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Listening to voices of domestic violence and other talking points

John Paul Langbroek brought me to boiling point the other week with his comments about domestic violence. This shows how out of touch and neanderthal the QLD LNP’s thinking is on this issue. Langbroek blamed the QLD economy for Domestic Violence. He had the audacity to use the serious crime of domestic violence to take a political stab. If any issue needs to be bipartisan, it is this one. Mr. Langbroek, domestic violence can happen to anyone. It is caused by controlling and violent behaviour by the individual perpetrator. Nothing else. There are no excuses.

For Langbroek to say this sickens me, as it gives the perpetrator an excuse for their violence. To use the recent tragedies as political point scoring deeply disturbs me and his own party should question his leadership and personal character.

I think it is important that many people speak up about how we as citizens see what important changes are necessary to develop an effective system to eradicate domestic violence. Many victims, survivors and their family and friends need a safe space to share stories and provide recommendations. I have outlined some of the changes I feel that need to occur to protect victims, below. These are simply talking points and do need further debate:

National Domestic Violence Portal – Listening to voices
Although domestic violence is receiving a lot of attention and progression and enhancement of services is now in the spotlight, I believe we need to hear more. I have discussed this issue with many women and some men and everyone’s story is different. We need to gather data about the stories and concerns of victims who have suffered and are suffering and listen – really listen to their recommendations. I say this because our country is a diverse country. Something that may work for people in the inner city in Melbourne, may not work or be enough in my town of Rockhampton in Central Queensland or further out west in rural communities.

There are so many antecedents of domestic violence, so many antecedents of victims not receiving the support they need and so many factors which prevent victims from remaining safe from harm. There are many victims who do not want to speak up about their own ordeal in public or online and that should be completely respected. The fear of domestic violence for some never goes away. For some people in small towns or close knit suburbs, there are family and friends to deal with, as well as the ex-partner forever more. If a victim is suffering from domestic violence in their current relationship, it is highly unlikely these victims will speak up. Sometimes for child custody reasons, or caring for aged parents, both people from the relationship need to remain in the same town.

I believe a National Domestic Violence online portal will also capture the men who do not want to publicly speak up. The issue of men as victims of violence is relatively silent. We need to understand the underlying constructs of domestic violence for both genders in heterosexual relationships and also same-sex relationships, as well as many men and women from different ethnicities. These people should have a confidential voice, which is linked to a Government Department with professionals working in this area to receive their stories and recommendations. Alternatively, Universities could be paid to collect this data and analyse findings for recommendations.

Violence is violence
Domestic Violence perpetrators need to be viewed the same as a stranger. Government, agencies, law enforcement and our justice system need to stop looking at domestic violence through a lens of ‘a personal situation.’ If it was a stranger who committed these violent acts, then they would be arrested and charged and the victim could probably even sue them as a victim of crime. Police and the legal system need to treat this as individual violent behaviour on another. Justifying the violence within the relationship as not as important as if committed by a stranger, gives the perpetrators even more power and it says that violence within a relationship is acceptable in our society.

The line of questioning
I hope this doesn’t happen now; but if the police still ask questions about what the victim did to provoke the violence (do you make his meals on time for him etc.,), that needs to cease immediately (this example is from a story from a victim of domestic violence more than 20 years ago). A review of the line of questioning needs to be undertaken so that victims are understood and supported. A victim should never feel that the violence is their fault, or the violence is acceptable due to the line of questioning developed through a gender-role lens, a religious lens, a disability lens or a culture lens.

Rape is Rape
Rape and excessive violent rape within a relationship have been crimes for a long time. It needs to be treated that way in all cases and the perpetrator arrested and charged and complaints taken seriously. Domestic violence agencies, need to promote advice about the safest procedure to victims. The authorities need to treat this as serious violence inflicted onto an individual. Victims of rape need to be supported. Legislation needs to be scrutinised and court processes need to be scrutinised. For example, if a woman was raped and remained in the relationship out of fear, would the police drop the case or pursue it? This is a question I do not know the answer to, but I fear at times victims of rape are not supported due to current procedures in our police work and legal systems. However, considering the current climate, a review in my opinion would assist as well as collating and analysing the data from stories from victims, who have gone to police or the court process with rape as a factor and improvements could be recommended from there.

Media portrayal of domestic violence
The portrayal in the media of domestic violence using pictures of women with black eyes etc., does disturb me. There are many techniques a perpetrator can use which show no marks. For example, being dragged around the house by the hair and given Chinese burns, placing a plastic bag over a person’s head, being locked in cupboard and covered with vile filth etc., does not give a woman a black eye. Making a woman beg does not give a black eye. Controlling every move a woman makes and not allowing her to have any of her own thoughts or decisions or autonomy does not give a woman a black eye. My main fear with this is some women will think they need to be battered, bruised and bleeding before they are in a domestic violent situation. My other fear is that there is such a gender focus on women, that this will make men even more reluctant to speak up if they are victims.

