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Family Matters No. 37 - April 1994

Violence against women in the home

How far have we come? How far to go?
Patricia Easteal


One of the priority issues identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family is the need to tackle family violence and abuse. This article, the second of three articles focusing on family violence in this issue of Family Matters, examines violence against women in the home. It was prepared by the author for the Office of the Status of Women. Issues addressed include definitions of violence against women, incidence, the under reporting of domestic violence, and causes of, or contributing factors to violence such as the nature of Australian society and its attitudes, alcohol abuse and the attitudes of police, doctors, judges, lawyers, social workers and ministers of religion. Next, the author reviews what measures have been taken to ameliorate the situation and what work remains to be done. Areas discussed include legislative changes covering domestic violence; marital rape and family law; public education and changing attitudes; mediation; support services for survivors including women from hard to reach groups such as women from non English speaking backgrounds, women in remote areas and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women; perpetrator programs; monitoring research; data collection; and education and training for practitioners.

This year, 1994, has been targeted as the year to focus on the family internationally. Let us hope that many of the activities will highlight a certain aspect of many women's lives in this country and around the world: the nightmare existence of domestic violence. Although there have been many positive structures and policies implemented during the last 20 or so years, it is important not to be overly optimistic and hence not to be complacent. There continue to be many who are still denied the right to a secure and supportive home. It is therefore important to continue working to stop violence against women and initiating changes on their behalf until safe families are the reality for all women and children.

A Definition

What exactly is meant by violence against women? The National Committee on Violence Against Women defined it as 'behaviour adopted by the man to control his victim which results in physical, sexual and/or psychological damage, forced social isolation, or economic deprivation, or behaviour which leaves a woman living in fear' (National Committee on Violence Against Women 1991). Aside from the more culturally recognised physical and emotional abuse, such behaviours include destruction of property, threats, harassment and ridicule. The key element in all of these actions is 'control' or its synonym, power.

Violence against women in its broadest sense includes violence that takes place both outside the home and within the family. The focus of this paper is on the latter. The other principal recipients of family abuse are discussed in articles by James elsewhere in this issue. Although approached as separate topics, there is no doubt that the underlying causes, such as power inequities, are the same.

The definition of domestic violence changes over time as society slowly shifts its values about what is and is not permissible behaviour within a marriage or other intimate relationship. For example, as stated in the definition above, today in Australia the laws in all States acknowledge that a husband does not have the right to sexual access to his wife without her consent. Sexual assault within marriage does take place. In a nation-wide survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology, over one tenth of the 2850 sexual assault survivors had been raped by a cohabiting partner. For over three quarters of the marital rape victims the sexual assault was part of a general pattern of physical violence: 'My husband threatened me as my brother did. While married my husband often used fists and mental cruelty as a weapon, as well as rape.' (Easteal 1993a)

As we will see later it is questionable whether the inclusion of rape in marriage has become an accepted component of the definition of domestic violence among many in the community or the criminal justice system.


We will probably never know the actual number of women who are the targets of a partner's violent behaviour. The shame and isolation that continue to be intrinsic aspects of domestic violence in our culture act to maintain the secrecy for many of the survivors. We can only estimate how many women are contacting the police. For example, according to surveys filled in by police for Easteal's current research, during the month of November 1993 there were over 1300 calls to the New South Wales Police that related to domestic violence; in Victoria, a similar number, about 1200, sought assistance from the police in relation to violence within the home.

These are astonishing figures, particularly if one considers the probable high proportion of domestic assaults that are never reported to law enforcement agencies. In fact, some estimate that only one in ten report whilst those who work in refuges for women subjected to violence would place that proportion much lower at one in 50 or one in a 100. (These were the proposed reporting rates informally presented at the Second National Conference on Violence held in Canberra, June 1993.) Accordingly, in the Without Consent survey only 13 per cent of those raped by husbands and 15 per cent raped by a relative living in the same house were reported to the police (Easteal 1993a).

A calculator is not required to conclude that violence against women is well entrenched in Australian society. There are claims that one in three or one in five households are the site of violence. While there are no national data to support this, a recent Canadian study found that almost one half of the women surveyed had experienced violence by men known to them, with one in six currently married reporting violence and one-half stating that they had been survivors of domestic violence in a previous marriage (The Daily Statistics Canada 1993).

