Your role in reducing Family Violence

We are starting to hear a lot about tackling family violence. In order to adequately tackle family violence, men and boys must take full responsibility for the problem. That is, every man and every boy in society, each and every one until he takes his last breath on this planet.

Why should we all be responsible? The temptation for a man is to proclaim that he "would never" hit a woman. There is also a temptation for a man to suggest that, "women are also offenders". These comments are an example of how a man refuses to take his share of the responsibility for the wider problem, as he sees himself as somehow separate from the incidence of family violence. How can we find solutions when so many men insist on claiming that, "DV isn't my problem, I do not hit my wife"? Self-exoneration is the basis for Australia's most prominent anti domestic violence campaign. To pledge or promise a lifetime of non-violence is commendable but does not target or acknowledge the real and definable causes of family conflict.

Additionally, if in our public debate we continue to use the term, "tackle" as the analogy to describe the action required to find solutions to the problem, don't we owe it to ourselves to extrapolate the analogy further? Such as when we 'tackle' in a football game are we not all aware of the rules of the game? Aren't the opposing teams all wearing suitable football sportswear and all of roughly the same build (and gender)? Isn't there an umpire close to the play with a whistle who can stop the play? If we tackle someone in a game of football, don't we have an open field with onlookers and supporters? Isn't our beloved game of football played in a spirit of friendly competition and respect for each other?

Family violence is almost the exact opposite of a football game. ‘Tackling' or 'shirtfronting' DV offenders is about as easy as nailing fog to a wall.  DV is a deeper, more delicate and less visible problem. What we do know is that family conflict is based on emotional imbalances (within the home) and social imbalances (within society). Social imbalances do not cause violence but they contribute to it, a reality that politicians and governments are loath to mention. This week, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews finally took one step closer to facing that reality.

Nevertheless, there is now a temptation for politicians, even the brave leaders like Daniel Andrews to create a "righteous"  vs  "wicked", (or non-violent vs violent), narrative around family violence. We're told that; "The good guys need to step up to stop the bad guys".  In this way a politician is able to blame others, segregate society, call offenders, "cowards" and "criminals", creating a polarised intellectual environment where the 'problem' is quarantined into stereotypical profiles of 'wife beaters', 'control freaks' and 'psychopaths'. The data is telling us something different, ie, family violence occurs across all segments of society and is on the increase in Australia. It touches us all in some way.

Demonising domestic violence perpetrators is easy and safe. It is much more confronting - but a lot more useful - to realise that, actually, a fair amount of family violence comes from ordinary people under extraordinary pressure with no understanding of how to deal with it. We lack insight. We lack preparation. We lack the tools we need to get through the toughest moments safely and well.

Our society is not a collection of individual private residences with endless bills to pay.

We are a collection of individuals with the ability to discuss difficult issues and to be honest about how those issues impact on us. We are able to use our mental faculties to express our doubts and uncertainties. We are able to understand and learn the nuances of our own internal emotional world and share that with others in order to learn more about ourselves and others. Importantly, we can predict the likelihood of family conflict in families by learning some of the early signs, and no, those signs have nothing to do with the external signs of wealth, success or lack thereof.

Each of us carries responsibility, personal and collective, to uncover the underlying conditions that create the fertile ground for family violence. Each of us casts a shadow on this planet and we are all, like it or not, on this planet together. We each carry the potential to kill or injure, why pretend that we do not?

Steve Cooper

About the author: Steve Cooper was arrested and charged with common assault in 2005. His victim was his wife, Kim. Steve and Kim found ways to resolve the violent conflict in their relationship and remain married. Steve is now coauthor, with Kim, of a range of online programs and resources to help couples and individuals - both victims and perpetrators - deal with family conflict and end violence.

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