The way societies belief system is shaped so quickly through intense media, I fear, will have some victims not be believed by people they reach out to if they ‘don’t look like a victim.’ I am concerned this will reduce the self-efficacy of victims to use the complaints system. The Government through the media needs to be more three-dimensional and tell people what exactly constitutes violence and the many different forms of violence and use strong words to explain the actions. “This behaviour is a crime and we will take you seriously.” The Government through the media also needs to discuss all relationships including male victims and LGBTI victims in same sex or various gender-spectrum relationships.

Dedicated response units
The Government needs to have special dedicated response units for immediate response in every single town. This should be their only job. There are so many anecdotal stories by victims who say that the police did not show up, or there wasn’t an officer available. My concern is for regional and rural communities where they often have skeleton police staff. I understand some people think a surplus is the most important thing for our country; but I would be happy to excuse the debt or pay extra into a levy to fund a dedicated domestic violence response unit in all towns. It should not be something that ‘we desire when we get the money.’ It is an absolute necessity right now.

There are also many victims who flee to another town and live in constant fear they will be found. If we established dedicated response units, we have the technology to enable victims to register with these response units to be on high alert. A victim is not always safe just because they have left the immediate area where the perpetrator lives.

Safety is paramount
Many times victims are embarrassed to go to the police and they just think everything will be OK – they can deal with it, there are children and extended family to worry about too and the judgements passed by family and friends. It is a complicated situation and everyone’s situation is different. Police need to put in place a process where a victim is immediately counselled by a professional (not a police officer) about their safety needs. It should not just be a statement to the police and you go home. The threat of violence and the violence towards men by other men or women also needs to be treated seriously.

A network needs to be set up so victims are removed from their town immediately if they are in immediate threat of their life. Being in the same town is unsafe. The Government needs to pay for flights and immediate accommodation in another town. Victims should not have to save on no income until they can have enough to get out. I knew a woman once who told me that she had an allowance from her husband of $10 per week and she saved out of that for six years to get out. This is not acceptable.

Safety rights versus custodial and access rights
There are victims forced to remain in towns due to custody arrangements. If violence has been a factor in the relationship breakdown, this in no way should apply. The safety of the victim and children must be the only concern. The custodial and access rights of the perpetrator should not ever be given a higher priority than the safety of the victim. I understand this is a complicated issue and I do have a concern that some will use this as a tool to prevent access from the non-custodial parent in a non-genuine case. However, it is a point worth debating and solutions provided by those within the family courts and domestic violence systems.

Relationship Awareness
Relationship awareness needs to start in Primary School. I think if girls and boys are educated about how we should treat each other in relationships all through primary and highschool, warning signs will be evident and it will strengthen people. Relationship awareness must include the cycle of domestic violence. Victims must be made aware that some perpetrators will continually be violent, plateau, adorn the victim with gifts and love and then back to violence and how to recognise these signs and how to respond.

Often, domestic violence is a slow progression in a relationship, from manipulation and control, complete erosion of self-esteem, to financial dependence to physical violence, some victims do not understand that what is happening is not normal, as it is gradual. They do not understand the violence they experience is a crime. What goes on within a couple’s walls sometimes, some women and men think is normal and they are reluctant to go to the police when the violence starts to occur. If relationship education was put into place early in life and continued throughout, warning bells would occur and hopefully many will end the relationship before physical violence occurs.

Disclosure to religious organisations and other organisations or professionals
Victims disclosing to professionals such as doctors and counsellors must have an obligation to act. Domestic Violence agencies also need to work with churches and other organisations and professionals to educate them on the advice that should be given to victims of violence. It is not helpful to a victim if a religious organisation, doctor or counsellor encourages a victim to stay and ‘work it out.’ It is my concern that there are some organisations or professionals who victims feel comfortable to disclose to, but the response is ill advised and harmful. I do not know the answer to convincing a religious priest or pastor or a deeply religious doctor etc., that the sanctity of marriage is more important than the safety of the victim, but the conversation does need to be started and solutions need to be recommended from the hierarchies within these establishments in conjunction with the Government and penalties should be applied where appropriate.

Parents
It is our duty as parents to speak to our children about what a respectful relationship means. I am not going to say how this should be done as each family is different and each family has different dynamics; but it should be as essential as driver safety, drugs and alcohol and stranger danger. It is a continuous conversation we must have.