The incidence of violence against women may be higher among some segments of the Australian population and/or they may be less apt to report. If homicide is the tip of the iceberg of domestic violence, it is important to note that in a study of killings between adult sexual intimates, overseas- born and Aboriginal women were disproportionately represented (Easteal 1993b). Further, in more than four fifths of the entire sample of homicides, domestic violence had been an antecedent. A review of literature on attitudes about domestic violence throughout the 1980s conducted for the Office of the Status of Women (OSW) also concluded that there was not only evidence of higher levels of violence but signs that overseas- born women and Aboriginal women were further disadvantaged through isolation, and failure of shelters to meet their cultural needs (Easteal 1988). Others have identified particular migrant women (for example, Asian women who marry through networks and Moslem women in arranged marriages) as being at particularly high risk (Elliott and Shanahan 1988).

Why Is Violence Under Reported?

This is a critical issue. To eradicate violence against women, society must reject it. A necessary step or tool towards achieving that end is to make it reportable. A clear unambiguous message must be received by victims, perpetrators and criminal justice practitioners that violence against women is a crime that will not be tolerated. It is also important to understand why women stay in relationships where violence is a factor both to eradicate myths of masochism and innate passivity and to assist the courts in understanding, why for some women, there is no other recourse but to remain and/or kill the offender.

To answer the above question, we need to answer another one: What are the consequences for someone living with violence? Quite simply, the woman may become a hostage in her own home. As one survivor of marital violence explains her inability to either report the violence or to leave: 'I have been the victim of various bashings and forced sex for years, not knowing how to get out of the relationship. He threatened to shoot myself and the kids - he would have, I have no doubt. All I could do was protect and love the kids.' (Easteal 1993a)

Over time her self-esteem plummets; after all, the emotional abuser tells her clearly, 'It's always your fault.' There's no-one to contradict him. Battering is still a shameful and private action in our culture; she keeps the secret. And, most importantly, her life is full of terror. She never knows when the violence will occur. Life becomes focused on survival, 'walking on egg shells', trying to placate him in order to avert the physical abuse. The 'jail' cell is also barred by the woman's lack of support and skills for coping on her own. Further, her belief in the 'system', such as the police, to assist her may be low, based upon either prior experience or general folklore.

She is often threatened that if she does leave, he will kill her. These are not always idle threats as Killing the Beloved has shown (Easteal 1993b). Almost one half of the homicides perpetrated by husbands (in New South Wales and Victoria) took place after the woman left the relationship. Males in these cases appeared to be unable or unwilling to abdicate their control.

Aside from the self-blame and fear, some speculate that violence within the family is not reported because of the 'three rules' that dominate in those environments and contribute to its survivors' shame and terror:

Don't talk: The woman (and child) subjected to violence is required to keep the secrets. Not only do they not talk to anyone outside of the home but, within the family, the violence is not discussed. The 'don't talk' rule is mandatory in order to enable the perpetrator to continue his control and violence. It will usually be both explicit, 'We do not talk about this to anyone'; or implicit through the ongoing denial of the child's perception of reality. She can't tell anyone about something that she has been told, in all sorts of ways, has not occurred. Further, the don't talk rule is a by- product of two other factors: the girl or woman's own sense of shame which assumes the responsibility for the abuse; and the idea that such violence becomes so normative that it is no longer exceptional but just a part of their reality: the bizarre becomes normal.

Don't trust: The woman (or child) living in a family with violence is taught by experience that people - their promises, their behaviour and even their rules - cannot be trusted. Too often she has been told that, 'It will never happen again'. We learn to trust when nurtured and treated with love, consistency and caring. She also does not trust herself. The incest survivor, the child and woman subjected to violence have a deep void within; a lack of self or self- worth. In its place is a core of shame which continuously says to that person, 'You are the one responsible for this. You are bad.'

Don't feel: When he starts to assault her, she leaves her body and watches from a distance. She does not feel the pain or the anger because she isn't really there. But, the hurt and the rage are in there buried beneath layer upon layer of denial, shame and perhaps, alcohol and drugs.

Causes Or Contributors

The nature of the society and its attitudes

Campbell's (1985) cross-cultural analysis of wife beating found that its meaning and derivation varied in different societies. Indeed there is a complex dynamic interaction between the various beliefs and structures of a culture which is conducive to violence toward women in Australia. Strauss (1980, 1992) found that the lower the status of women, the higher the frequency of domestic violence. He describes how, in the United States, wife beating is affirmed within the culture, in many of the formal values, and is a correlate of other aggression in that society and its sexist gender roles.

