ANNA J. JAMES
A new domestic violence guidebook helps lawmakers recognise emotional abuse.
On August 18, Attorney-General, George Brandis launched the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book, a ‘best practice’ guide for domestic violence court cases.
The book’s ‘social abuse’ chapter extends the definition of domestic violence beyond the physical, including ‘angry verbal outbursts, staring, silence, ignoring and withdrawal of affection’.
Domestic abuse takes many forms; emotional, psychological, social, economic, cultural and spiritual. The guidebook acknowledges that ‘social’ abuse can be a precursor to physical violence.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in four Australian women have experienced at least one incident of violence from an intimate partner.
The One in Three website claims a third of domestic violence victims are men.
In 2006, now 29-year-old government administration student, Tom* was attacked by his girlfriend, resulting in a two-inch head laceration.
“She was my first girlfriend. We dated for about a year,” Tom said.
“She didn’t start off physically but verbally—she was controlling. At first it would be normal ‘girlfriend’ demands: get a haircut, shave your beard,”
“But then she started chastising me around my parents and friends, screaming my name almost like a mother telling off her child,”
When Tom’s parents attempted to intervene, he’d “always try to downplay or hide it”.
Tom said his girlfriend began to slap and punch him at his home, in addition to being verbally abusive.
The abuse reached crescendo at a 21st birthday party held at a local football club where Tom’s partner arrived “drunk as a skunk” and was behaving erratically.
“I took her outside to calm her down, she’s screaming, she grabbed me by the throat. That was breaking point for me, I thought: beat me up at home, chastise me in front of my mates—that’s fine, but out in public? My fist was clenched,” Tom said.
Tom’s friend came out and pulled the couple apart.
When Tom turned his back, he felt a sharp knock to the back of his head and his attacker dropped her bloody shoe at his feet.
Tom’s Dad advised him to call the police, a suggestion he scoffed at.
“Really? Would you think the cops would take it seriously? ‘I just got beaten up by my girlfriend’. C’mon. Ninety-nine percent of the time they take the chick’s side,”
“Even after we broke up she was still playing head games,” said Tom, who has not had a long-term relationship since.
The Law Council of Australia domestic and family violence task force chair, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC, asserts that one insult between spouses would not constitute domestic abuse however, social abuse is used to indicate future threat of violence.
Dr Brasch QC told The Daily Telegraph, “A perpetrator may intend to intimidate and induce fear… through physical violence or harm yet cause minor or no visible signs of injury,” saying the guidebook urges judges to look beyond evidence of “recent physical violence”.
“The perpetrator may drive dangerously when the victim or children are in the car, or smoke in the home knowing the victim has a respiratory condition, or lock the victim outside during the night,” said Dr Brasch.
According to the ‘Social Abuse’ chapter, emotional or psychological abuse may involve:
- Threatening to divorce or abandon the victim if the victim fails to comply with demands;
- Threatening to commit suicide if victim leaves;
- Restricting the victim’s contact with family and friends;
- Restricting access to a car or finances;
- Strategic intimidatory behaviour including angry verbal outbursts, staring, silence, ignoring and withdrawal of affection.
“He told me he punched a wall when he was angry at his ex,” said Grace, 20, a communications student, who recently ended a relationship with a “toxic” partner.
“Because that’s where it starts. Then it goes into physical abuse,” said Grace.
Since meeting in January, Grace and her partner exchanged “hurtful” phone calls.
“He’d push me in, reel me in, push me away,” said Grace.
“He put me down. He said no one will ever love me, that I’m not smart… that I’m never going to get a job,”
“Domestic violence occurs with one partner exerting power and control over the other and that often occurs over a period of time,” Domestic Violence NSW CEO, Moo Baulch told news.com.au.
“Many women who are survivors of domestic violence say the non-physical abuse, the manipulation of power and control and the financial abuse, are often a lot harder to recover from than the physical abuse,” said Ms Baulch.
“Emotional abuse is a lot more hurtful than physical abuse; they say, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’—but they do,” said Grace.
“Especially coming from the person you rely on.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity.