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Short circuiting violence against women
28 February 2014
The following startling comparison between two areas of community violence has had some individuals questioning our priorities when it comes to victims of violence. Why, they wonder, aren’t we also looking very seriously at domestic abuse and how to solve it?
A Monash University study found there have been 90 people killed in one-punch incidences since the year 2000. The victims were aged between 15 and 78. Of the 90 victims four were women.
An Australian Government paper on Domestic Violence and the issues surrounding it released in 2011 found “of the 260 homicide incidents in 2007–08, the majority (52 percent) were classified domestic homicides involving one or more victims who shared a family or domestic relationship with the offender. Thirty-one percent were intimate partner homicides; 55 percent of female homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner compared with 11 percent of male homicide victims.
“Most Australian homicides in 2007–08 occurred in a residential location (70 percent)—most often the victim’s home (53 percent). A large proportion of domestic homicides occurred at residential locations (84 percent). Hence, the most likely scenario for the homicide of an Australian woman is at home at the hands of an intimate partner.”
Dr Dina McMillan (above) is a social psychologist and an expert in the field of abusive behaviours. Dina’s research for her doctorate in America centred on the ways cults operate and the experiences of POWs. It has led her to develop a whole set of theories around the strategies abusers use to establish their dominance as well as manipulate those around them to their will.
Arriving in Australia to live and work, Dina found herself training members of the NSW legal system, including police and magistrates, around Domestic Violence (DV). She says many of these abusers’ behaviours and actions mirror the tactics and strategies cults employ to win and subjugate members.
Dina notes in discussing the media and public attention around the horrific crime of one-punch violence and new legislation: “It’s often simpler for people to aim for something that is small, discreet and an achievable win, and no one is denying that this sort of violence must be stopped. People also want and are interested in doing something about domestic abuse. However, it is such a large and complex problem that they’re often daunted by the prospect.
“There is a paradigm that most of us have in our heads around domestic abuse that says we can’t do anything about it until someone is seriously physically assaulted,” says Dina.
“That just isn’t true,” she adds adamantly.
“We can do something. However, we have to shift our perspective and educate women, especially young women in their 20s, about how they can recognise an abuser: the patterns, the behaviours, so they can then read the red flags and get out of situations as quickly as possible.
“I want abusers to be very lonely,” she states flatly.
But He Says He Loves Me: How to Avoid Being Trapped in a Manipulative Relationship (Allen and Unwin 2008) is Dina’s book on the subject. It shot her into the media limelight and from there she has continued developing workshops - and is now developing a website - to raise awareness around the abuser profile and the tactics and strategies they use to gain the kind of authority they need to disempower their targets and control them to the extent they can physically and or emotionally assault them.
“The bad news,” says Dina, “is the tactics used to set up the abuse dynamic are simple and extremely effective.
“The good news,” she goes on to point out, “is they’re also almost completely universal, easily identifiable and once you see the signs you can recognise it for what it is and take a course of action to get away from the perpetrator.”
What to look out for
Abusers move fast. They sweep in and take over a person’s life.
He may tell you how wonderful you are (before he even knows you well) or flatter you outrageously. He may listen closely to everything you say, always wanting to know more, and pay your bills or buy you lovely gifts within the first few weeks of knowing you.
The process will also include convincing you that his other actions are also demonstrations of love. He will insist his criticisms of you and your friends and constant demands, jealousy and spurts of anger, are also due to his passionate interest in you.
Avoid automatically associating what appear as romantic actions with positive intentions.
Reflect and take the time to learn about his real goals and objectives.
What about female abusers?
Personality traits are often genderless and female abusers do exist. However, Dina argues that there is not a single cultural norm that encourages a man to stay involved in an abusive relationship.
In the early days of a potentially (or worse) abusive relationship, many women believe and probably have friends and family confirm that the behaviour is “so romantic” or that “he loves you so much, he wants you with him all the time”. However, Dina says, as the process continues and the person is further marginalised, their self-esteem is further eroded and the opportunity to leave becomes more and more difficult.
Domestic abuse affects families, women and children, and it inhibits potential. Living in fear increases anxiety, emotional and physical turmoil, and this has been shown to affect a person’s high-level thinking and leave them functioning below capacity.
“I don’t want people to be so paranoid they think that someone buying them flowers is an abuser,” explains Dina, “but I do want women to remain aware and reflect on behaviours before getting involved with someone.”
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