Be a real friend
Speak Up. There is no point being sympathetic after the victim has left the relationship. There is no point recounting the number of times you thought about how wrong it was the way the perpetrator treated your friend after the victim has left the relationship and is probably in more danger now than if they got out earlier. Tell your friends that what is happening is wrong at the time and support them to speak to someone who can help them leave the relationship and stay safe. Don’t just sit back and think you are interfering.

Mental Health funding
Some survivors of domestic violence can spend the rest of their lives suffering from PTSD, Anxiety and Depression and other illnesses. Mental Health funding needs to increase so victims can access services that can assist them to heal. This is critical for victims and perpetrators for not only self-healing but also for future healthy relationships. Once again, this is not something we ‘should do when we have the money’ it is a necessity now.

Perpetrators
There are undoubtedly going to be some perpetrators who are violent and will have an intent to cause harm regardless and our legal system does not keep offenders jailed indefinitely. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are many antecedents which do enable controlling and violent behaviour in people and that there are some perpetrators who can be rehabilitated and never offend again and go on into healthy respectful relationships. Sometimes this could repair a family and sometimes they may move onto another relationship. If we want a collegial and civil society, we must invest in community education and programs to assist perpetrators in changing their behaviour and thought patterns forever and provide any other treatments they need. This must be treated in the same way as other offenders for other crimes. Like other offenders rehabilitation must be a consideration and a commitment from Government and funding to community organisations provided. As with other suggestions, this is not a ‘we will do when we have the money, we need a serious investment in this now.’

Conclusion
These are my suggestions, built from my own awareness of domestic violence and discussions with many people over many years. I welcome any further suggestions or continuation of a discussion on any of the points I have raised. I have purposely kept this post gender neutral, as I do not want to discount any individual who may be a victim of domestic violence or discount their lived experience or what they may recommend.

 

32 comments

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  1. babyjewels10

    John Paul Langbroek and most of his cohorts are so ideologically brainwashed, so out of touch, it’s like a mental illness. As a Queenslander, they make me vomit. The three years we were stuck with them were worse than being stuck with Tony Abbott. Backwards, backwoods mentality, nasty, self-serving people who were positively dangerous with a bit of power. We’re still recovering.

  2. Eva

    Fantastic. This is what ‘domestic violence policy’ should look like. At the moment I see none of this, and I too have experienced, witnessed, and heard stories of many of the things you have outlined here.

  3. Shelley

    All excellent ideas Trish, however the family court also has to be dragged in. As far as they are concerned, if you don’t have evidence of physical violence, it never happened. Perhaps it’s legislation that we’re missing but the courts must begin to recognise all types of violence immediately.

  4. Matters Not

    blamed the QLD economy for Domestic Violence … It is caused by controlling and violent behaviour by the individual perpetrator. Nothing else

    ‘Nothing else’. Give me a break. At a ‘superficial’ level you are correct. ‘Individuals’ engage in domestic violence. That’s a ‘fact’. But dig a little deeper and explore the ‘why’. ‘Explanations’ and all that. Try ‘suicides’ as an example. Certainly it’s violent behaviour by the individual but you seems to suggest that ‘external’ forces, broadly defined’ are irrelevant.

    Trish, you live adjacent to rural communities experiencing an extended drought while at the same time the communities witness an increase in ‘suicides’. Are you seriously suggesting that the increase in male rural suicides is not related to ‘external forces’? The evidence suggests otherwise.

    During the recent GFC, the suicide rate increased in ‘nations’ which went into depression. Any reading of the historical record will validate that assertion. Rudd never received the acclaim deserved when the ‘suicide’ rate didn’t rise in Australia, generally speaking.

    Langbroek’s argument shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. It has some ‘explanatory’ power.

  5. Eva

    I think Trish’s point is that providing the ‘explanations’ gives perpetrator’s an ‘out’ for their violent behaviour.

    “Oh, the economy is bad, I’ll just beat up my wife.”

    “Hang on, there’s a drought, I’ll just drag my wife by her hair around the kitchen.”

    “Oh dear, my husband just lost his job and can’t keep me in the manner to which I’m accustomed, I’ll just emotionally abuse him until his self-esteem is so damaged he kills himself.”

    Violence is violence and there are no excuses.

  6. Wally

    All of the suggestions in the article have merit but what happens when someone falsely accuses their partner of domestic violence and child custody is the motivation?

    There must be harsh penalties to deter people from abusing the system for their own benefit when no violence has occurred. This is important not only to protect people from being falsely accused but also to ensure domestic violence victims receive the assistance they need instead of case workers wasting resources on time wasters.

