Domestic violence is not in anyone’s genes. It is a learned behaviour, and the learning often begins quite young. Violent people often believe their violence is invited.
With an acquaintance of mine, it started in the primary school yard. This is the time when children begin to learn nonverbal communication. Bullies make sure others around them ‘get the message’. They strut and stand their ground to test onlookers. The primary school yard is the scene where most children test their social status and dominance.
The other space where children learn is in the home. My lesson was delivered, when I was nine, by my drunken step-father hitting on my mother. I was already frightened of him, but in desperation threw a boot at the back of his head. He turned his anger on me and I went to school the next day with a swollen face and black eye. As an adult, I now understand that his anger was a response to her judgement of him.
Another of my family members is sexually abusive to his partner when his alcohol level is high. He assumes he has a ‘right’ to be abusive because he has paid for the sex with his income.
These are desperately sad examples of individual beliefs that they have a ‘right’ to use violence for their own gain. It might be to make someone stop doing something or, worse, to force someone to give something.
These school and home lessons are the common way we learn about domestic violence. Sadly, this aggression is so common it has become a folklore of human conduct. However, things are changing.
The Australian Government has recently held a Royal Commission on the subject, including the disturbing levels of sexual abuse in our society. This is a welcome shift in political life.
It is imperative that all of us, even those who are not violent, understand this behaviour is not acceptable, under any circumstance.
We may have the opportunity to advise someone who initiates a discussion about this topic. None of us should believe that distance is an excuse not to say something. We should be confident in speaking up. Domestic abusers can change, once they discover the dynamics of their behaviour. They first need to realise that this behaviour demeans themselves and their victims. Then they must build their determination to make the change. For this, they need to develop a level of self-respect that is not undermined by other people’s opinions of them. Once that is in place, they can consciously change their attitude and their mistaken belief in their ‘right’ to be violent.
As a man, I write this with the desire that it may help someone in the future to change their behaviour. We all have a part to play, in inspiring change. I urge you to spread the word. Domestic violence is NEVER OK, even at a distance.