There are still big things we don’t yet widely understand about domestic violence. First, many people still ask “why doesn’t she just leave?” when the real question is “why doesn’t he just stop?” Leaving is incredibly difficult … issues of safety, upheaval and financial stress, and the basic issue of where to go next, are complex for starters. So instead of asking her why she doesn’t leave, we need to offer the woman concerned the means to leave.
We also haven’t fully comprehended that violence is all about control. Sure, we can blame alcohol or drugs or unemployment, but not every bloke who drinks or loses his job beats his partner, and many people in great jobs with no addictions do. Violence is a choice to exercise control over someone else in the most brutal way, and we need to recognise the many forms of controlling behaviour that are part and parcel of abuse.
Raising awareness about the prevalence of domestic violence is vital because, until people understand the extent of a problem, they have no motivation to fix it. Next we must ask ourselves whether we contribute to the sexism, inequality and belief in male authority that underpins a lot of violence and controlling behaviour. When we address these issues, we can start to prevent violence from occurring in the first place. In the meantime, raising awareness will hopefully motivate us to lend our hearts and practical support to the women (and some men) who suffer from violence.
So how do we help women stand up for themselves in crisis situations? Remember, it can be very hard to walk out on a partner you may love, and to leave everything that you know and have built together. It can be hard not to feel like you’ve failed. Our job is to be there for the person who’s suffering, to let them know that we love and value them, and to assure them we’ll be there for them if they summon the enormous courage to make a change. Obviously, if there’s an imminent danger, our first job is to call for help.
As ordinary people we can do a lot to help rid our country of the epidemic of violence for ever. We can teach our sons respect, and we can teach our daughters to expect respect. We do this in how we conduct our own relationships, through discussing the influences in their worlds that promote disrespect, and by talking to them about how they can recognise violent and controlling behaviours and avoid succumbing to them. In everything we do, we should plant the idea in their hearts that all people deserve to have their human dignity respected, no matter who they are. We won’t always get this stuff right, but change won’t happen at all if we don’t try.