  7. Eva

    Australia’s court system is not set up to deal with family situations of any sort, let alone domestic violence. I think there needs to be an overhaul of the way the family court works, the legislation and the processes. The adversarial nature of our ‘justice system’ means the most vulnerable people are not properly protected and the powerful can use it to manipulate, threaten and further the abuse. Unfortunately it’s all too common for ex-partners, male and female, to threaten court action to further their own interests. In every case it is the children who suffer the most.

    I was thinking the other day how Australia lacks a basic support system for parents going through messy relationship breakdowns, particularly where domestic violence is involved. Along with Trish’s suggestions, there should be ‘family centres’ in every major town, particularly in regional areas, which can facilitate pick-ups and drop-offs of children, so parents do not have to deal with each other. The centres should also include a safe play area and canteen, so parents, in most cases fathers, who do not have adequate facilities to spend time with their children, can spend the day playing with their kids. The centres could also include a full time counsellor or psychologist, support services, domestic violence support, parenting advice and child health facilities to enable easy access for both parents to information and facilities.

    A ‘family centre’ could work closely with the ‘justice system’, so where there is domestic violence in a relationship, the court orders all contact to go through a facilitator, if one parent has mental health issues, or drug or alcohol issues, they can spent time with their kids in a safe environment, and if there are fears of abduction, a court can order that all contact take place in the safe environment. It wouldn’t be perfect, but I think it’s something worth considering, especially since a lot of fathers struggle to have access to their children after a relationship breakdown and some women do use access to the children as a way to punish an ex.

  8. Matters Not

    I think Trish’s point is

    Agree. About the ‘thinking’ problem and the problem with yours and mine re ‘thinking’. (Not that I am in fundamental disagreement with your basic point).

    Violence is violence and there are no excuses.

    Up to a point. But also there are ‘explanations’ or ‘insights’ which go far and beyond the ‘nothing else’ mantra.

    Or are you making ‘excuses’ or providing ‘explanations’ for Trish Corry’s ‘assertion’ that ‘ …

    Just askin .. Or is ‘precision’ in any argument no longer necessary or desirable?

  9. Eva

    I think that explanations and insights are good if they are tied up with a practical solution, not if they are used to excuse poor behaviour. I’m sure some people who engage in domestic violence behaviour were also abused as children or grew up in households where they witnessed a parent being beaten – that is actually a very sound explanation for the violent behaviour, but does it excuse it? No. However when it comes to domestic violence, it crosses all socio-economic groups, all ethnicities and all cultures. In one situation, it may be because the man is unemployed, in another, it may be because the wife earns more money than the man and he feels emasculated by this. It may be exacerbated by a cultural belief that women are inferior, or the alternative, common in some Western households, that men are stupid and ‘can’t do anything right’. I believe the politicians should be very careful what language they use when speaking about domestic violence – especially when they offer ‘explanations’ for it.

  10. Matters Not

    believe the politicians should be very careful what language they use when speaking about domestic violence – especially when they offer ‘explanations’ for it.

    Can only agree. But perhaps it’s not only the ‘politicians’ who are at fault?

    It’s why I wanted to ‘explore’ the assertion that … Look above.

    Never mind.

  11. Eva

    I see your point … I guess domestic violence is one of those topics that people get passionate about and it’s easy to make extreme, sweeping statements either way! Having been personally impacted, it’s certainly something that I am quite passionate about – I have had people close to me provide ‘explanations’ for the behaviour of a violent ex, as though that would make it somehow less awful. I know I’m not alone in that.

  12. Wally

    Eva

    My parents divorced, I am divorced and my second wife is a divorcee.

    Parents with limited access do not want to spend time amusing kids, entertaining philologists or doing things much different than what they normally did before separating from their partner. Just having the kids with you, hearing them play together in the background and growing up as normal as possible despite the problems the parents have experienced is what parents want/need. In amongst the normal times there are special moments, memories that will last a lifetime for everybody involved and often they are very simple things.

    Every second year my second wife and I had 5 kids (none the alternate year) for Christmas and each evening just on dusk they would all go to the school across the road and play hidey in the dark, from our lounge you could hear the laughter and years later the kids still talk about it whenever they are together. I have had conversations with other parents who recall times when playing a board game with kids that they rarely see and how special those times are.

    My ex wife moved 2000km away with our 3 kids and that was very difficult but I never objected because I believed that if the mother is unhappy the kids would suffer. What I have always been disappointed with is the lack of support in particular financial assistance or a reduction in maintenance payments to make it easier to have contact with the kids 3 or 4 times a year. In many ways the system has no compassion or consideration for people willing to make a sacrifice in the best interest of their kids and that is why it becomes a vicious dog fight in the family court.

