Michael Breen.  Home Sour Home

Mar 2, 2015

Fourteen women have died this year as a result of domestic violence. Australians killed by terrorists in the same period, zero. 

The ABC Q&A programme February 23rd on Domestic Violence had an enormous response from the viewer and studio audiences. Many thanked the ABC for broaching the matter. Many tragic first hand experiences were aired. For some this was cathartic but the unanswered questions and the visible and obscured statistics leave no doubt that this is a critical national issue. 

Q&A Tweet.The conversation Australia needed to have . 

No one from the programme nor beyond it suggests this is a simple matter with simple remedies waiting to be applied. It is vastly complex and its elements are at various depths of awareness, responsibility and are the preserve of several disciplines, services and agencies. Police, social workers, mental health workers, refuge staffs, psychologists, religious leaders, lawyers, courts and victims, perpetrators all hold chips of the ugly mosaic. 

There are some areas, some aspects which are part of the complexity that get more attention than others less obvious and more contentious. I would like to consider some of the latter, especially with regard to men.

Q&A Tweet. Oh the irony. just a day after #Qanda doing a show on domestic violence, the fed gov’t display the characteristics that promote it. 

Public violence usually draws a crowd. Violence in private especially inside a house has few attendees. Cops by and large hate going to “domestics” where often there is little they can do and where they can become the recipients of the free flowing aggression. This raises the question of how well they are trained for this event common in their work lives and what support they get to manage the effect it has on them individually.

For a victim to bring a criminal charge requires enormous courage and support. Often the victim wishes that they had never commenced the process. So the hiddenness of domestic violence adds to its stuckness. Then again victims have the first hand experiences but cannot provide solutions. They know what happens but not how it happens. We need to know how to stop what happens. Often victims’ personal adjustments to live a peaceful life or avoid aggression are lost to current memory as they stretch back over the years. They become like the frog placed in a pot of water on the stove adjusting to the incremental rises in temperature so efficiently that the frog eventually boils to death. 

The other most knowledgeable participant is the perpetrator and we need to know much more of the processes in the minds and hearts of these people, many of whom have been raised in violent family systems.


Q&A Tweet.I will NOT have my son indoctrinated at school that he is innately created a violent abuser. 

Further, apportioning blame is in a different order from knowing what actually happened and how to avoid it.  Investigation into the mechanics of the disorder is a separate process from participants finding their treatment in therapy. 

When we consider violence it is important not to skip parts of the picture no matter how unpleasant or minute. We know that people who experienced violent parenting are more likely to parent or relate violently; unless they have dealt with their experiences in therapy. Tony Cooke, social worker and the son of a Western Australian serial murderer, said, “If you have been touched by violence you have to deal with it”. 

But do we know how violently a violent person operates inside their own psyche? Do they manage themselves with harshness or violence or are they moral imbeciles who have no criteria or categories of morality or ethics? My guess is that each person is a mixture of all of these factors.  Many more adolescents than we imagine are self harming in our community.  Do we know why? Is it violence turned inward? 

We know that our society likes violence, when it happens to someone else. Stories and images our media select must sell papers or attract viewers; otherwise why put the stuff out there? 

Sporting games are often very violent in themselves as is the language of their commentators.  And the spectacle more attractive than the game itself is a players’ or spectators’ brawl. Youths, mostly male become the expendable gladiators  fighting on behalf of their fans and financial promoters. Is it any wonder that these public contestants involved in on-field and off-field fighting? But as soon as the violence of sport is mentioned or criticised the intimidating voices defending the sacred taboos threaten consequences like “developing softies, milksops, pansies” as the alternatives.

Parliamentary behaviour so often involves viciously attacking the person that it is far from edifying example, for the rest of the community.  Our society tolerates the degrading institution of women’s wages being 18% lower than males doing the same work. 

Capitalism needs tough guys, winners not cooperators, we are told.  Courses and written stuff offered as training for managers use the language of warfare. Do we ever ask what are the societal costs for men to be acculturated in this way?  What are the consequences of learning to behave as if control is everything? What happens to the person’s desire for softness, gentleness, compassion, mercy? 

Or what are a man’s fears if he is seen to be sentimental or tearful? 

The Australian man’s upbringing and schooling are likely to have involved corporal punishment, verbal abuse, belittling and sledging.  “Counselling” has become a weasel white wash for a ticking off.

The first woman most men meet is their mother. If she is dominant and critical, controlling and manipulative that inevitably affects a man’s attitudes to all women.  This is especially critical if the father figure is inexpressive, weak or withdrawing. When his wife is critical many a man hears his mother’s voice anew.  Is it possible that an attack on the external female critical person is an attempt to silence the man’s internal critical voice? Could violence be an inappropriate response to being taunted, shamed or belittled? He may have been little and inadequate when he was first treated this way, but now he is big and has more response options. In such circumstances is the man hearing that he is not a real man? An ex-student of mine was murdered by a hitchhiker to whom he gave a lift. The hiker went home and announced to his partner, “Now I am a real man”.  These are aberrant, inappropriate and immoral responses. Nor are they defensible. However if we are to understand violent behaviour we need to know its aetiology. 

Q&A Tweet:if some of us gals seemed a bit peeved with men at times try to gain some understanding as to why – failure to protect. 

I must restate that I am not seeking to blame or excuse but to ask questions, however unpalatable, about why men, particularly, act out in the ways which we often do. 

In the 1970s and 1980s in response to feminism a lot of men felt threatened. Men were often impugned as “the problem”. Some feminists said it was ok to blame men for everything because women had had such a bad deal for so long. One response was the development of courses, workshops and groups for men. Unfortunately many of these were inexpertly led but they were spaces to share common material. Most courses I was involved in with had men lamenting or craving better relationships with their fathers and deeper relationships with other men. The Australian cultural conserves impeded both. There were lots of cathartic tears and ept and inept tenderness from male peers. Robert Bly’s article “Iron John” about finding the primitive slimy man in all of us is supposed to have been the most photocopied article of the decade. In hindsight it was not such a good item, but it was all that there was at the time though it treated man isolated from family and children. The “Mens Movement” in Australia was largely a boys movement. 

Q&A Tweet:‘why doesn’t she leave?’ – great title for a powerful movie to educate community how hard it can be & how attitudes need to change. 

Finally if leadership is finding a procession to get in front of, the current government could resource all kinds of successful programmes such as the one sent in by the Q&A viewer, a violent perpetrator reformed and his football team in the Northern Territory. Giving grants for research is probably not as effective as  setting up competitions with prizes for interventions which can be demonstrated to  achieve results.

Michael  Breen is a ‘Humanistic Psychologist’

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