Silent violence

By Rev Sarah Williamson
Former Justice and Advocacy Officer, current Belair Uniting Church minister

Posted in Culture

“The biggest risk factor for becoming a victim of sexual assault and/or domestic and family violence is being a woman.” – National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, Commonwealth of Australia

Domestic violence kills one woman a week in Australia – a loss of life caused by the actions of someone with whom the woman was in a relationship. Figures supporting this statement were released in November 2013 by White Ribbon Australia, the world’s largest male-led organisation committed to ending men’s violence against women.

In 2009, VicHealth was commissioned by the Commonwealth Government to undertake a national survey focussed on community attitudes relating to violence against women. The results of this survey were then compared to a similar one undertaken in 1995. While community and individual attitudes towards domestic violence have generally improved, the survey results demonstrated that a significant amount of victim blaming still takes place. More than half of the people surveyed believed that a woman could leave a violent relationship “if she really wanted to.”

In 2014, the Moderator and I [Rev Sarah Williamson, former Uniting Church SA Justice and Advocacy Officer] began working with Uniting Communities on ways to create and promote communities of peace. The emphasis on these communities is on mutuality, respect, an aim to meet each other’s needs and a strong commitment to nonviolence.

Jesus did not tolerate violence or wayward use of power over another. During the course of the Gospel, Jesus offered protection to women being mistreated or seeking refuge, such as the passage in John 8 where he prevents a woman from being stoned. The Bible frequently demonstrates that Jesus’ message was one of love and redemption, rather than violence and oppression. His own life was an example of how nonviolence can be powerful. These same values are important when considering how to deal with violence in our communities.

During our discussions about peaceful communities, we have encountered a number of challenging questions. How is it that we contribute to violence in our community? How are we complicit? How can our Uniting Church faith communities create an atmosphere of acceptance, love, nurture and peace in its purest form of mutual giving and receiving? How can we hear the voices of those that cry out and support them to safety, health and peace in a way that is life-giving to both parties?

As we grapple with the depths that such discussions take us to, we are acutely aware of times where our church, faith communities, family and friends, as well as ourselves, have failed others. The pain experienced in the personal lives of those around us is often hidden, any anguish or ‘crying out’ kept secret from the outside world.

Domestic violence is one such painful secret – it is not something that is always easily seen and is certainly not something easily talked about. It is an issue that can take many shapes – physical, sexual, psychological, financial, spiritual and emotional abuse are all considered forms of domestic violence. Put simply, domestic violence is the use of power over another person in one’s home or family against his or her will. This violence is far more likely to be inflicted upon a woman than a man.

Incidents that happen in the home are often left there, kept private and within a family. In the not too distant past, this formed a part of the prevalent ‘mind your own business’ culture of Australia. Attitudes such as this contributed to the permissiveness of domestic violence. But these attitudes have changed in more recent times.

According to the 2009 “National Survey on Community Attitudes to Violence Against Women,” a majority of respondents felt that domestic violence should be addressed publicly rather than being a private matter to be handled within the home or family. In Australia today, the prevalent attitude is that everybody has a right to safety. But there is further work to do, particularly in regards to understanding why women stay in violent relationships – eight out of ten of the 2009 survey respondents agreed that it is hard to understand why women stay in such relationships. Despite these results, victim blaming has reduced significantly in the past twenty years.

These are hurdles we must tackle in order to truly create a culture of peace – whether in individual relationships or society in general. We must agree that violence is never ‘okay’ or excusable, and that no perceived ‘provocation’ makes it acceptable.

Domestic violence covers a myriad of abuse and is inflicted on women, men and children. If you are experiencing domestic or family violence, or suspect that someone you know is, please seek help.

In early 2014, Dr Deidre Palmer and Rev Sarah Williamson began talking about the issue of domestic violence. These discussions led to the creation of the Uniting Church SA Beyond Violence campaign, which offers resources for ministers and pastoral carers to assist in supporting those who have experienced domestic violence. This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of New Times.

Dr Deidre Palmer will run a free Beyond Violence workshop at Morialta Uniting Church (26 Chapel St, Magill) on Wednesday 6 May, 7pm-9pm. Moreinformation here.

The Coalition of Women’s Domestic Violence Services in South Australia will hold their annual candle lighting vigil on Thursday 7 May, 5.30-6.30pm at the Rotunda in Elder Park (King William Rd, Adelaide).

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