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Time for honesty about violent men

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In Australia at least one woman a week is killed by her current or former partner. Last week that woman was Graziella Dailler of Encounter Bay who was murdered by Dion Muir, who then took his own life.

Police confirmed on Friday they had responded to calls of domestic violence at the Victor Harbor home in the past. Yesterday SAPOL announced they would be conducting an internal inquiry into its handling of those calls.

Dr Sarah Wendt, from the School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy at the University of South Australia, believes dealing with domestic and family violence is complex and there is no easy solution – but being honest about perpetrators is essential.

“I think we always have to ask the question of what we can be doing better as a society or more specifically what we can be doing better as a human service agency or Police or the courts,” Wendt says. “These issues do require multi-government and multi-agency collaboration.”

What she believes is missing, however, is an honest discussion about who is committing this crime and why.

“I actually think we really need to be honest about who’s perpetrating this violence and it is predominantly men,” she says. “We need to be looking at men’s violence, naming it as men’s violence and therefore understanding it and how we reduce and eliminate (it).”

In December 2011 the South Australian Government created new intervention orders that allow Police the right to issue them alongside the courts. This meant that victims did not have to go to court and apply for an order after being assaulted.

When an order is breached perpetrators are referred to the Abuse Prevention Program run by the courts. This 24-week program aims to change violent behaviour in men.

From its implementation to June last year, 4,511 intervention orders had been issued. In 2012-13, 352 men were referred to the Abuse Prevention Program but only 192 were accepted.

Reasons for not being accepted included work commitments, language and literacy barriers or moving outside the metropolitan area.

Of those who did attend, the Courts Administration Authority noted “a high attrition rate among court-mandated domestic violence offender programs”. Men who do not complete the program or contravene its terms face a maximum penalty of $1250 and an expiation fine of $160.

“When does the law step in and say enough is enough?”

Daniel Moss of Uniting Communities manages the organisation’s men’s violence behaviour program – the Specialised Family Violence Service.

This program is not mandated like the courts but accepts men who have identified violent behaviour towards their partner and children.

“We mean to work with men who are in some way owning up to their use of violence,” he says.

“For most men that come in to our group they may be owning up to their use of violence but on many other levels there is still minimising. They are still devolving blame to partners or children but for us it is really important that at some level they are saying ‘well I do want to stop hurting those people I care about’.”

Currently Uniting Communities is negotiating with the Federal Government for funding for the next five years. However funding for their preventative program that teaches high school students about appropriate behaviour in relationships is about to cease.

Moss also believes when situations like that of last Friday’s murder suicide occur we should not be concentrating on the woman and questioning her behaviour.

“We need to be asking questions of men in terms of why their violence is not stopping rather than making the focus on why doesn’t she leave,” he adds.

“While we’re asking questions of why a woman is not doing something or why she is doing something, we’re obviously not focussing on what we need to focus on which is 100 per cent responsibility of the male perpetrator.”

Along with the new intervention orders the State Government also introduced the Family Safety Network and the Violence Against Women Collaborations. These groups hold multi-department meetings with services to assess gaps in the system and look for areas of improvement.

There was also the introduction of a Coroner’s Researcher who assists the Coroner when conducting an inquest into a death from domestic violence. This position has been in place since January 2011 and since then has held inquests into three incidents. All of those deaths occurred in 2009, two years before intervention orders were introduced.

Wendt has found that many men who do find themselves with an intervention order will adhere to it – however there is another group of violent men who need more attention.

“We need to look at these really high risk dangerous men who just flaunt the law,” she says.

“They just don’t care and are so bent on getting revenge or harming the woman in their relationship for whatever reason. The danger that these men exert really needs to be looked at because they are the ones that are murdering.”

Wendt believes there should be a closer examination of the consequences for these men, particularly when they are breaching intervention orders multiple times.

“We need to look at that response and ask why isn’t that working?” she asks. “When does the law step in and say enough is enough?”

 

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