  13. Trish Corry

    I would just like to clarify for Matters Not.

    John Paul Langbroek – the deputy opposition leader in QLD, used the death of women to take a political stab at the Government. He does not go around passionately advocating for service improvements. He is not a passionate advocate for the protection of victims of domestic violence. He used this as a political stab to try to gain leverage from the Government. A woman’s death essentially was used for political point scoring. I found this absolutely disrespectful and abhorrent and all this does is diminish the severity of this crime by giving an excuse to the perpetrator and disrespects the woman who died.

    Domestic violence is about control of a person’s behaviour. The control to conduct behaviour and responses through violence or the choice not to. Yes, there are antecedents for violence in individuals and I have addressed antecedents within the article if you have read it thoroughly. I have even addressed rehabilitation. When leaders in our society pinpoint a factor which CAN be an underlying construct for SOME people with a tendency for violence and homogenise that as the excuse for perpetrators it is very wrong and it gives the perpetrator an excuse for their violence. Which, if we are talking solely about women only – this delegitimizes women as victims and places them in the sphere of an ‘accidental by-product of a poor economy.’

    These antecedents for violence are not the cause of domestic violence, they are an underlying construct to a wider issue – the ability for an individual to control their emotions without inflicting harm on another and the lack of service provision for these people to alleviate that strain. It is not the economy’s fault. Otherwise, every single unemployed person, homeless person, poor or disadvantaged person would feel the inclination to be violent and there would be no violence at all in wealthy households. The argument is flawed to use as the named cause of the violent death of a woman, in which Langbroek was responding to.

    The comparison you made where you linked my opinions on domestic violence with the prevalence of suicide I reject and the personal assertion that I basically should know better as I live in a regional community, I also reject and find directly insulting. I found that comment completely unnecessary. This article is not about suicide it is about domestic violence. Unless you are insinuating every male suicide in a regional area is from domestic violence inflicted by their spouse. Which I do not believe you are. Although suicide and DV can be linked, this is a separate issue altogether.

    I hope other readers find more value in the article and suggestions, rather than nitpicking whether I should be allowed to say it is NOT OK for a politician to use an incorrect sweeping broad statement to diminish the death of women from a serious domestic crime and to give the perpetrator an excuse for that violence in the name of political point scoring. If this is where people see the importance of the debate, there is a long way to go before this issue is taken seriously.

  14. Trish Corry

    Thank you, Jim for sharing those two articles, they are very interesting. Glad to see you read the Labor Herald. I love it.

    BabyJewels10 – I feel your pain. No, we have not recovered and yes, he was worse than Abbott. Some people will never understand unless they have lived it.

    Eva – thank you for your kind words and discussion.

    Shelley – a great suggestion about the physical evidence of violence. It is a major concern of mine and I have addressed this also in the media section. A cultural shift in how violence is viewed needs to occur and this can begin with changes to legislation.

    Shelley and Wally – Yes, the family court is an area of concern and I do not have the answers. I have included this in the suggestions above, but upon reflection, I would like to add that the collection of data to understand personal stories such as Wally’s will assist to alleviate some pressures and heartbreak and find better solutions and more options for people.

  15. Eva

    @Wally, I completely agree re the system not having consideration or compassion for people who put the interests of the kids first. The system is unfair for those who do the right thing, and is used as a mechanism to continue abuse by those who do not.

    However despite your difficulties it does sound like you’re able to spend meaningful time with your children. Many other fathers do not have that opportunity; particularly if they are unemployed, homeless etc, and they are not supported in the system at all.

    The “best interests of the kids” should usually include regular contact with both parents, and where a hostile, vindictive parent won’t allow access or makes it impossibly difficult, there must be options in place for the other parent to maintain a relationship with the child/ren.

    In an ideal world, all parents would act reasonably on separation and both parents would be able to experience those special moments that you describe. In an ideal world there wouldn’t be domestic violence. Or such high rates of male suicide.

  16. denis crowther

    Maybe we should have a new category of violence, let’s call it ‘idiot violence’.

    So we could then say that violence against idiots is excusable because the QLD economy is bad.

    Sooo if anyone does violence against this idiot John Paul Langbroek they would then have a reasonable excuse?

    🙂 Sounds reasonable to me!

  17. mars08

    Maybe we can somehow link domestic violence to the Muslim faith… that will ensure govt funding and resources…

  18. diannaart

    As with any criminal matter, people lie.

    Men and women both lie to advantage themselves, there is no special category of women who lie to spite their male partners or men who lie about abusing someone, it is up to the judicial system to sift the truth from the lies – irrespective of gender.

