Partner abuse: step in or look away?

Action against violence: CEO South Coastal Women's Health Service Bev Jowle. d407554
Action against violence: CEO South Coastal Women's Health Service Bev Jowle. d407554

South Coastal Women’s Health Services chief executive Bev Jowle asked the Courier to print her letter (below) after some of the support team recently witnessed three incidents involving women being abused in Rockingham.

It is confronting to read, but it provides an insight into a darker and often-ignored side of our community that we must address.

Tell us what you think. Email weekendcourier@communitynews.com.au

In the past two weeks, staff have heard and witnessed three occasions of women being physically and verbally abused by their partners on the street.

In one incident, a woman was punched in the head outside South Coastal’s office in the presence of two small children.

These events have occurred in the middle of the day when there are people at work and walking up and down a busy street.

The roads are full of parked cars, and the cinema and shopping centre are across the road in full view.

No-one seems to react. No one appears to try to stop the violence. It almost seems people do not want to get involved because it’s seen to be a ‘private’ matter.

Should we intervene when we see or hear this abuse? Do we put ourselves at risk?

Are we condoning the behaviour if we don’t intervene?

And what about the rights of the child who sees this as an acceptable way to treat mummy? Has the abuser witnessed this in their own childhood and so thinks it is how a woman should be treated?

Should bystanders intervene and put themselves at risk, or do we turn the other way and hope she is OK? Do we blame her for putting up with the abuse without recognising her powerlessness and lack of self-esteem? What happens behind closed doors?

I can report that on one occasion we did intervene and assisted the client to be safe. On another occasion, a number of us stood outside when the couple had walked away and tried to make it clear that it was witnessed and noticed; he continued to verbally abuse us from a distance.

Despite all the work undertaken by the women’s refuge movement and women’s services, over many decades to raise awareness and to break the silence, not much appears to have changed. Are we, as a community, getting more apathetic? Public violence, notably at night outside nightclubs gets our attention.

We are rightly outraged at the level of violence against ‘innocent’ people and want something done about it.

We want higher police presence, CCTV, tougher penalties and demand justice in the court for the victims. Who is doing this for the many victims of domestic violence?

While South Coastal Women’s Health Services and women’s refuge Lucy Saw Centre offer a safe place for women, we are inundated with work; we cannot get enough funding to provide long term, intensive counselling and support. There are very few, underfunded services for children.

There are virtually no services for men to deal with their behaviour. There is no ‘community watch’ scheme or campaign for family violence, yet it happens all day, every day to thousands of families, in broad daylight.

Let’s have the debate as a community about ‘private’, intimate partner violence.

Let’s look at a way to work with families to heal pain, heal trauma and get back to respectful relationships.’