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Let’s act now to prevent violence against women

Dr. Lauren Kadwell, Executive Manager of Practice Excellence & Outcomes Office, CatholicCare Sydney

Violence against women and their children is a widespread and serious problem in our community. It is also a social problem that we can all contribute to changing. 

By working together, we can actively contribute to building a society where all individuals are loved, respected and valued; a community where boys and men can be encouraged to be kind and safe.

The most common forms of violence against women in Australia are domestic and family violence (DFV) and sexual assault, with women nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner. On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner in Australia.

Men’s violence towards women is not about individual acts of violence. Women are much more likely than men to experience patterns of coercive and controlling behaviours from their intimate partners, such as verbal and financial abuse, psychologically controlling acts, and social isolation. Research also tells us that women are three times more likely to be injured, and five times more likely to fear for their lives, compared with male victims of DFV.

Violence against women also significantly affects children – and not just as witnesses. Fathers who use violence may also undermine their children’s relationship with their mother, such as through involving them in the violence towards her, or by denigrating her worth as a mother in front of the children. Many children also experience violence directly targeted against them.

Abuse and violence devastates a woman’s and child’s sense of self and safety, and limits their choices and freedom. Their family is no longer a ‘safe haven’, but a place of oppression, control and fear.

Kindness, safety, care, and fairness – all values and ethics we believe should exist in our relationships, families and communities - cannot co-exist with violence and inequality.

Men’s violence against women is a fundamental violation of human rights. It is also preventable.

Men’s violence towards women is not underpinned or driven by anger. It stems from prevalent gendered attitudes that exist in our society, and which men who use violence draw on, and practice, in their relationships.

These include patriarchal attitudes such as that men hold the right to ‘be in charge’ of their partner and family, and to limit women’s independence. Men who perpetrate abuse may also use rigid, gender stereotypes to create ‘rules’ in their families about what women can or can’t do, such as how the division of work and parenting should occur in the family.

Many men are also taught to believe and value that they should ‘be strong and in control’, and that showing vulnerability is a weakness. Holding these beliefs can be both detrimental and dangerous, as when men feel they have been ‘shown up’, they may choose to use abuse and violence towards others to regain a sense of power and control, rather than show vulnerable feelings.   

In our men’s behavior change program, called ‘Choosing Change’, we work with men who use abuse and violence towards their intimate partners and children, and we support their partners and children too around their needs for safety and recovery.

Men can choose to stop using abuse and violence, and we can promote a community that supports them to be safe and kind men.

Men may choose to change if they believe that their violence-supporting beliefs go against other values they hold important – such as that they want their families to feel cared for, loved and respected by them. When this occurs, men can decide to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions that disrespect, blame and hurt their (ex)partners and children, and instead choose to practice empathy, accountability, safety and care in their relationships.

If you are concerned that your actions may be causing harm to loved ones, you can contact our Client Care Team on 13 18 19 or contact us online to consider your options.

We, too, all have a role in changing the social conditions that support gender inequalities and violence against women.

In thinking about how we can contribute to positive social change, the views of prominent academic and activist bell hooks come to mind. Hooks argued that community members who work against social injustice are not necessarily “smarter or kinder” than others, but rather that they are “willing to live the truth of their values”.

And so, the invitation offered to us here, is to not just say that we believe in respect and gender equality, but that what is more important is that we connect these values to action in our lives and relationships.

Put simply, what we do is more important than what we say we believe.

6 ways you can help prevent and respond to violence against women:

  1. Listen to, and believe, women’s and children’s experiences of inequality, control and violence.
  2. Model and teach children and young people values of respect, equality, and non-violence in relationships.
  3. Promote women’s independence and decision-making in public life and relationships.
  4. Challenge beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that justify, excuse or downplay violence against women and children, or that normalize men’s dominance and control in relationships, above values of equal partnership and respect.
  5. Encourage and support men to consider what choices they can make that will promote the safety, respect, and wellbeing of their families.
  6. Support government policies that ensure women’s social and economic equality is established at a structural level and speak up when they are failing to do so.

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About the Author

Lauren Kadwell, CatholicCare SydneyDr. Lauren Kadwell has significant clinical experience working with families affected by domestic and family violence, particularly in men’s behaviour change programs and children’s contact services. Lauren provides advanced training in male family violence interventions to practitioners across a range of health, government and NGO settings as a contract trainer for NSW Health Education Centre Against Violence.

Holding both, an undergraduate and Doctoral qualification in Psychology, and specialist qualification in male family violence interventions, she is an advocate for ethical, intersectional and collaborative practice that supports the safety, agency, and healing of those experiencing violence.

Lauren currently leads the  the Practice Excellence & Outcomes Office as Executive Manager, the Office provides clinical leadership, practice oversight and advice to ensure our sustainability, innovation, and our evidence-based and integrated approach.