Domestic violence ... are we all responsible for the cycle of abuse?

Domestic Violence ... are we all responsible for the cycle of abuse?

Domestic violence ... are we all responsible for the cycle of abuse?

Nigella Lawson, renowned British celebrity chef, made worldwide news when her partner was exposed when abusing her in public. People seemed shocked that this could occur to someone so beautiful, smart, intelligent and well off. This puzzled me, as all the women I have known in abusive relationships have been beautiful, intelligent, fun, vivacious, street smart, kind, awesome and successful career women.

Does this expose a cliché or belief that women (and mainstream media) hold, that women who experience domestic violence are weak, pathetic and hopeless?

When a woman says, “If a man ever hit me I would leave him” ... the subtext of this is – if you stay you are weak, pathetic and hopeless. She may be saying this because of the uncomfortable feelings that have come up for her. The impact of this subtext is that women who are in these relationships remain silent and ashamed that they are in them.

70% of domestic violence cases go unreported[i]

Unfortunately I have known close friends and colleagues who have been in abusive relationships. One friend was almost murdered, yet for a number of reasons, three months later the man was back living in the family home, where he stayed for another 3 years before she managed to free herself.

We may not fully understand why they stay, but what we do know is at least two women a week are murdered by their partner[ii]

I work with vulnerable children, which means I often work with women who have or are suffering domestic abuse situations. I know that when a perpetrator hits a woman he has nearly always been with her for a while and has started to erode her self-esteem.

He has:

  • Isolated her from her friends
  • Managed to make her question herself to the point that she no longer has any confidence in her ability to make decisions
  • She questions her whole being, her right to exist

If a perpetrator behaved as he does when he is in full abuse mode on the first date, all those people who say “I’d leave if a man hit me”, would be on the money – every one of my friends would have left instantly. But they don’t hit you on the first date or the second or the third – it’s usually when you are vulnerable. It is a process of grooming, pushing and testing how far they can go before you say, enough!

30% of women experience Domestic Violence for the first time when they are pregnant [iii]

Why is this?

Men who abuse are usually very low in confidence. They may mask it behind a tough, aggressive and sometimes successful veneer, yet underneath they are often deeply hurt and fear rejection. For domestic violence to increase up to 30% when a woman has her first pregnancy, suggests that the man is not coping and the fear of rejection literally takes over – feeling like the baby will take his place – and his way of coping is to control by intimidation, harassment and abuse.

This issue of violence and abuse in our societies affects all of us; we need to look at where we could be doing more to start to decrease this alarming trend of ever increasing abuse and violence.

We could say our part is staying silent, thinking that we do not have a say or it is not my problem!

According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report, domestic abuse is a “global epidemic.” In a statement accompanying the report, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said the violence had caused health problems of "epidemic proportions," adding: "The world's health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence[iv].”

We all have a responsibility to speak up – our silence says it is okay: we have a responsibility to support those men and women caught in the cycle of violence. To do this our voices are required; we each need to offer support by letting it be known that this type of behaviour is not okay.

By not speaking up we continually perpetuate abuse

Our silence gives permission for another and another to repeat the same behaviour, as the greater our silence the more this behaviour is accepted as normal, and over time, what was totally unacceptable has become part of our norm.

The role we play in perpetuating domestic violence is in staying silent and not calling out what we see and feel.

  • All women collude in the beginning of domestic violence by ignoring the little digs, the odd bit of controlling behaviour, by ignoring the feeling of ‘something’s not right’ instead of seeking support and finding ways to deal with the belittling and emotionally abusive behaviours
  • Men collude when they do not deal with their hurts
  • We all collude when we observe but say nothing
  • We all collude by holding false belief systems that prescribe to, “She must have asked for it”, or “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

Those who suffer at the hands of domestic violence need our support. It is important we share our feelings non-judgmentally, where we do not impose our beliefs, such as “just leave” or demand an action from the abused party.

Just simply being there, offering your support, can do far more than you may ever possibly realise.

Knowing someone, especially someone we love, is in a domestic violence situation can be deeply distressing and very uncomfortable, and feeling this tension makes it difficult for us to avoid going straight into fix-it mode. We can become imposing, with “Why don’t you just leave?” or, “What is wrong with you?” It is far more helpful to provide space and support by confirming that it is not OK, while listening to their problems, and this will allow them to come to whatever decision it is they need to make for themselves.

Our support provides far more than we realise. They may never have had anyone in their life that has bothered to just simply express, "This is not okay."

... I was once at a pub with some friends when my on and off again partner came up to me, (we were not there together) and out of nowhere asked, “Can we hook up later?” and then just walked off with his mates.

I was mortified yet, in my protection to not feel, I made a joke of it as if that was his way of showing his affection for me, but then I turned around ... and caught my friend looking at me in the most anguished of ways. I asked “What’s wrong?” and she said, “Are you okay, that was so horrible how he just spoke to you?” – and because I love and trusted this friend, I, for the first time, gave myself permission to stop and feel – how was I, was I okay? The answer was No – I felt abused and ashamed.

That for me was the beginning of ending abusive relationships; the fact that someone cared enough to express how that was for them, made me realise I deserved so much more than being treated like that. That one question literally changed my life.

Your voice is what is needed; you don’t need to be a counsellor, you just need to care enough to say, “That is not okay!”

Domestic abuse can affect men as well as women. If you feel in need of further support this link provides further international resources.


  • [i]

  • [ii]

    Figures from a recent Australian study: Taft, Angela (2002) Violence against women in pregnancy and after childbirth: Current knowledge and issues in healthcare responses Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse Issues Paper 6.

  • [iii]

    Read more at Reporting by Kate Kelland MSN News on social

  • [iv]

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  • By Vanessa McHardy, MA Integrative Child Psychotherapist

    Vanessa loves to help young people and adults to have an understanding of how they learn and how they can express all of themselves in all areas of their lives. True learning is at the heart of Vanessa’s life in all ways.

  • Photography: Dean Whitling, Brisbane based photographer and film maker of 13 years.

    Dean shoots photos and videos for corporate portraits, architecture, products, events, marketing material, advertising & website content. Dean's philosophy - create photos and videos that have magic about them.