The same is true in this country. Violence towards women in Australia appears to be a manifestation of male desire for control which cannot be seen as isolated from the male dominated structures and character of the society in which it takes place. It is therefore the view of the NCVAW National Committee on Violence Against Women (NCVAW 1991) and others, that violence against woman is a product of the social construction of masculinity.

The history of European settlement established precedents and patterns which have contributed to numerous aspects of Australian culture that promote a rigid gender hierarchy, privacy of the family, mateship between males and a cultural endorsement of violence against females (Dixon 1976). Historically, female convicts were released to fulfil the needs of the male inmates (Gilmore 1990). The social construction of masculinity is also derived from an emphasis on aggression that is manifested in many of the popular contact sports. Many males are more at ease with males; they tend to socialise and communicate at a non-intimate level with other men; and they are apt to have a low regard for females. The latter is evidenced by both the type of verbal harassment directed at women and the high frequency of sexual violence that has been well documented (Easteal 1992a).

Accordingly, some have theorised that many Australian males hold even more conservative and anachronistic attitudes about violence towards women than their counterparts in other industrialised societies. Acceptance of domestic violence and the perception of its private nature have been found among a significant percentage of the Australian population, including various types of professionals and the general public (Mugford, Easteal and Mugford 1989). A 1988 study initiated by Office of the Status of Women found that nearly one in five Australians believed that it is acceptable for a man to use physical violence against his wife under some circumstances (Public Policy Research Centre 1988).

Practitioners and their attitudes

Police, judges, doctors, lawyers, social workers, ministers of religion and other human service workers do not exist in isolation but inevitably reflect the beliefs of many people throughout Australia. Criminal justice practitioners' willingness or resistance to implementing reform in this area is dependent in large part upon the social attitudes that exist about violence against women.

Research has shown that, at least until very recently, many service providers brought an overwhelmingly negative or at best ambivalent response to victims of domestic violence. (See Easteal 1988 for an in-depth review of the literature in this area.) A number of studies in the early and mid 1980s indicated, for example, that police had fairly ambivalent attitudes about domestic violence calls (see, for example, Hatty and Sutton 1986, and Scutt 1983). More recent investigations have not shown any significant shift in beliefs. Police attitudes about domestic violence were a part of an inquiry by the ACT government into its domestic violence legislation (Mugford, Easteal and Edwards 1993) and in Wearing's (1992) look at the efficacy of the Victorian domestic violence legislation. ACT officers' feelings about both offenders and victims could be described as ambivalent. Further, if one accepts that actions may serve as an indicator of beliefs, then both studies showed a failure of police to understand their role under the new laws and to fully enforce the legislation.

Although the focus has often been on the police and their less than enthusiastic policing of domestic violence, Wearing (1992) and Easteal (1993b) have also found that at least some magistrates and judges are not treating violence against women as criminal assault. That body of evidence indicates that although the laws may be in place and lip service is paid, a general attitude of minimising or trivialising domestic violence exists that translates into limited legal intervention.

In research so far, the response of medical practitioners to women subjected to violence has also been found to be unsatisfactory. It is the medical practitioner to whom the battered woman may first turn. For a small sample of survivors who sought medical attention in the ACT the outcome was less than desirable. Two-thirds of these women had at least one interaction which resulted in no disclosure of the violence and thus no supportive action by the practitioners (Easteal 1990). It is equally disturbing that only about one third of 100 general practitioners in an Australian survey (Easteal 1992b) reported emotional problems as 'symptoms' that they looked for in determining assault cases. Since victims often present with only the emotional consequences of violence, rather than actual physical injuries (McLeer and Anwar 1987), this suggests that many cases go undetected due to the failure of doctors to recognise symptoms.

Some differences were found between doctors with and without some training in the area of domestic violence. Not surprisingly, doctors who had training on this subject were more likely to believe in counselling of victims, reporting cases to the police, and prison as a sanction for violent men. However, in Australia, as elsewhere, it appears that the great majority of doctors are not adequately trained to recognise the signs of violence against women, or to perceive their role as interventionist, or to understand the dynamics of family violence such as its consequences for victims' self- esteem and their inability to act.

Is alcohol a cause?