    I understand that there are already harsh penalties in the judicial system for liars – does our system of determining truth require greater scrutiny? Should those in contempt of court be subject to harsher penalties than currently exist?

    @Trish

    Once again a nuanced and fair article. We are beginning to call out the bigots; the Langbroeks, the Pells, those who believe that some people are less equal than others… I am heartened every time now I hear a man speak out against DV, rape, child porn and many other atrocities carried out by the powerful over the vulnerable. The men who truly love their children, wives and sisters are standing up to the old boy’s club which previously denigrated such men. This ‘club’ is sounding rather shrill and very anachronistic. Of course, it is a shame we have to wait for more men to speak out on issues women have made clear for millennia. However, change has to start somewhere, we are now perceiving power from a different perspective; that most human ills are caused by power imbalance. About bloody time.

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  20. Archaic

    I would like to echo the statements of others, such as Eva. I work in mental health. It is difficult to simplify such a complex area, but I often find myself with clients exploring the difference between an explanation and an excuse. This is often in relation to the abuse or trauma which they have experienced in their past, but also sometimes in relation to some of their own past actions. These can be difficult conversations to have.

    I think that in many ways the most toxic aspect of domestic violence can be the way in which the perpetrator will deny responsibility and blame the victim for their actions. In some cases this can convince the victim that they were at fault, and leave them with a legacy of shame, self-blame and self-hate. This is particularly the case where the person, such as a child, may love an abusive parent and wants to continue to see them in a positive light.
    It is possible that an explanation (or at least influencing factors: rarely are the causes of behaviour simple) can be identified. If this leads to meaningful self-awareness and genuine attempts at behaviour change then it can be useful. However it can also be used to try to excuse and deny responsibility for past behaviour and to dismiss or invalidate the victim’s hurt, potentially leading to feelings of guilt over not having been able to “forgive” the perpetrator.

    I think that these are important distinctions to make. It also is important to remember that the causes of any behaviour are often complex, and factors can be identified at the level of a population that increase the frequency of occurrence of a behaviour, but do not explain it altogether in all cases. Even when there are a number of internal and external factors influencing a person, we are still able to legitimately expect that they should assume and bear responsibility for their actions.

  21. Trish Corry

    Great post. Thank you so much for sharing your insight

  22. Wally

    Archaic

    “Even when there are a number of internal and external factors influencing a person, we are still able to legitimately expect that they should assume and bear responsibility for their actions.”

    Unfortunately nowadays it is difficult to find decent role models and examples of people in prominent positions not taking responsibility for their actions and/or being dishonest are common in politics, the legal fraternity and all walks of life. I was astounded to read the view of a respected Melbourne Lawyer recently who said that Daniel Andrews should have reneged on his election promise to make AFL grand final eve a public holiday. The opinion of Lawyer was that promises to win elections needed to be reassessed after the election is won???

    I find this attitude staggering and it compounds the issues that need to be rectified within our society. Little wonder people have trust problems and issues dealing with authorities when they have no idea if what they are told is the truth and when domestic violence is added into the equation people cannot see anyway out of the situation they are in. It is literally a catch 22, jumping from the pot into the fire.

    Thankfully there still are people like yourself out there who do care and uphold the professional standards that we as a society MUST demand from our leaders. Hopefully the John Paul Langbroek and Tony Abbott types will get the message.

  23. Matters Not

    difficult to simplify such a complex area

    Others find it somewhat simple. See above.

    But as matter of interest, are the people who visit you (and others) universally regarded as ‘clients’?

    Please explain.

    Why not ‘customers’, ‘patients’, ‘consumers’, ‘users’, ‘addicts’ or any other possible ‘descriptor(s)’?

  24. Kaye Lee

    There are many aspects of our society that need to change to even begin to adequately address the issues raised in this article but I do think that looking at reasons and exacerbating/contributing factors is crucial. I don’t see explanations as excusing behaviour but as important information on how to avoid/change said behaviour.

    Prevention is better than cure so the protection and education of our children is the key aspect in my opinion.

    If we want them to learn about respectful relationships then we need to clean up our act starting with the way our politicians address each other, the way we conduct business, the way we behave at sporting contests, how we manage our anger and frustration when driving, how we care for the vulnerable in our society. They should grow up knowing the importance of respect and empathy, they should learn anger management skills and how to negotiate and compromise, and they should know where they can get help. They should grow up understanding the worth of the individual and the responsibilities of the collective.

