Helping Women and Children break the cycle of domestic violence...


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Speech by Patricia Hughes
Delivered in Perth at the Amnesty International Conference for Violence against Women
as well as The Queen Street Mall launch,
sponsored by The Body Shop as an advocate against Domestic Violence.

There is a culture of violence engulfing our world.  To our shame, future generations will look back on this period of history and identify it as one of the most violent periods ever with the severity of war and terrorism. We are almost becoming immune to seeing it splashed all over the news and television on a daily basis. But with all the expressions of violence, the worst is domestic violence. Women and children in huge numbers live in terror in their own homes, weighing up every word they say, always on the edge, afraid to relax and doing their best to please and calm their persecutors even knowing that their best will never be good enough to prevent the next attack.

Domestic violence is not just a curtain raiser for a much bigger event. It’s an event in itself.  People not directly involved in domestic violence don’t believe that it’s the serious social problem that it is. It’s existed for centuries and has been hidden and ignored firstly by a society that sees it as a taboo subject to be swept under the carpet. And secondly, by the victims themselves who have chosen to keep quiet, mostly out of shame. The seriousness of this problem is diminished by the fact that like rape, the crime of domestic violence is under-reported because it usually occurs at home and with no witnesses.

One question everyone seems to ask is ‘So why don’t these women just leave?’ One factor I’m sure you’ll agree keeps women under the control of these men is they’re scared. They have this underlying hope that the man’s behaviour is just a one-off or two-off occurrence and it will stop. Unfortunately, most times it doesn’t. Even when it seems it couldn’t get any worse, not all women decide to leave their abusers.

A lot of women decide to stay for many reasons. One is economic dependence. They may have children and their husband is the sole provider so they have no money of their own. Some decide to stay because we all know that domestic violence is an attempt to establish dominance and control and this mistreatment breaks down their sense of self-worth already low after being told repeatedly how useless and worthless they are. The choice to stay is inevitable and overpowering and therefore they put up with the abuse.

Another is that they are justifiably scared that leaving will not end the abuse.  They find themselves in a Catch 22 situation where they are abused if they stay but then they are followed and terrorised if they leave. Statistics show that nearly HALF of all women murdered by their spouses are, at the time, separated or in the process of separating. We hear about this all the time on the news. All too often a woman knows she will be pursued by an enraged man. This is after she has made the decision to uproot herself and her children all with varying degrees of shame, low self-esteem and self worth.

Another reason is people who are abused often hate and love their abusers at the same time. Anger, confusion, fear and hurt all create a turmoil of emotions. What a lot of people don’t realise is that these violent men can appear remorseful after every attack and show regret for their actions. These women are confused by this show of love and willingly stay in order to feel that warmth and acceptance. We all crave love and human contact and this is another major reason why women go back to their abusers.

So considering all of this, why isn’t the question, ‘How on earth do these women manage to leave at all?’ And why do we never ask that question? Why do we always throw our hands up in horror and disbelief when someone keeps going back for more? Too often, you hear men say that it’s ‘her own fault’ for going back. The trouble is these people don’t understand that in these women’s minds, they have nowhere else to go.

I know these women don’t know where to turn or who to turn to because ten years ago, I was in this exact same position.  Not many people seem to know the answers and even fewer people seem to care and no-one seems to understand the extent of your wounds both physical and psychological. People say wounds can’t hurt but I beg to differ. Emotional wounds need to be dressed and attended to, and long after the bruises have healed, the words still remain to haunt and damage you. Being a punching bag and experiencing emotional abuse in the form of intimidation and humiliation are almost on a par as far as women are concerned. This is why the majority of women tend to withdraw from a society that regards domestic violence with such disregard.

Mainly because of the shame they feel, they hide their injuries and this only creates more pain in the way of loneliness.  Shame keeps a lot of women quiet and sometimes they refuse to put their fears into words because the words make them concrete and inescapable. I myself went through terrible agonies to keep the truth to myself. So why did I accept this dreadful behaviour? Why did I let things go as far as I did? It took me many years to ask myself the same questions but when I did, the answer came quickly and succinctly: because I thought it was ‘my fault’. Something in me not him. I’d read horror stories of women who end up with burn scars, broken limbs and dead children and like everyone else, I thought, ‘That’ll never happen to me.’ But before I even realised it, I was a statistic. One woman in every four who are abused by their partners.

Those who work to provide safe places and relieve the suffering of victims and survivors of domestic violence have puzzled for many years over the fact that societies everywhere seem willing to tolerate extreme levels of violence against women and children by their male partners and ex-partners. But it’s never too late and society can start to help these women NOW.

Prevention plays a huge part in the fix and in my book ‘Enough’, I’ve devised seven identifiable steps.

The first step is Identifying Abusive Behaviour and the second is Recognising Abusers.  Some forms of abuse are subtle and they can easily be denied. It can be as subtle as not liking the way their partner is treating you. At first they may appear kind, sensitive, affectionate and thoughtful but abusers have a low tolerance level and expect impossible standards that don’t seem to apply to themselves. The patterns of aggression, anger, intimidation, manipulation and control begin to appear and leave victims dependent on their abusers.

The third step is preparing for emergencies and is really a short term one.  It only covers you and your children during the violence. When the violence suddenly escalates, remain near a safe exit. Think ahead and have the contact number of someone you trust nearby.

The fourth step is getting help after a crisis.  This comes in the form of shelters, hotlines and advocacy groups and a great number of them are listed at the back of my book as well as their contact numbers.

The fifth step is Making the decision to stay or leave.  Making changes and taking action isn’t easy, especially when you are psychologically fragile. You doubt your own abilities. Thinking clearly in the midst of so much confusion and chaos is again not easy and should be done with professional help.

The last two steps are Remaining Abuse Free and Learning to Heal and Rebuild.

These last two steps are vital and I want to stress to women that there is a way out and you can make a new life for yourself.  You hear people say, ‘He ruined my life.’ Believing that is a crime in itself because you are making yourself a victim for the rest of your life. There is another side and I’m living proof. I won’t ever let myself forget those experiences because remembering is part of the healing process. In one respect, you remember the helplessness and utter desolation but you also know that it’s something you’ve overcome, even though painfully. Sometimes it’s a smell you remember. Sometimes it’s a mannerism. Then suddenly, the memories are there again at the top of your mind.

When those memories come back, don’t let them drag you down.  Recognise them as something you’ve freed yourself from. Clarify everything and put everything into perspective. Never let yourself forget those memories. Use them as positive reinforcement that you’re a survivor and that you’ve come this far and will never go back. Say ‘I used to be a victim but I’m not one anymore. I’m a survivor.’

If we are serious about wanting to rid our community of domestic violence, we have to employ a radical approach.  We begin by asking questions like: Why do men and boys use violence with such ease? Why do non-violent men and boys feel so much pressure to fall into line? How early in life does the desire to degrade women and girls begin? How can we change this present culture of violence into a culture of harmony and acceptance?

Up to HALF of you out there know someone who is in a domestic violence situation.  Be aware of what’s going on around you and then reach out and help those women. It’s up to us as a society who really cares, to play an active part in the easing of this terrible situation. Every society has a responsibility to respond to domestic violence as effectively as possible,

I’d like to finish with a quote from Edmund Burke, a 17th century Irish philosopher:

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.’

We'd like to thank Patricia Hughes and
The Australian Centre for Leadership for Women, for use of this speech.