Domestic violence: Murraylands police answer 1000 screams for help per year

United: Tony Pasin, Sarah Wendt, Adrian Pederick, Annette Korzeba, James Blandford, Ruby Eckermann, Jesse Budel and Desi Alexandridis spread awareness about domestic violence at a forum in Murray Bridge. Photo: Peri Strathearn.
United: Tony Pasin, Sarah Wendt, Adrian Pederick, Annette Korzeba, James Blandford, Ruby Eckermann, Jesse Budel and Desi Alexandridis spread awareness about domestic violence at a forum in Murray Bridge. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

A quarter of the women reading this newspaper have suffered domestic abuse, or will suffer it during their lifetimes.

Sobering statistics and personal stories featured at a seminar on domestic violence held at Murray Bridge Town Hall on Wednesday night.

Politicians, service providers, young adults, a police officer, an academic and a Soroptimist all offered their perspectives on the issue, its severity and how to address it before a modest crowd.

Constant problem

Murraylands police were called out to 1000 domestic disturbances every year, Superintendent James Blandford said, or almost three every day on average.

Half of those incidents involved violence.

I am only one, but still I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something.

Edward Everett Hale

"The chances of being assaulted by a complete stranger in your community are quite remote," he said.

"You'll be assaulted by someone you know."

Such violence was just as likely in rich neighbourhoods as poor ones, he said, but was not reported separately in crime statistics for well-to-do parts of Adelaide.

He called for more money to be spent on prevention.

"We need to stop the normalisation of violence towards each other," he said.

"We have to find (other) ways of dealing with our stresses.

"We have to be better for our daughters, sisters, mothers and grandmothers, and for the next generation."

Sexism the cause

Gender inequality was the root cause of domestic violence, argued University of South Australia professor Sarah Wendt, a former social worker whose research has focused on Murray Bridge.

Some men still believed themselves superior to women and thought they had a right to control them.

"Domestic violence is a significant and complicated social problem, caused by gender inequality at the micro (household) level, and leads to inequality at a macro (community) level," she said.

It caused physical, mental and sexual health problems for victims; contributed to homelessness; and forced many to move interstate to escape an abuser.

She pointed to Bureau of Statistics data which showed country women were about 30 per cent more likely to suffer abuse compared with their city counterparts.

Anecdotally, she said, that abuse was likely to last longer and be more severe.

Although men were more likely to be victims of physical violence, they were most likely to be assaulted in a public place.

Women were more often sexually assaulted by men they knew, while in their homes.

"We need to move past crude counting blows and look at the stories," she said.

"Fear and terror aren't captured in the stats."

Little things

Off-colour jokes, female staff being called "secretaries", assumptions a woman had done something wrong if a man yelled at her: subtle sexism needed to be corrected everywhere, federal Liberal MP Tony Pasin said.

The violence it encouraged cost Australia $13 billion per year, he said, and resulted in 650 police call-outs every day.

The perpetrators police arrested had been Mr Pasin's clients during his years as a criminal defence lawyer, and he spoke frakly about the turmoil that raged in his mind at the time.

"I struggled to balance my professional obligations (with) my personal belief systems," he said.

"It drove me outside law and into a career in politics."

Bureaucracy must change

Governments had failed to deal with the issue because it fell into the cracks between different departments, state MP Adrian Pederick said.

Authorities in education, policing and justice, homelessness, health, mental health, child protection all became involved in domestic violence issues.

All relevant services should be united under the Office for Women, he said.

He repeated the 34 recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry into domestic violence, which included:

  • "Domestic violence leave" for all workers
  • Better access to courts in regional areas
  • Appropriate services for Aboriginal people, non-English speakers, people with disabilities and others
  • A national school curriculum about gender and respect

"The money for domestic violence gets eaten up at the crisis end, after people have suffered abuse," he said.

"(It is) very important we ... educate children from a very young age about the respect they need to have for each other."

Hope for the future

In a fiery speech, school student Ruby Eckermann called for more men to stand up to their controlling mates.

"Gender violence is seen as a women's issue some good men help out with," she said.

"It's a men's issue first and foremost.

"Men can say things women can't say, or they'll be listened to saying things women can't be heard saying."

Local composer Jesse Budel spoke about domestic violence in his own family, and performed a song inspired by it.

Need help?

  • Call 1800 RESPECT
  • Call police on 131 444
  • Call Centacare's Murraylands Domestic Violence Service on 8531 8888, email murraybridge@centacare.org.au or visit 55 Adelaide Road, Murray Bridge
  • Visit www.ourwatch.org.au for information