A common misconception is that alcohol causes violence. Many homes where domestic violence takes place do not have alcohol abuse present. A National Symposium on Alcohol Misuse and Violence held in December 1993 in Canberra concluded that violence against women is not caused by alcohol, although there is evidence of a fairly strong correlation. A high percentage of men arrested or served with restraining orders, both overseas and in Australia, were identified as alcohol affected (Mugford, Easteal and Edwards 1993). Easteals (1993b) analysis of police and court domestic homicide records also showed that more than half of the male offenders had been drinking at the time they killed their (ex) wife or de facto. In almost all of these cases, there had been a history of domestic violence.

What Has Been Done?

It is timely at the beginning of the International Year of the Family to review what measures have been taken to ameliorate the situation for women subjected to violence in the family and to look at what work remains to be done. Specific attention will be paid to the International Year of the Family priority issues of legislation, education, mediation and women's services.

If we remember that 20 years ago there was no sanctuary for a woman who was being subjected to violence by her partner and that domestic violence was not regarded as a crime, then we can see that a great many positive changes have taken place. Let us briefly examine some of these whilst noting that many are the direct or indirect response to initiatives by the Commonwealth Government, most recently with the guidance and direction of the National Committee on Violence Against Women and its National Strategy on Violence Against Women.

Legislative Changes

State and Territory governments have initiated legislative reform geared toward criminalising domestic violence and ensuring the safety of women.

Domestic violence and related legislation

From the early 1980s every jurisdiction in Australia adopted some form of legislation that aimed at providing women with protection from domestic violence. These laws have some commonalities such as enabling a woman to obtain some sort of protection order, which if breached, would at least theoretically result in a criminal offence and sanction. The legislation varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Until recently this variation prevented interstate portability of orders. With the exception of Western Australia, all states and territories have now enacted amendments that provide for portability across state boundaries.

How effective is domestic violence legislation? In 20 of 110 marital murders researched, an order or an assault charge was in existence at the time of the killing (Easteal 1993b). The laws had not protected those women's lives. Research on the impact of the Victorian Crimes (Family Violence) Act showed a lack of arrest (Wearing 1992). Despite legislation, police failed in about three quarters of violent incidents in the home to take any action including removing or arresting the perpetrator or acting on breaches. Magistrates varied in their interpretation of the law with some clearly not accepting a woman's reasonable fear as sufficient grounds for granting an intervention order. For these magistrates, physical signs of abuse were necessary. Wearing concluded that the entire process could prove very demoralising and dangerous for the complainant and recommended that police, magistrates and court clerks needed more training in the nature and effects of violence against women.

According to the police in the ACT, such as the two quoted next, the ACT legislation has proven helpful but limited:

'Very effective. Except they're only as effective as the offenders will allow them to be because if you get an offender who's determined to breach the Act, or the order, then he'll breach it. But you've got a power of arrest then which is the most important thing. You can arrest the person and you've got a power to refuse bail. They're possibly unfair because the applicant in most cases is the wife, and the offender in most cases is the husband, and the wife can make all sorts of allegations, can make all sorts of complaints and it's very difficult for us, the police, to sort out who is telling the truth and who is not.'

The last conclusion, reiterated in a variety of forms by many officers, can be used as justification or rationalisation for police inaction.

'They're effective in so far as the Warrants and Process can go to a premises where there is a domestic violence situation and armed with that piece of paper take them to Court. Or we can take a certain course of action, that is to say remove a respondent from a premise when it will appear that the applicant has requested that person be removed from the premise. We do have the power to arrest should the person not want to leave. As far as general duties police go, when an order is in effect and it's duly been served on the respondent it does give the police the power to walk in without any negotiations and say to the respondent, 'You have breached the order . . . in the car, you're under arres'.'

Egger and Stubbs (1994) found their evaluation of domestic violence or protection order legislation throughout Australia was severely hindered by the lack of any ongoing data collection which isolated domestic violence cases. Their general conclusion based on the limited data available was that women were increasingly obtaining orders and, that for many, the orders provided protection. However, the efficacy of the legislation in many cases depended upon the police and court personnel whose response was found to be quite variable.

Recent changes

The diversity in laws from jurisdiction to jurisdiction creates difficulties in generalising about them in the present article. It should therefore be noted that there is not only heterogeneity but that the legislation is not static within jurisdictions. Amendments are often in train or in place to fill the gaps and pitfalls that become apparent with time. Although it is not within the scope of this article to scrutinise and enumerate all aspects of all relevant laws in Australia, the following information from the states and territories will illustrate some of the variation between and within jurisdictions.

