figures.
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Last year, US actor Charlie Sheen spent Christmas Day in jail after his wife, Brooke Mueller, accused him of attacking her during an alcohol-fuelled argument.
In NSW, police responded to more than 5000 domestic-violence related complaints over the December 2009 to January 2010 period.
Longitudinal crime trends also indicate that domestic violence cases increase dramatically during the hotter months — peaking over the Christmas period.
It is timely then, that this month NSW Minister for Women Jodi McKay launched a new website to offer information and practical support to victims of domestic violence and their supporters.
While not its primary function, the layout of the website also offers people who haven’t experienced domestic violence a powerful insight into the lives of those who have.
On each page there is a link titled “Exit this site NOW”. The site instructs users to “click on this button if anyone (particularly your abuser) enters the room while you are using this website. It will close this website and redirect your browser to a neutral page. Abusers often use ways of controlling or monitoring their victim’s actions, which can include their online activities.”
There are also instructions on how to clear a computer’s internet history for victims who fear that their abuser may harm them for seeking information or help.
The website also contains a page on what victims can do if they are worried about their pet’s safety. Research shows that 70 per cent of female domestic violence victims say that their abuser has threatened to, or has actually harmed a pet. Fifty-four per cent reported that their abuser had killed a pet, and a quarter of victims say they have delayed leaving their abuser because of concern for their pet’s safety.
As part of the NSW Domestic and Family Violence Action Plan, the RSPCA has set up a “Safe Beds for Pets“ program to provide free temporary accommodation for the pets of victims who are trying to leave their abusers.
It is this sort of simple, practical support that victims so desperately need when making the difficult decision to leave.
The website also offers pragmatic safety advice for victims who have left abusive partners: Change your email and social networking site passwords. Use a PO Box address. Get an unlisted phone number. Change your bank accounts. Mix up your routine. Keep your new location a secret.
The fear that victims live with both during an abusive relationship and after it ends, and the lengths that some must go to protect themselves, their children and their pets, is truly horrifying.
As a community it is vital that we support victims by taking a zero-tolerance line on domestic violence. Victims should never be blamed for the violence they experience and nor should they be derided by those who snidely ask “well why wouldn’t you just leave?”
The reality is that it is never easy to leave an abusive relationship, particularly when victims feel financially dependent on their abuser, or a cultural obligation to stay.
In most cases the abuser will have deliberately isolated the victim from family and friendship networks, making them more vulnerable and dependent on their abuser.
Many abusers convince their victims to stay through promises that they will change or through various threats. Ultimately this is just an attempt to emotionally manipulate and further control the victim.
But victims of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds need to know that domestic violence is completely unacceptable and that community support is available. And when victims do seek help, we need to open our doors to them.”
[this article originally appeared in The Age]
The national helpline for those suffering domestic violence is 1800 65 64 63
This social experiment was carried out using hidden cameras in a townhouse complex in Johannesburg. Scary stuff