“We need to take the link between alcohol and domestic violence seriously.”

Anyone who’s watching the SBS series First Contact can’t fail to be moved. It’s a hugely important insight into the reality of Indigenous Australia. Critics have frowned calling it exploitation. To the contrary, I believe it’s absolutely essential viewing – no matter how confronting it may be.

Any hope of understanding these harsh and heartbreaking issues starts with being honest about what we’re confronting. What’s the alternative? Switch over and pretend that the trauma doesn’t exist? Denial is not a solution.

Last week Elizabeth Henderson, director of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, wrote an insightful piece for The Daily Telegraph. She talked about NT Coroner Greg Cavanagh, who conducted a report into the deaths of two Aboriginal women and described domestic violence in NT’s indigenous communities as “out of control”.

She says Cavanagh’s report detailed “bloodcurdling”, “bone-breaking violence”. That may make us wince to read but that doesn’t mean we have an excuse to look away.

"Violence 'breeds in bottles.'" Image: iStock. 

Some words from Henderson’s piece have been spinning round in my head for days. “Any discussion on violence against Australian women that omits the NT barely address the issue,” she wrote.

Of course, when we look at the reality of domestic violence we’re confronted with a connection many don’t want to acknowledge - alcohol. If we’re really serious about tackling domestic violence, this is where it thrives. It breeds in bottles.

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Henderson continued: “NT’s violence won’t end if alcohol abuse isn’t curbed. About 60 per cent of NT domestic violence assaults involve alcohol, including every domestic homicide in Alice Springs in the past three years.”

We may feel like our lives are a world away when we watch First Contact but alcohol is fuelling violence right across the country. Alcohol-fuelled domestic violence is a truth we must act on if we’re going to inspire change in the NT and closer to home.

A report by the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (published February 2015) highlights the link between alcohol and domestic violence. Often we focus on one-punch attacks in streets, violence in bars and clubs. Such drunken rage also travels back into homes where damage goes unseen.

Alcohol is estimated to be involved in up to half of partner violence in Australia. In 2012, alcohol was found to be present in 41 per cent of domestic assaults in New South Wales and rose to 60 per cent in the remote west of NSW.

Australia's problems with alcohol and violence go hand in hand. Source: iStock.

When I was in my twenties, a drunken ex-boyfriend head-butted me at a friend’s wedding and smashed up my nose. This had nothing to do with “toxic masculinity” and everything to do with consuming an excessive amount of alcohol.

Risk of violence increases when alcohol is involved and injuries can be more severe.

Research by Turning Point and Vic Health provides a conclusive link between warmer weather and unruly drinking behaviour. Take a look at the research paper, ‘Drinking cultures and social occasions – public holidays’ funded by VicHealth, conducted by Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Centre and Eastern Health. It says police-recorded assaults and family incidents peak in warmer months between November and March. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest days of the week. The report says, “The data gives us further insight into patterns of family violence.”

Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education (FARE) has done a lot of work in this space. It describes alcohol as a “significant factor” in family violence. “Alcohol consumption of both the perpetrator and the victim is a factor that contributes to physical violence. This association has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Council of Australia Governments,” it says on their website under “evidence”.

Interestingly, FARE says, “In recent years, Australian governments have committed to taking action to reduce family violence… Governments should be congratulated for taking these steps towards addressing family violence. However, these plans rarely consider alcohol and its contribution to family violence.

how to help someone who has been sexually assaulted
Alcohol-fuelled abuse is something we can no longer ignore. Image via iStock.

“Most also stop well short of outlining specific actions to reduce alcohol-related family violence and none include a focus on primary prevention initiatives that target the physically availability, economic availability or promotion of alcohol. This is a significant failing of Australia’s response to family violence to date and needs to change.”

This is true if we’re seriously committed to making lives better for those living in the NT.

It’s also true closer to home. If you’re in a volatile relationship, especially with a partner who drinks excessively, Christmas can be a time of year you dread.

The connection between alcohol and domestic violence is all here in black and white. Why are we in denial? Are we really more in love with booze than we are committed to making lives safer – right across Australia?

*For more from Corrine Barraclough, follow her on Facebook here

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