Over the past 12 months a number of states have introduced legislation to stop perpetrators from continuing to harass and terrorise (stalk) women. Queensland was the first state, in late 1993, to create legislation aimed at stalking both within domestic relations and between strangers. In that State two or more harassing acts can result in a penalty of three years. Earlier in 1993 Queensland had amended its domestic violence legislation to ensure interstate portability of orders. Mandatory revoking of firearms became another standard condition of all orders. The sanctions for breaches were not changed with a penalty of $2400 or up to 12 months in gaol or both.

The New South Wales government, under the Bail Amendment Act, has dictated that if an individual violates an order, the court will deliberate on each case and consider the history of violence instead of just granting bail. Amendments to the Crimes Act in that State have also seen the activation of a panel of authorised justices who are available to issue interim orders outside of court hours. Stalking and intimidation are now standard in all orders in addition to the creation of a separate offence of stalking. The ACT Community Law Reform is also currently considering stalking legislation. In other areas of domestic violence legislation the ACT has been a forerunner and established reciprocal arrangements with other jurisdictions in August 1992. A couple of months earlier the ACT government passed amendments that included police power to seize weapons at the scene of a domestic violence call.

Other States are, at the time of this writing (February 1994), in the process of making or introducing more changes. A South Australian bill, which was introduced by the previous government and is soon to be reintroduced, makes it an offence for anyone to harass someone with the intention of inflicting fear or causing other mental harm. The Northern Territory has introduced similar anti- stalking laws which should be enacted by mid 1994. On 1 January 1994, that jurisdiction enacted a separate domestic violence act with portability conditions and dictating mandatory arrest for a third breach of an order. Tasmania expects anti-stalking legislation to be enacted this year. Amendments concerning portability, confiscation of firearms and other weapons, and broader powers for police to remove, detain or arrest an offender have been in place since 1992.

The Victorian Attorney General has foreshadowed amendments to that State's legislation including a shift of the onus of proof in granting bail on to the violent offenders, anti-stalking laws, indefinite (time) intervention orders, increasing breach penalties and extending orders to non- marital or de facto relationships.

In contrast to other States, to date, Western Australia has not amended its existing domestic violence legislation.

Marital rape legislation

Legally in Australia a woman is no longer supposed to abdicate her sexual rights in marriage; a wife's consent is no longer to be implied. However, the reality is that few rapes by cohabiting spouse/rapists are either reported or tried. Even estrangement has proven problematic. Certainly the change in legislation has not resulted in a flow of marital rape cases through the courts. Marital rape involves more violence and physical injuries than acquaintance rape (Bowker 1983, Easteal 1993a). Its lower rate of reporting can be attributed to both the isolation of the assaulted woman, the three rules discussed earlier, and to the assumption that husbands are immune from sexual assault charges: 'If your husband rapes you, you think that it's not really rape. He considers you're his property and you usually believe that.' (Easteal 1993a)

Education And Changing Attitudes

Governments at all levels are taking up the challenge of changing community attitudes about violence against women and are funding various training and community education programs.

The Commonwealth's first community education initiative in the area of violence against women, the National Domestic Violence Education Program, ran from 1987 to 1990. It funded research on community attitudes about domestic violence and sponsored community grants programs geared at educating the community. Three-year funding to June 1995 for the Commonwealth Community Education Program, Stop Violence Against Women, which focuses on publicity and grants for community education projects. It aims to create a climate where violence against women is condemned in any circumstances. A major publicity campaign with a theme centring on men's responsibility for their violence and the need for public intolerance of violence was launched in late 1993.

Gender awareness programs, particularly for practitioners such as the judiciary and lawyers have been funded under the Commonwealth Community Education Program. Complementing these educational programs, the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training is developing curriculum and teacher education materials that are designed to impact on attitudes and knowledge about violence against women.

The National Committee on Violence Against Women produced national guidelines for the training of service providers who work in the area of violence against women and conducted a review of existing pre-employment and in- service training offered by police and health professionals. The latter identified gaps in training and made specific recommendations about ameliorating the omissions. (See the Office of the Status of Women publication, Training in the Area of Violence Against Women for a full description of both projects.)


Recent years have seen greater moves towards the mediation of disputes in the Family Court context.

