Breaking the silence on family violence

Istock 1065043970

The Mail is teaming with Mindful Margaret River to share guidance and support from local members of the Mindful Margaret River alliance.

As a Registered Nurse and Sexologist, I joined Mindful Margaret River to advance community wellbeing through inclusivity, equality and respectful relationship awareness.

Heidi Obrien Selfie
Heidi O’Brien

We all experience connections, be it with family, friends, acquaintances, intimate partners and with oneself. And as most would agree, the dynamics of relationships remain as unique as they are multifaceted.

So, how can we nurture respectful relationships in an uncomplicated way?

One place to start is by asking three simple questions about your relationship with oneself and others.

1. Am I being safe?

2. Am I being kind?

3. Am I being fair?

For relationships to develop beneficial connections, it is therefore essential to both display and receive respect. Over the years, as a health professional, friend, work colleague and neighbour, I have listened as experiences of family violence have been shared. Whilst each disclosure of the violence was unique in detail; the fear of social stigma remained similar for them all.

To advance community wellbeing, we need to reduce the perceptions of stigma that cause many to suffer in silence. This can be achieved through community knowledge and understanding, in addition to promoting safety, displaying kindness and demonstrating fairness. To live free from violence is a fundamental human right, and yet, for far too many, it is one which is not realised.

Myths – stereotypical beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, contribute to the associated stigma surrounding family violence.

Frequently, myths are characterised as attitudes that blame the victim/s, minimise the abuser’s responsibility and diminish the seriousness, severity, or scope of the violence. Anticipated stigma impedes the pursuit of help and seriously affects the well-being of those who experience it.

The following myths are just a few of the commonly held attitudes that surround family violence.

Myth: It only really counts if physical violence is involved.

Reality: Family violence is the use of threats, force or intimidation to control or manipulate a partner, former partner, family member/s or any other person you live with or see often. It can occur in all family connections, including heterosexual and same sex relationships, against children, parents, caregivers and people who are elderly or disabled. Family violence does not discriminate regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, education or economic status. Family violence can involve physical, sexual, and/or psychological and emotional damage, online or digital abuse, forced isolation, financial deprivation or cause the victim(s) to live in fear. All violent behaviour is harmful and unacceptable.

Myth: Most people who perpetrate violence are under the effects of alcohol and/or drugs.

Reality: Alcohol and drugs can make existing abuse escalate, or be a catalyst for an attack, but they do not cause family violence. Many people that use alcohol and drugs are not violent or abusive therefore alcohol and drugs do not excuse violent or controlling behaviour. Likewise, many people who perpetrate violence are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The perpetrator alone is responsible for their actions.

Myth: If it were really that bad, they would leave.

Reality: People remain in abusive relationships for various reasons and, even if they want to, it can be difficult to leave. They may be frightened for their life, the safety of others, fear shame and stigma, have nowhere to go or no financial independence. Often, abusers isolate the individual/s from family and friends as a method of control, making it even more difficult to leave. People in violent relationships need support and understanding – not judgement.

Myth: People often lie about abuse.

Reality: False claims about family violence are uncommon. In fact, when talking to family, friends and others, people are more likely to downplay their experience of violence than exaggerate it. This myth is exceptionally harmful as the fear of disbelief impedes or delays reporting abuse. With enhanced knowledge and dialogue, we, as a community, can challenge the myths, diminish the stigma and move toward increasing help seeking behaviour.

So, remain present with your people and community and be open for the moments hoping to break the silence.

Heidi O’Brien

Mindful Margaret River is an alliance of mental wellbeing professionals, government agencies, community members and the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to promote health and wellbeing in the Shire.

First published in the Augusta Margaret River Mail 23 September 2020

Related Articles