  25. roket

    Excellent article Trish.
    As someone who has been a perpetrator of violence and been through as many behavioural change programs as I possibly can, and was able to save my marriage and keep my family together, I agree with all your suggestions. Perpetrators actions are calculated, not being caused by outside influences, personal responsibility must be accepted for any change to happen. Safety of the abused is the only acceptable outcome.

  26. Felicitas

    Hi MN,

    The semantics associated with the terms you list are all about political correctness and an attempt to reduce the stigma that invariably accrues to a disadvantaged group. Hence, for example, the terms ‘fool’ ‘idiot’ and ‘imbecile’ were all designed to describe a category of mental retardation/deficit from an analytical point of view but when they entered the general language, they took on a scope that became terms of abuse rather than clinical categorisation.

    The same with mental health. I too have worked in this field since the late 1960s when we referred to people with mental health issues as ‘patients’. This term fell out of favour as we entered a time when the medical model of care, so closely aligned with the concept of ‘patient’ was considered inappropriate for the needs of these people. They then became ‘clients’ to reflect their role in aiding their own treatment and care options.

    More recently, the term has become ‘consumers’ to indicate that the mentally ill have options from which they can choose their treatment and that they have the right to change their minds and actions about their engagement with these. It still isn’t satisfactory, because it reduces the care given by staff to a fee-for-service mentality, but it seems that no matter what words we use, those living in vulnerable situations will always be targetted by those with the power to label and as a result, that label will be appropriated by the majority as an abusive descriptor.

    But we ARE open to suggestions to reduce this aspect of social ‘othering’. Got any?

  27. Matters Not

    Thanks Felicitas for your response. You open with:

    are all about political correctness and an attempt to reduce the stigma that invariably accrues to a disadvantaged group

    Not sure of the meaning you give to ‘political correctness’ but I find that the usage is usually used to ‘smear’. What about you?

    You go on:

    term fell out of favour as we entered a time when the medical model of care, so closely aligned with the concept of ‘patient’ was considered inappropriate for the needs of these people

    While I don’t disagree with the ‘description’ you provide, can you advance any reasons as to why ‘patient’ was replaced by ‘client? (I must admit when my specialist referred to me as a ‘customer’ I responded to him somewhat negatively. And with vigour.)

    As for the usage of ‘clients’ as the preferred descriptor of ‘people with mental problems’, I understood, over any number of years, the ‘client’ word to refer to lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and prostitutes (because that’s the terminology they relate to.)

    Perhaps rather than can create a ‘shorthand’, we could just talk about ‘people with mental problems’. To simply use a business ‘concept’ is perhaps not a solution but perhaps a problem in itself?

  28. Archaic

    Hello Matters Not,

    Apologies for not responding sooner to your question. Felicitas gave a fairly good response, I had thought.

    Having medical training, I prefer the use of the word “patient” as it derives from the Latin for “to suffer”, as “the one who suffers”. I would agree with you that some alternative terms don’t capture adequately the sense of distress and vulnerability of illness, and the reliance they may have on their clinician.

    The past decades have seen a shift in medical culture, away from a paternalistic “doctor knows best” attitude to one of (hopefully) involving a more collaborative and informed approach. It was particularly important to address this in mental health, because of the nature of the powers afforded medical practitioners under mental health acts. The very fact that mental illness can distort our thinking sometimes requires that actions be taken on a patient’s behalf to preserve their safety which are (at that time at least) against their will, such as preventing them from leaving hospital, or being given medication against their will. We can of course debate the ethics of this at length. The exercise of such power must come with restraint, both in terms of external review by oversight agencies and also from developing an inner culture of seeking to empower the patient to regain control. My understanding is that the majority of complaints made against medical practitioners, of any specialty, are usually related to poor communication, with inadequate education of or listening to the patient. There has been a broad need to educate all medical practitioners to change their thinking. However it needs to be acknowledged that throughout history psychiatric services have sometimes had custodial roles/functions, and there are instances of mental health diagnoses and legislation being used to detain or discredit those the political leadership or society deem undesirable. I think that it is therefore particularly important for psychiatrists to be educated to be particularly conscious of these issues.

    The term client was encouraged by some to help refocus on advocating for the needs and interests of the individual, balanced against those of society and the state, and to encourage collaboration. I also find it a preferred term for clinicians with a non-medical background such as social workers, drug and alcohol counselors, occupational therapists, family therapists, and some psychologists or psychotherapists. I tend to think of myself as treating my patients, but use the term “client” to try and respect the roles and significant contributions of all the other disciplines working in the area. The culture of these other disciplines was often more centered around adopting a collaborative than an authoritarian stance, thought to be inherent to the so-called “medical model” of practice, and such practitioners may object to thinking of themselves as having patients.