The view of the National Strategy on Violence Against Women about mediation is that it is generally inappropriate in a domestic violence situation since mediation is based upon an assumption of equality which is often not present in these relationships. The National Council on Violence Against Women has published guidelines for mediation in violent situations (Astor 1992). They stress that mediation should only take place with the informed consent of the woman and that it should not be an alternative to the legal path. However if it is the course chosen by a woman, the National Council recommends that steps are taken to protect the women from further violence.

Support Services For Survivors

The Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) began in 1984. Jointly funded by the Commonwealth and the States, it subsidises community groups and local government efforts for accommodation and related services for homeless people. There are 382 such services funded for women; 317 for women with children and 64 for single women. Of the former, most (268) are refuges and the remainder provide information, referral, counselling and outreach services.

There are other programs and agencies, such as domestic violence crisis services and court support programs, that have been funded by State and Territory governments.

Hard-To-Reach Groups

There is recognition that some groups of women subjected to violence in Australia may experience special difficulties. For example, since fear of deportation can play a role in keeping the women in a violent marriage, immigration law has been examined and was changed in 1991. This was done to ameliorate the plight of women who migrated to Australia as the fiance or spouse of an Australian citizen who then abused them and acted to have them denied permanent residency if they left the violent home. They are now considered as eligible to apply for permanent residency if they can show a restraining order, a Family Law Act injunction or a court conviction or finding of guilt against the sponsor for assault (Mottee 1992; Bowrey 1992).

Aside from these policy changes research is currently being undertaken that will certainly involve policy recommendations: violence against women of non-English- speaking backgrounds is the current focus of a major research project funded by the Bureau of Immigration Research.

It has long been recognised that women in remote areas have special needs. Those who live in the 'bush' or in remote regions may be too physically distant from information and services. Further, courts may sit on an irregular basis making the acquisition of domestic violence orders problematic. To address some of the problems for these women, the 1993-94 Commonwealth budget provided $2.6 million over a two-year period in order to set up pilot projects for domestic violence survivors in these parts of Australia. These are intended to provide information and referral services.

At present, the Office of the Status of Women is continuing work on a project that was begun by the National Council on Violence Against Women: the development of community education materials on violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women. This program is taking place in conjunction with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Family Violence Intervention Program. In addition, the Commonwealth Department of Social Security has adopted a domestic violence policy and is playing a more active role in assisting women of non-English speaking background and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women who have been victimised by a partner's violence. A training strategy for staff is being developed and a community education program to let women know what services are available.

Perpetrator Programs

A frequently articulated, but problematic, prevention component is the counselling or treatment of batterers. First, there is the problem of getting offenders into the programs. In Queensland, Chappell (1991) reported that domestic violence offenders who breach restraining orders have the choice of counselling or jail. However, getting them in and continued attendance may be different matters. Lazarus and McCarthy (1990), who surveyed the history of these programs in Australia since the first was established in Adelaide in 1983, reported high dropout rates as a concomitant. That study and Cabassi (1989) also found recidivistic violence; the latter stressed that focus on the individual batterer is ineffective; that the problem is much larger, lying in social values about women and violence. However, Poynter (1991) concluded that long-term behavioural change was evident for those who completed the South Australian 12-week program. The evaluation was limited in a sense since the post-counselling assessments took place only at six months and one year after treatment. To date there is a scarcity of Australian longitudinal data available for the evaluation of perpetrator programs.

Evidence from the United States is mixed and, again, not long- term enough to enable definitive statements about the efficacy of perpetrator programs. For instance, Saunders and Azar (1989) determined that the rates of physical abuse were lower for 'treated' groups but that there was little or no difference in rates of psychological or emotional abuse. The latter could be indicative of a lack of fundamental change within the batterer.

Directions For The Future

Governments have accepted the responsibility for working towards the elimination of violence against women and will continue to work together with the community to achieve this goal. Some important areas for ongoing work are described next.

Monitoring, Research And Data Collection

Paucity of data on violence against women and lack of national consistency in data from courts, police and service providers need to be addressed to formulate and generate effective policies and programs. Police and court behaviour need to be monitored to ensure that survivors are being treated in an appropriate manner and that offenders are dealt with according to the letter of the law. Ongoing research is necessary to ascertain what works and what does not work. For example, the literature on mandatory arrest from the United States is mixed; similar studies need to be implemented in Australia to see if arrest does reduce recidivism. Other police practices, such as the removal of weapons and police obtaining of orders, must be tested.

