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Family Violence

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Tags: Family Violence

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak on today's matter of public importance debate about family violence. First, of course, I acknowledge the incredible suffering, strength and resilience ultimately of those victims of family violence who survive. As we know in Australia today at least one woman a week is killed by an intimate partner, a male in her life. We also know that children are victims of family violence. The trauma that is felt by children who grow up in violent homes is lifelong. They end up with fight or flight responses to stress. These lifelong challenges inhibit and limit their success in life. I have friends who have experienced profound family violence. I have a family member who experienced horrifying family violence. The impact on these women is impossible to put into words.

I do not believe that our response to family and sexual violence should be a partisan issue. It should be one of those areas of public policy where to the greatest extent possible we can all agree on the need not only to support the victims of family violence and sexual assault but to invest in prevention.

There has been some quite remarkable progress in the level of services and supports available to victims of family violence and sexual assault in Tasmania. I want to acknowledge you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the important work you started in your previous role as the Minister for Women . Yet, despite those many millions of dollars which the Premier just detailed to the House that have been invested in family violence support services, legal services, counselling services for the women and children, the rate of family violence and sexual assault has not gone down. That tells us that we are dealing with a cultural issue in Australia.

We are dealing with attitudinal problems. I want to refer to a really excellent paper by Dr Michael Kaufman that was initially undertaken as part of his work for Save the Children in the United Kingdom. He talks about the origins of male violence. The first is a patriarchal power structure. There is a sense of entitlement to privilege. He says -

The individual experience of a man who commits violence may not revolve around his desire to maintain power, his conscious experience is not the key here. Rather as feminist analysis has repeatedly pointed out such violence is often the logical outcome of his sense of entitlement to certain privileges.

If a man beats his wife for not having dinner on the table right on time it is not only to make sure that it does not happen again but is an indication of his sense of entitlement to be waited on.

Or, say, a man sexually assaults a woman on a date, it is about his sense of entitlement to his physical pleasure even if that pleasure is entirely one sided.

Dr Kaufman says

Whatever the complex social and psychological causes of men's violence, it would not continue if there were no explicit or tacit permission in social customs, legal codes, law enforcement, and certain religious teachings.

In many countries, laws against wife assault or sexual assault are lax or non-existent; in many others laws are barely enforced; in still others they are absurd, such as those countries where a charge of rape can only be prosecuted if there are several male witnesses and where the testimony of the woman isn't taken into account.

Meanwhile, acts of men's violence and violent aggression (in this case, usually against other men) are celebrated in sport and cinema, in literature and warfare. Not only is violence permitted, it is glamorised and rewarded.

He goes on to say:

Men's violence is also the result of a character structure that is typically based on emotional distance from others. Even in patriarchal cultures where fathers are more present, masculinity is codified as a rejection of the mother and femininity, that is, a rejection of the qualities associated with caregiving and nurturance. As various feminist psychoanalysts have noted, this creates rigid ego barriers, or in metaphorical terms, a strong suit of armour. Acts of violence against another person are therefore made possible.

Many of our dominant forms of masculinity hinge on the internalisation of a range of emotions and their redirection into anger. It is not simply that men's language of emotion is often muted or that our emotional antennae and capacity for empathy is somewhat stunted. It is also that a range of natural emotions have been ruled off-limits and invalid.

He puts forward a series of proposals for ending the violence. We can keep pouring money into family violence counselling and support, we can make the best and strongest laws and we have an excellent framework here, the Family Violence Act 2004, but until we deal with those cultural issues, the victims of family violence will keep presenting to support and counselling services. We will still be hearing reports of women and children being murdered at the hands of the men in their worlds.

Madam Deputy Speaker, we have to challenge and dismantle the structures of men's power and privilege and end the cultural and social permission for acts of violence. I commend the Premier for taking this matter seriously but the work is far from done.