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Tackling porn and alcohol key to family violence responses

  • 30 November 2016


Till very recently the extent of domestic violence in society was denied, or was seen as confined to the undeserving poor. It is now the focus of public attention, drawing even a royal commission in Victoria. We've learned more of its causes, the experience and needs of its victims, the lines of a proper response to it, and the work to be done in preventing it and changing the behaviour of offenders.

The challenge now is to disseminate this wisdom in the community and to animate its response to family and domestic violence. A recent Victorian bishops' letter on domestic violence should be seen in that light. It stresses the importance of addressing violence and is accompanied by resources for parishes and groups.

Addressed to Catholics, the letter appeals to the faith tradition to support its argument. It begins with the experience of victims of family violence, the vast majority of whom are women and children, and emphasises the need to make them safe. It recognises that violence against women flows from discrimination and prejudice, and so the need for society to address inequality.

The letter reviews briefly what must be done to address domestic violence: to notice and report it, to sanction people who behave violently, to protect and support its victims, to educate young men to act respectfully, and to help perpetrators to understand and change their ways.

The bishops accept the findings of the royal commission and commit themselves to join other churches in implementing the measures it recommends. They commend the resources prepared by Catholic Social Services for use in Catholic parishes and other groups. They invite Catholics to become sensitive to the suffering and harm caused through domestic violence and to welcome and help the victims.

At first sight this letter is simply part of ordinary, though commendable, church business, and so needs little more public notice. But its considerations may have broader consequences for Catholic attitudes and actions, and perhaps for the broader society.

The bishops set domestic violence against the Christian understanding of the family in order to show how abhorrent it is. This line of argument is effective for its Catholic audience, but it also poses challenges.

The ideal of a life-long Christian family is widely shared in society, but it is not typical in practice. Much domestic violence occurs in more transient and informal relationships. For Catholic parishes and other groups to welcome women and children living in