As a necessary component of both monitoring and research, ongoing collection of rationally consistent data at both the police and the court levels should be a goal by the year 2000. A national repository for information would be ideal and would permit the analysis and dissemination of data on protection orders, police call outs, arrests and court proceedings over time and between jurisdictions.

Support Services For Women

Recurrent funding for many women's services has now been achieved. A principal hope for the year 2000 must be that levels of violence towards women will decrease. However, it is also important that by the year 2000 women who have experienced male violence will not have to wait for a place in a refuge or wait for a counsellor or long-term accommodation due to insufficient services for women subjected to violence.

Perpetrator Programs

There are few programs to date in Australia. Many workers in women's services do not consider perpetrator programs to be an effective response to the issues of violence against women and believe that funding priorities should be targeted for services for women survivors and the training of professionals.

If perpetrator programs are to be supported they should be established as part of an integrated criminal justice response that includes a pro-arrest policy and a women's advocacy program. The Duluth Minnesota Project and Hamilton New Zealand model are examples of such integrated approaches.

Changes In The Legal Realm

A principal aim of the Commonwealth is to work with the States and Territories on establishing consistency both in domestic violence legislation and between family violence orders and Family Court orders. The Commonwealth Government has encouraged other governments to take a consistent approach to gun control and is active in developing a system which will give all police services access to national information on domestic violence orders and firearms offences when an application for a firearm licence is considered. Perhaps moves to ensure homogeneity need to go a few steps further.

The right of women not to experience violence is part of a human rights agenda. The international community views violence against women as a very serious issue. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women affirms that violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment of women's basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. Australia's adoption of the Declaration underlines the Government's commitment to take all steps to eliminate violence against women.

Strengthen existing laws

Survivors today are usually able to receive orders quickly. However if the order is breached, there is still often little sanction imposed. Domestic violence orders are appreciated by police who recognise that their violation provides them (police) with a means of arresting. However, it is often a source of frustration to the police that the courts almost always bail these offenders and that a gaol sentence is rare. Consideration should be given to limiting the discretion of police and magistrates and making arrest mandatory with clear limitations on bail amendments. Some States are exploring the possibility of adopting an integrated model as their criminal justice response to domestic violence. This approach coordinates the police and the courts with human service providers. It integrates a policy of mandatory arrest, perpetrator programs and a broad range of support services for the victims.

Amend the Family Law Act

The Government recently released its response to the Joint Select Committee on Certain Aspects of the Operation and Interpretation of the Family Law Act. It states that family violence cannot be tolerated, that it is a criminal offence and that the family law system has an important role to play in its prevention (Family Law Act 1975 - Directions for Amendment 1993). Changes outlined in that document include: increased powers of arrest to enforce injunctions and orders, greater consistency between domestic violence orders and Family Court orders, and an emphasis upon mediation and counselling rather than litigation with victims of domestic violence offered separate interviews, and a review of staffing levels and domestic violence training of Family Court counsellors. It is anticipated that the legislative amendments will be introduced by mid 1994.

Toughen, Clarify and Enforce Marital Rape Laws

The failure of women to go through the courts and prosecute husbands for rape must be seen at least in part as attributable to the ambiguity of the law and a lack of gender awareness which leads some judges to make statements about the legitimate use of force by husbands.

Education And Training For Practitioners

Given the finding that even minimal training had a definite effect on doctors' attitudes (Easteal 1992b), the implementation of more complete instruction programs might be expected to have significant impact on the response of all professionals working in the area of violence against women.

In light of the great personal and social costs involved and the probable large numbers that pass through doctors' and other service providers' offices undetected and unassisted, there is an obvious need for reform. Although fundamental attitudinal modification cannot in all likelihood be taught or legislated, symptomatology, dynamics of abuse, detection and appropriate treatment should be integrated into medical courses and other social welfare practitioners' curricula and taught as part of in-service training programs. Then, at the least, those in a position to identify and assist women might be more sensitised to the critical nature of spouse assault, and thus be more amenable to, and capable of, performing a more effective role in intervention.

There is a community perception that judges require training on gender issues, including the nature and effects of domestic violence. The main purpose of such training would be to confront stereotypes and myths which act to legitimise assault within the home (see accompanying boxed inset). It should also challenge the belief that some women deserve to be hit and provide a clear understanding of the dynamics of this violence.

Judges, magistrates and juries need to understand why a reasonable woman subjected to violence might not leave the perpetrator. Not that she was a masochist, but that due to her situational condition, for a multiplicity of reasons, she becomes incapable of such action. Aside from the emotional constraints, she may have practical problems such as where to go, and a fear of retaliation.

