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Issue #1714      December 9, 2015

Review – Rob Gowland

Domestic violence and Hitting Home

My mother was a victim of domestic violence from her first husband. “He used to bash me up” was all she would ever say about it. As a country girl she thought women had to put up with that sort of thing. Staggering home drunk (as usual) one night he walked in front of an NRMA truck and wrote himself off. She had a soft spot for the NRMA ever afterwards.

Sarah Ferguson inside a women’s refuge.

That was in the 1930s. At that time even men who frowned on a bloke who “knocked his wife around” would seldom actually do anything about it. The police, all male at that time, also did not see “interfering” in a domestic situation as really their concern.

As Hitting Home, Sarah Ferguson’s two-part report for ABC TV shown (ABC Tuesday 24 and Wednesday 25 November at 8.30pm and available on iView), some attitudes have changed, some distressingly have not, but the problem is most assuredly still with us. In fact, the statistics are chilling: Every week in Australia, two women are murdered by a partner or family member.

Last year, in NSW alone, 27,000 Apprehended Violence Orders, or AVOs, were taken out in an attempt to prevent violent attacks in the home.

The subjugation of women, their becoming chattels or possessions of the male “head of the house,” dates back as far as slave society. It is in fact a function and expression of class society. It was expanded and enhanced after the transition to feudalism and further developed and refined under capitalism. The laws of property covered women for hundreds of years, and it was not until women, supported by enlightened elements among that other oppressed class, working men, waged a determined and long-drawn out struggle that they achieved even the most basic of democratic rights, the right to vote.

However, even after gaining the vote, women were still subject to intense discrimination. All sorts of occupations were denied them (remember the furor when women in NSW wanted to become drivers of diesel goods trains?).

They were paid substantially less than men doing the same job. Subtle and not so subtle propaganda from church and state sought to persuade women that “their place was in the home”.

Opposing this reactionary trend, the Communist movement was at the forefront of liberating women from the discriminatory hangovers from the past. The first woman in Egypt to discard the veil was a Communist. When the revolution finally impacted on everyday life in the Republics of Soviet Central Asia, women were still being forced to wear a tent-like horsehair “veil” that covered them from the top of the head to the ground. When, under the influence of the new revolutionary ideas, women dared to discard these instruments of torture, they were assaulted – even killed – by “outraged” male relatives. These men claimed to be outraged by the women’s immodesty but were really outraged at the challenge to their patriarchal power.

In the 1970s, when the Afghan Revolution finally took place, the US was able to stir up opposition to it among the feudal beys and religious preachers around such “outrageous” affronts as providing education to women. Fundamentalist Muslims, like fundamentalist Christians, do not believe in providing anyone, let alone everyone, with a comprehensive, secular, education based on science. They are actually afraid of the power of education. Hence the ISIS fanatics’ policy of flogging or beheading women who have been trying to obtain an education.

Even here in Australia, women have to deal with fundamentalist bigotry and attacks on the limited services the government provides for them. Tony Abbott’s government of religious cranks closed innumerable women’s refuges, despite the fact that violent assaults on women by their partners continue unabated. The new incumbent, Malcolm Turnbull, has made no effort to reverse this policy of his predecessor.

In fact, the mass closing of women’s refuges (by the simple expedient of cutting off their funding as a cost-cutting measure in the budget) should be seen as yet another assault on women, this time by an uncaring government. The refuges that were forced to close had been providing a vital service to women and children running from violent homes sometimes with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

In Hitting Home, Sarah Ferguson finds that some men are so convinced that their female partners are their property, that they have even fitted tracking devices to their partner’s car. She also meets perpetrators of domestic violence currently serving time in prison, men who are in denial, convinced that they are the real victims, despite the violence and terror they have inflicted on their female partners.

There isn’t very much of a positive nature that can be reported on this subject at present, but one positive aspect is the dramatic way police responses and approaches have changed. With a lot more women in the force today, there are also domestic violence liaison officers and specialist units, as well as “safe rooms” at court so victims are secure from their partner’s intimidation.

However it is still a huge problem. The program showed a magistrate dealing with case after case. “Too often people try and pass off violence as something they can’t control,” he told one defendant. “Almost as if ‘well, it’s not really me.’ Well that’s just a bit too easy.” The program also showed the interesting attitude of men in prison towards the perpetrators of domestic violence. According to the prison governor, it carries a stigma “just above paedophiles”

Annie Grenfell, who runs a program in NSW prisons to try to stop men convicted of domestic violence from re-offending when they are released, also observes: “Domestic violence is not something that is spoken about openly [in prison]. If they were in a gang or armed robbers they’ll talk to each other, but you don’t hear them openly saying ‘well, I bashed my missus’.”

Many of the prisoners, however, still maintain that they were provoked by their partners. To which NSW Police Inspector Sean McDermott responds: “Provoked to do what? To commit an assault, to terrorise somebody in their own home, … in front of their children? Provocation? Rubbish.”

Next article – International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

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