Domestic and family violence has been recognised as a global public health concern with detrimental effects on victims, children and the broader community. National and international data reveal that domestic and family violence can affect anyone, regardless of age, culture or socioeconomic status. While not solely male-to-female perpetrated, women and children are the ones most vulnerable to the impact of domestic and family violence. Especially at the severe end of this type of abuse – which includes emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, social and financial abuse along with coercive control – the victims are primarily female and the perpetrators primarily male.
According to the most recent Australian Personal Safety Survey for example, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men had experienced physical and/or sexual abuse; the majority at the hands of a male intimate partner or ex-partner. The gendered pattern of domestic and family violence becomes even more obvious when examining the fatal end of this type of abuse, with around 80% of domestic homicides being male-to-female perpetrated.
Non-violent men as advocates
Despite high prevalence rates and an overwhelmingly gendered pattern of domestic and family violence, most men are non-violent in their intimate relationships and beyond. We need to engage these non-violent men as advocates and role models in our conversations around domestic and family violence. They are fathers and grandfathers, uncles and cousins, partners and mates. In other words, they are a constant reflection of what male attitudes towards women can and should look like. They are bystanders when others joke about gender roles, they may be the first point of contact for a family member or friend seeking help with addressing potential abuse within their relationships. And maybe most importantly, many are fathers to whom children and their friends look up to in their search for social identity.
Men have an important role to play in speaking out against any form of violence but in this context, particularly against violence affecting women and children. We have seen some great examples of male role models stepping up and speaking out against violence against women but men play a much bigger role than those inherited by politicians, athletes and actors. It is the men in our communities that hold the greatest power in condemning violence against women and children.
Men as fathers
In addition to working with non-violent men, strategies to end domestic and family violence need to include those already engaging in violent behaviour within their family relationships. It is important to hold men accountable as perpetrators but beyond that we need to look at facilitating and monitoring behaviour change.
Australia has seen a number of promising initiatives around engaging with abusive men, especially from a child safety perspective. Growing emphasis is being placed on responding to perpetrators as fathers where children are involved. This involves facilitating access to evidence-based behaviour change programs. My own as well as other research has shown that abusive men often do not recognise the need to change for the safety and wellbeing of their (ex-)partner but with the right education and support, they tend to recognise the need to change for the sake of their children and their parent-child relationship.
Dr Silke Meyer will be speaking at the next conference in the Ending Domestic & Family Violence series.
Working with Men to End Domestic Violence
Contribute to the agenda for change
14th & 15th February 2017, Sydney
Download the conference brochure
If you or someone you know has been affected by domestic violence, call the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line, 1800-RESPECT (1800 737 732). In an emergency, call 000.