The eradication of the erroneous stereotype of masochism and other false beliefs through recognition of the battered woman's reality would help to ensure: that magistrates do not minimise the effects and nature of violence and bail those who breach orders; that judges do not compare the actions of a woman subjected to violence to a male standard; and that governments provide adequate services to the survivors.

The implications for undergraduate legal education are obvious. Discussions on the issue of addressing gender bias in undergraduate law curricula are underway between the Commonwealth and a group of academics.

Changes In Public Attitudes

Can children, by the year 2000, be taught how to relate to males and females without violence? Given both the deeply entrenched role of violence in the media and sport, and the role models in a significant proportion of Australian households, one would have to be extremely optimistic to answer in the affirmative. Little boys may be watching their fathers physically and emotionally abuse their mothers. They may hear the sexual harassment or watch the assaults which is an intrinsic part of mateship. These are mighty forces to combat.

Somehow the generational cycle of violence must be broken. The work that has been initiated by the National Council on Violence Against Women will continue. The Commonwealth has made a commitment to the aims of the the Council by providing $1.94 million until June 1997 to extend work under the National Strategy on Violence Against Women. Targeted areas include several of those discussed in this paper such as legal responses to violence against women and collecting national data on violence against women.

So one could say that the glass is at least half full. Changing a culture that is threaded with attitudes which support violence towards women is not quick and easy. However, currently there is government commitment to ensure that by the year 2000 perhaps fewer women will be assaulted by their partners, perhaps fewer will be stalked and harassed by ex-partners, fewer will be killed, fewer will have to wait for emergency accommodation, fewer will be treated with lack of support by the criminal justice system and other practitioners, and fewer children will witness violence against their mothers and sisters within the Australian culture and family.


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Dr Patricia Easteal is a Senior Criminologist at the Australian Institute of Criminology who has conducted research on numerous areas concerning violence against women. These include: a literature review conducted for the Office of the Status of Women in 1988 looking at the public's and professionals' attitudes about domestic violence, a survey study of doctors' attitudes about domestic violence, an examination of women in prison, an in-depth case study of homicide between adult sexual intimates, an examination of police attitudes about domestic violence legislation, ongoing research into battered woman syndrome, a national survey on rape that encompassed marital rape, and currently research into domestic violence among the overseas-born. Her recent books include Voices of the Survivors (May 1994), Killing the Beloved (1993) and The Forgotten Few (1992).

Much of this article is drawn from these studies. Due to their nature, a focus on the experiences and aftermath of violence, Dr Easteal says her perspective may tend to be more negative or pessimistic than others who are more involved in generating solutions. For her, the glass is still 'half empty' and not 'half full'.


The Courts and the Battered Woman's 'Reality'

Patricia Easteal (1992c, 1992d and 1993c) discusses how battered women's reality needs to be understood by the court in relevant cases of homicide and duress. It is her belief that this needs to take place at the attitudinal and procedural legal level so that judges and magistrates stop minimising violence against women.

Provocation, duress and self-defence, Easteal argues, must be interpreted for a women who has lived in a violent situation and not compared to a standard of normality for a middle-class male. Jurors and judges should be made aware that what constitutes immediacy for a survivor of male violence is not the same as what is defined as imminent danger for a man. Traditionally, in the context of male vs male, immediacy has been narrowly defined to mean that the attacker is in the process of attack; the defender is in immediate danger and strikes back in self- defence.

If one defines the 'reasonable' perception as based on the reasonable perception of a woman subjected to violence and not the 'reasonable' perception of a white middle-class male, her actions can be interpreted as immediate. A woman living in a constant state of terror may be convinced that one day her partner will kill her. Within this environment the threat of danger is constant.

In addition, the idea of equal force being defined the same for a women/man conflict as a male/male dispute is ludicrous given not only the physical differences but also the gender differentiation in socialisation that is commonplace. Most battered women have survived long-term punching, throwing, choking and kicking. Their partners' hands, fists and feet have in fact been dangerous and potentially lethal. Yet, until recently in North America and Australia case law has not been interpreted to include the danger of these body parts as grievous enough or as serious enough threat to permit self- defence with a non-body weapon. Juries, judges and magistrates, without understanding the dynamics of battering, see a gun or a knife as excessive force in relation to the domestic violence perpetrator's violence.