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May 22, 2024

Looking at both sides of domestic violence

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About three years ago Michelle Lyons decided that she wanted to work with the cause of domestic violence: the perpetrators. Photo Tree Faerie.

The statistics on domestic violence in Australia are staggering, but clearly not shocking enough to have more done to lower them. The courts and services are doing what they can, but the current situation is too much for both government and NGOs to handle.

The simplistic view is that you can’t have a victim without a perpetrator – but sadly there is so much time, energy, and resources spent on helping those on the receiving end, that those, mostly men, perpetrating the abuse are largely bypassed – until they end up behind bars.

Michelle Lyons has been working in domestic violence (DV) for about 12 years, mostly with Legal Aid court support – the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (DVCAS).

The service is the lead agency in the New South Wales government’s major program to end violence against women. It’s called the Safer Pathway Program. DVCAS works with the police – who send information from every domestic violence incident that they go to overnight, to a central referral point. 

DVCAS accesses that information and referral workers call those women as soon as possible. They talk to them and find out what sort of service they need, offer referrals to other services for case management and provide court support for them.

Sometimes this is helpful, sometimes not. Sometimes, for whatever reason, people who are living in a DV situation remain in the firing line, often until death parts them…

Lyons says that often the focus on the responsibility and the accountability is shifted away from the perpetrator and directed at the victim – pointing out that some people hold the belief that it’s not appropriate to save a woman who may have had a number of partners who use abuse. They say that ‘she makes the wrong choices’. 

‘That’s not the right attitude,’ says Michelle. 

Working with the cause

Michelle Lyons with her good mate Bolt. Photo Tree Faerie.

‘She’s not responsible for this man. There can be a focus on the victim and victim blaming – it’s not their responsibility, that just doesn’t have any accountability in it [for the perpetrator]. They don’t have to be accountable for somebody else’s behaviour.’

If there were no people throwing punches, there would be no need for any of the DV services, and about three years ago Lyons decided that she wanted to work with the cause of domestic violence: the perpetrators. 

It’s a leap. A big leap – a hard leap. She sees the trauma and the tragedy on one side, and then she sees the person who made that happen on the other, but Lyons says for her, it was a no brainer. 

‘You can work with victims and provide some relief for their situation, but they’re not the ones who are causing it. It’s a wasted opportunity not to work with the people who are using violence. It’s not going to change otherwise. 

‘These women don’t want to have violence perpetrated against them, but they’re not the ones who are doing it. It’s pretty apparent to me that the work needs to be done with perpetrators.’


A men’s behaviour change program

How does this pan out? Lyons works for the Men and Family Centre, which provides a men’s behaviour change program. 

‘They run groups for men who use violence, which also entails supporting the partners and families of those people for a number of reasons. One, because they probably need support, and the other because they can give us some perspective on how the men are going; whether the program is effective or counter-effective. The best people to judge the progress of the men are their families or their partner.’

Sometimes the courts will refer people to the Men and Family Centre, while some men engage with the service themselves. 

‘Quite often, a partner will say you have to do something about your behaviour, or it’s over. We get a few calls like that. We get a number of referrals and there’s a helpline. 

‘If a man rings up and says, “I need help with my use of violence”, they’ll refer him to the Men and Family Centre. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does sometimes.’

Lyons says the Men and Family Centre often reaches capacity, especially within the context that it’s a 20-week course – it’s not like AA where you can pop in.

‘There’s only an intake every 20 weeks but there is support in the meantime, either through the Men’s Referral Service, Brief Intervention Service, which is a six-week over-the-phone service, or through individual contact with the men’s workers, at Men and Family. They’ll maintain contact with them until they can join the program, and address some of the program material prior to that.’

Does Lyons feel like she’s winning? 

A huge and complex problem

‘I wouldn’t say that. I mean, it’s a huge and complex problem that resides in the patriarchy and gender inequity. So in the absence of resolving that particular issue, it will continue to happen. It’s a manifestation of a particular kind of male power. Until that’s resolved, or changed, until there are some different masculinities adhered to, then things will stay the same.’

Lyons says some of the ways we can immediately start to address the problem are in schools.

‘That’s where it starts. It’s such a complex problem. It’s the patriarchy, which is not just men wolf-whistling women. It’s about all those things that contribute to the gender pay gap. That’s a huge issue, but things like equal pay, quotas for parliament, CEO education, and education for corporations that will encourage them to have a more equitable employment mix would begin to help address the root problems.’

But, Lyons says the clear winner in how we can help at ground zero is housing. Women are not leaving DV situations because there is nowhere to go.

‘In this current climate, it’s particularly critical. And post flood there are so many things combined to make it a true crisis. And there’s nothing in the way of a solution. I work with a lot of the accommodation services and they’re full up. There’s nothing they can do, they have no resources to tap into.  

‘So housing, absolutely, yes. Housing, more funding for perpetrator programs, but also primary prevention: education – public awareness campaigns, schools programs, and community development that includes awareness of gender inequity.’

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  1. Have a look at the “She is not your Rehab” organization started by a Samoan man who saw his Mother beaten all through his childhood and he created the program for men in NZ. He started up a barber shop (recently closed to continue with promoting his organization) where men could freely talk to him about their relationships with their families and spouse and the barber shop became a place of “healing” and salvation for many men who had previously been perpetrators.

  2. There are female perpetrators of DV too, and, even if they are less in numbers, they need to be addressed to.

    Well logic would say so.

    But not this woman.


    • The number of female perpetrators is non-trivial, and rising. There are reasons they don’t like to look at abuse statistics as a whole, especially when domestic abuse by one, leads to domestic violence by the other. This is not about solving problems. Promoting the violence serves the agenda, and everyone suffers.

    • Here is Labor in the Senate yesterday, dodging the same issue. Youtube: ‘Labor’s SHAMEFUL stance on male victims of violence’

  3. Domestic violence related suicide kills 6 men EVERY DAY in Australia.

    That is manslaughter. It could even be argued that it is murder.

    The demographic with the highest levels of DV is same sex lesbian relationships. More than 40% of lesbian women report being a victim of physical abuse by their partner.
    Your idea of ending D/FV is to end violence against women…fair-nuff – So, what are you doing to end violence against women in same sex lesbian relationships ??


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