    The term consumer likewise encourages a focus on the needs of the individual receiving the service, as well as encouraging us to think of the extended family and social network as benefiting from our services and being “stakeholders”. However I find myself discomforted by the implied passivity of being a “consumer”, and Felicitas has pointed out a number of the drawbacks of thinking in this way. I likewise find the term “customer” fails to appreciate how a person seeking help may be needing a lot of guidance and be in a position of dis-empowerment and vulnerability, such that the clinician has a particular duty of care.

    I think that the key issue is around changing the the culture of clinicians and society around how such services are seen and delivered. If all we do is exchange one term for another, but not addressed the underlying assumptions, then any change will only be cosmetic. Exploring and contrasting different terms helps us to examine our thinking and encourage change of that thinking. Perhaps this captures some of your concerns about an apparent “business” approach of re-branding rather than achieving meaningful change.
    Your suggestion of “people with mental illness” is a good one, but I think it could lose some of the particular connotations important to considering the relationship they have with a clinician involved in their care, and the responsibilities incumbent on such a clinician.

    Personally I’d rather work towards a culture where the term “patient” captures both the vulnerability of the individual at that time, their right to claim care and assistance, and their need for their other rights such as autonomy and self-determinism to be respected and facilitated as much as possible.

  29. diannaart

    Personally I’d rather work towards a culture where the term “patient” captures both the vulnerability of the individual at that time, their right to claim care and assistance, and their need for their other rights such as autonomy and self-determinism to be respected and facilitated as much as possible.

    Everything the word ‘consumer’ negates. As a person with chronic illness I do not feel like I am in a showroom making purchases.

  30. Wally

    Archaic

    Totally agree with your post in particular the last paragraph.

    When being referred using the term patient by a medical professional I feel as if I am in the hands of someone who actually cares about me and the specific issue I seek treatment for. Client, customer and other non clinical references make me feel as if I am being treated like anyone else lined up at the counter of a street stall that rarely services repeat customers.

  31. abbienoiraude

    Eva:
    The Family Relationships Centres run by Fed Govt funding operates in all centres. “Interrelate” offers the kind of support you are talking about. A ‘safe place’ for the abuser to have contact with the child, ( though I am still having trouble with understanding/accepting why a person who abuses the mother of his child should have any ‘rights’ let alone if he abuses the child as well) which is monitored by ‘observers’. Parenting plans and mediation also takes place at these centres. They provide an invaluable service and are only noticed when they are required.

    Daughter had to flee abuser.
    Came home to us with young one.
    The abuser complained about the amount of child support he paid. He is still in a good job, in his home city, with nothing of his life changed at all.
    She lost her career, her home, her personal effects, her life she built up over 22 years, he destroyed in five years. He was a psychological, emotional and financial abuser. Took all her money and her livelihood. Left her with nothing but what we could carry and the child.

    So he has to fly 2 hours to visit once every 4 weeks.
    He got a reduced child support pay because he has to pay for flights and motel. He is on $100k a year. She is now on $26k a year after building up her career…now working part time at a badly paying job whilst we care for the little one.

    Nothing…not one thing has been ‘fair’ equitable, caring, helpful, balanced or one of justice in any way shape or form.
    He refuses to think he has done anything ‘wrong’.
    She (after 12 months) is finally coming out again of her broken self, and becoming the daughter we always knew. We had not recognised her when we went for a visit last Oct. Seeing her emaciated, shut down, fearful and withdrawn we said; You are coming home now! The child was withdrawn and not speaking not reaching milestones.

    For all this because he and his mummy and daddy have money, she has been fearful and willing to give him anything he asks.
    For 12 months we have helped the child have a normal toddlerhood and allowed our daughter to find her way again.

    She ( and we) could not afford any confrontation on the legal front. He holds all the cards and she was in need of intense support and counselling.
    After all what she had been through ( asking him to leave for 9 months…him refusing) the steps to physical violence were there. He had started throwing things and punched the fridge near her head….she was frightened. It was a matter of time before it was her turn for a ‘black eye’. But before that he had done a good job in making her feel ashamed, depressed, guilty and to blame. He cut her off from us, her parents and she could tell us nothing of what had been happening. She didn’t dare..she couldn’t risk it. He put an app on her phone so he could follow her. He put a programme on her computer so he could check who she was contacting and what sites she visited. He made her pay half for everything from her honeymoon to the cost of a pair of socks…he took and took.

    And now we have to see his face and hear his voice twice a week as he has video chats with the child. We are the ones who deal with the fall out of this contact.

    The Family Court is too expensive for most fleeing DV.
    It is a farce.

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