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Some Thoughts on DV Fatalities

Some time ago, I was asked to speak at a Red Rose Rally (Red Rose Foundation – Domestic Violence | Red Rose Foundation | Australia) where we remember and honour those who have died at the hands of a domestic violence perpetrator. I came across this recently when I was reviewing some of my files. I thought I’d share it with you. This was for Hannah and her three children. It was such an emotional and challenging time. I believe the message is somewhat emotional and somewhat disjointed, but hopefully it is still valid, nonetheless. I hope it resonates with you.

“When anyone dies like this, especially children, there is an overwhelming sense of tragedy, injustice, and unnecessary loss. Tears that seem endless, unbearable pain, questions without satisfactory answers, a paralysing sense of powerlessness, and hopelessness. There is the sheer exhaustion that comes with bearing such a weight of grief. Maybe for us who are gathered here today this is a brief glimpse and taste of what victims of domestic violence live with every day.

If the magnitude of this loss is not a deafening wake-up call or turning point for this state and our country in the way we respond to domestic violence – then nothing is going to change the status quo. How do we transfigure and transform these deaths, this darkness and despair into hope and life and systemic change?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking about justice in another violent context, said a situation will not change until we first speak the truth. OK, then let’s speak the truth. Let us as a society, tell the truth, be honest and face up to the reality of men’s violence, without watering this down by accepting uninformed nonsense about violence being equal between men and women. Let’s ditch the ‘whataboutery’ that distracts from the crisis facing significant numbers of women and children in our community who are trapped with or escaping abusive men. I call it uninformed nonsense but it is worse than that – it is a dishonest and dangerous narrative, disregarding national and international data. Men’s violence towards women and children in the most serious violation of human rights in our country and in our world today.

That is fact!

Domestic violence homicides are predictable. The high risk warning signs are there, if we listen to victims, if we are risk-aware and know the warning signs (separation, current or pending; his history of strangulation, sexual assault, stalking, suicidality, breaching of orders, etc; her sense of fear and dread, her subjugation, her self-defence and resistance) and if these men are in our system, then what is stopping us as a community from preventing these killings. What is it in our society that seems to stop us from reading the signs and working to prevent women’s and children’s deaths at the hands of male perpetrators. What are the barriers and blockages to our protecting women and children, who want to escape violent men. I have heard high profile community leaders say that this or that death was ‘inevitable’. I cannot believe that – I refuse to believe that. If we belief that then we believe that some women and children are ‘collateral damage’, and I refuse to live with that belief.

These killings are not about a parent or partner being ‘driven to the brink’ or ‘losing control’ - these wicked acts of cruel violent murder are planned, intentional, and purposeful. They are about winning the battle, winning the prize, which is ultimate power and control over the other. They are about having the final say, the last word, firing the final shot. This is nothing more than brutal revenge and payback at not getting his way. The cost for a woman just wanting to live an abuse-free life with her three beloved children was a vicious ambush that murdered her and her children.

In a safe and respectful world (a world that is ours to responsibly create) – the world that I want to live in and want all, especially children, to live in:

  • A father sacrifices himself for his children – he doesn’t sacrifice his children.

  • A father respects his children’s mother, especially when that intimate relationship between the woman and man may be over.

  • A father can never say he loves his children if he is harming them or their mother

  • A father decentres himself and centres those he loves – it is not all about and only him anymore

  • A father would rather suffer himself than see his children suffer.

  • A father knows that his children are not his trophies, his property, or possessions – they are through him but not for him – they are not his to own. He is a steward.

  • A father instils hope in his children for his children’s futures – he is not a narcissist focused on his own superiority, entitlement, and rights over others.

When I work with men who are violent and abusive, I want them to examine themselves, and become aware of themselves and the harm they are causing to their children and partners. I want them to reflect on what their own experience of their fathers was like and the effect It has had on them and their mothers. I want them to understand how important it is that they grow to be respectful, responsible, and reliable fathers who care for their children – to be a resource for their children and not a risk! I want them to know that in an intimate relationship, where ‘two become one’, doesn’t translate to ‘you become mine’! I want them to know that they can change, and they can choose to treat their partners or ex-partners with the dignity, the equality, the autonomy, and the liberty they deserve as human beings – that is a better d.e.a.l. for women generally. That is all I want from myself and any man. Is that too much to ask of men? If they choose not to change, then consequences from the criminal justice system need to be forthcoming, swiftly and certainly. DV perpetrators need to know that they cannot perpetrate domestic violence with impunity any more.

Brian Sullivan PhD.

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