’tis the season for domestic violence
Australia might officially say ‘no’ to violence against women, but we still have some pretty alarming rates- and it gets worse over the Christmas to New Years period. In an average year, nearly half a million Australian women will experience physical or sexual violence, with rates spiking quite significantly over the holiday week. Last year, over 5000 women in New South Wales alone suffered domestic abuse during the Christmas period.
There’s no definitive explanation for this trend, but police and experts suggest that a combination of factors relating to the holidays, such as financial strain, increased alcohol consumption, and families (often unhappily) spending more time together, are likely to contribute.
Earlier this month, NSW Minister for Women Jodi McKay launched new website that offers information and resources to support and empower women who have suffered domestic violence, as well as those who are trying to help them. From practical safety advice for women who have left abusive partners or are thinking of leaving, to checklists to help identify if you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, the site is a fairly comprehensive information resource that could help many women to get the support they need.
This site, and other initiatives like it, can also serve as an awareness-raising tool. There is a lot of ignorance floating around about the seriousness of domestic violence and the reality of the situation that many women are in- mostly, because it’s hard to understand something like that when we are lucky enough not to have experienced it ourselves, or even witnessed it first hand.
One of the problems many women trapped in abusive relationships experience is the judgment and disapproval from others for staying. ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ is the obvious first question. But it’s often a lot more complicated than that. It’s never easy to leave an abusive relationship. Sometimes they might not even be able to admit to themselves the severity of the situation. Sometimes it’s because, despite everything, they can’t help but still love their partner. Other times it’s a cultural obligation, or financial dependence, or a fear for their own safety or the safety of their children and pets. And a lot of the time, they have nowhere to go.
So I think it’s incredibly important for all of us to educate ourselves about domestic violence, and be aware of the situations around us. And that way, we’ll be better equipped to take care of ourselves if we ever need to- and to offer real compassion, understanding and support for each other. After all, as the website emphasises, ‘it can happen to anyone.’
The national domestic violence helpline is 1800 65 64 63