Throughout Australia, numerous men’s behaviour change programs work to help change men’s attempts to dominate and control women, that more often than not turn into domestic violence.
Rodney Vlais, acting CEO of No To Violence (NTV), Victoria’s peak body for male family violence preventions, is honest – behaviour change programs don’t work any magic. For some men it will work – they will start taking responsibility, stop minimising and denying it and stop blaming their partner for their violence. Other men pose a high level of risk.
“Not all men change. It is very important for partners to know that – the fact that he is into the program doesn’t mean he is going to change automatically.”
However, once involved in the program – voluntarily or by court order, it is easier to keep track of their behaviour.
The majority of family violence that occurs in heterosexual relationships is perpetrated by men – approximately 85-95 per cent. With other forms of family violence, like adolescents’ violence towards their parents, gender division is not as clear – about two thirds is perpetrated by boys and one third by girls.
What lies underneath men’s violence against women and family violence is men’s attitude towards women,
their sense of entitlement to respond to particular situation in a way that harm other, Mr Vlais explains.
“A man may develop some inappropriate and unreasonable expectations from his female partner, like that she shouldn’t be talking to other men. These expectations are based on his believes that she is responsible for how he feels, that she shouldn’t be making him jealous or angry rather than him taking responsibility for his own emotions. In his own mind, this sets him up to think that he is the victim and that she should be punished or controlled in order for her to behave differently, and subsequently to stop him from feeling in that particular way,” Mr Vlais tells Neos Kosmos.
“It is the context of privilege in that sense of sexism and negative attitude towards women that underlies men’s choices to use violence.”
With new Greek migrant families settling in Australia, Australian Greek Welfare Society (AGWS) Case worker officer, Dimitra Lagoudaki says the cases of domestic violence AGWS deals with have increased.
“We have many cases, both from elderly women from our community being victims of domestic violence, but also a lot of cases from newcomers from Greece.
“In the case of elderly members of our community experiencing domestic violence, the problem was always there. But once children grow up and leave the house, they retire, the couple is all day in the house together, and these problems appear more intensely.
“They just don’t want to go through it anymore, and often refer to grown up children as one less reason to sacrifice,” Ms Lagoudaki says.
With community and mainstream education, awareness about domestic violence has increased among the community elderly.
“People know what domestic violence is and they know they shouldn’t accept this kind of behaviour from their partner, they feel more comfortable to talk about it and ask for assistance, while in the past they were more isolated, worried about how the community is going to take it. Even now, they often won’t take the last step – they won’t go to the court, or they may go but will often change their decision and will refuse to go further, in belief that the situation might change.”
With majority of new Greek migrants being young families, Ms Lagoudaki says it is with the settlement issues and new challenges these couples face that domestic violence surfaces.
“A lot of them are new couples, they don’t really now each other that well. It’s new marriages and with all the problems they face when they come here, isolated and without family support they had in their homeland – violent behaviour comes to surface.
“There are also a lot of dysfunctional families that often see migration as the way to improve their lives – but once here, the problems don’t just go away.”
InTouch, the Multicultural Centre against Family Violence, is a statewide service which provides programs and responses to issues of family violence in CALD (Culturally And Linguistically Diverse) communities.
Maya Avdibegovic, CEO of InTouch, says that across CALD communities domestic violence has been under-reported. This may occur due to poor data collection or due to CALD women being disadvantaged in accessing justice and support system.
Ms Avdibegovic is confident that bilingual and bicultural programs have better outcome for victims of domestic violence from CALD communities.
“Within our family violence support program, a team of 12 bilingual bicultural workers, most of them migrants and refugees, that speak more than 25 different languages, offer support to victims. One of the most vulnerable groups that we work with is women without permanent residency.
“We also work with men through men behaviour program. There is an absolute gap in the system in terms of providing those programs to CALD men who can’t speak English,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
In terms of demand of population and demographic, there is a huge disproportion, Ms Avdibegovic says.
“There is a huge disproportion in the funding available to CALD communities. If you think about it, the CALD population is huge in Victoria – more than 25 per cent of the first generation, and if you take into account the second generation – it’s almost 50 per cent.
“In terms of family violence services we have only one specialist service that obviously can’t meet the demand of all the women who need help. Our family violence support program has funding to support 700 women a year – in the last financial year we had 972 women coming though that program.
“Yes, some of them can easily go to mainstream services and be supported appropriately. But there are a lot of them who will face a lot of barriers in accessing main stream services, in terms of language, cultural understanding, discrimination.”
In the last financial year, 2012-2013, statistics for Victoria show that police attended approximately 60,000 of domestic violence cases, an increase from the previous year which saw about 50,000 cases and the year before – 38,000 cases.
NTV’s Project Manager says domestic violence is often misconstrued as physical violence only.
“Often it’s something that originates with men’s privilege, small signs, things that people don’t necessarily pick up as violence, like financial control. It can be various types that often get disregarded and underestimated.
Recent announcement from the Victoria government that an additional $30 million over four years will be allocated to protect women and children victims of family violence was welcomed across domestic violence prevention and support organisations.
However, Mr Vlais says over $7 million per year is an important first step in fixing urgent gaps in the family violence service system, but still not enough in terms of what’s required to address the problem. More significantly, a statewide Government approach is crucial in keeping women and children safe.
“We find that, in Victoria at least, we don’t get the same response from some other ministerial portfolios like Justice, and we need much more of a whole Government approach rather than responsibilities being left with the ministry for Community Services.
“We also look forward to hearing from the Attorney General about how this funding can assist the role of justice-focused government agencies to tighten the net around men who cause harm to their families,” Mr Vlais says.
Men who wish to talk about their behaviour towards family members can contact the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491. If you are a victim of domestic violence, contact AGWS on (03) 9388 9998 or InTouch (03) 9413 6500