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Tackling porn and alcohol key to family violence responses



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.

Man threatening womanThe 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 less stable relationships may be a significant step.


"The challenges to society lie less in alcohol itself than in the public apathy about the toxic effects of its misuse, including its role on domestic violence, and in the financial and political power of those who profit from its misuse."


The enduring relationship between husband and wife is central to the Christian understanding of marriage and the family. It has sometimes led Catholics to act as guardians of the marriage bond, and so to urge wives to forgive and return to violent husbands. The priority given by the letter to the safety of the victim, however, seems to make leaving a violent partner the default position. It also suggests that it will be a high priority of churches to establish safe houses for women and children who have suffered violence. These changes in mindset and priorities will need nurture.

When urging that young men should be educated in forming respectful relationships the bishops recognise the importance of the social context within which violence occurs. But they do not give details of the social evils that encourage violence. It may be important to do this when raising Catholic awareness of the issue.

One of the weaknesses in our society is its lack of effective regulations governing the marketing and availability of alcohol. This lack both increases the desirability of alcohol and contributes to its misuse. The challenges to society lie less in alcohol itself than in the public denial and apathy about the toxic effects of its misuse, including its role on domestic violence, and in the financial and political power of those who profit from its misuse. It is important that churches that wish to respond to domestic violence address this issue.

A second issue is the ready availability of pornography. Many young men learn how to behave towards women from sadistic and explicit pornography that suggest that women's hearts will be won by men who treat them violently and contemptuously. Those influenced by such material will inevitably be more likely to treat women violently.

In the case of the lack of restrictions on the availability both of alcohol and of pornography, churches concerned to respond to domestic violence will need to meet the libertarian objections to regulating profitable business and individual behaviour. They will inevitably be characterised by powerful interest groups as wowsers. But that will be a minor and proper cost incurred in taking domestic violence seriously.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, domestic violence



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Existing comments

On a day when the first female High Court chief justice has been announced, this article reminds us that so many women still remain in desolate places. Alcohol and pornography are certainly contributors to domestic violence. So are drugs, the view of women as chattels, and laws in countries where domestic violence and rape in marriage are not crimes. The list goes on. At its heart, I believe violence in relationships stems from a profound lack of respect coupled with control. Churches can do much more to assist people in these terrible situations. However, until churches realise the power imbalances inherent in their own structures maybe there are limits to their good works.

Pam | 30 November 2016  

"...violence against women flows from discrimination and prejudice..." - there is much work to be done in setting our own house in order, surely. The treatment of women as an underclass in traditions of faith - and Catholicism by no means escapes this criticism - systematically devalues the human being based on gender alone. Wherever its genesis, such devaluation becomes endemic across all society. Example (blindingly obvious to some, blasphemy to others): God - uniquely - as He. Who said so? By attributing all God-like qualities to the masculine, the feminine is left out in the cold. 'Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi' - as we pray, so we believe, and so we live. Fundamentally it is the consistent treatment of women as second class citizens that continues the scandal; alcohol and pornography (which itself arises as a consequence of gender inequality) fuel a fire that was already burning. Sadly, Catholic attitudes over 2,000 years helped ignite it. Yes, of course, it was and is present throughout all the world - but WE should have known, and should know, better.

Richard | 01 December 2016  

Well said Pam. The issue of pornography is a bigger one than most people realise. Having seen young boys watching it on their phones in school playgrounds brought home to me just how pervasive it is. Why is violence against women illegal in law, yet not illegal on screens? This anomaly needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, as Pam so eloquently put it, while the Church institutionalises the inequity of women and men, they are unlikely to be listened to by the community.

Vivienne | 01 December 2016  

The romanticised, idealised and at times dangerously naive notion of marriage and the family, accepted for centuries by the Church and laid before us in all the romantic nonsense of Hollywood (Pretty Woman anyone?) does great disservice both to relationships and serious discussion of these matters. Two things: 1. Domestic violence is part of married life, Christian married life too - not just informal, de facto relationships. 2. Men who watch violent pornography - and there will be Christian - are not interested in winning over a woman`s heart. Their intentions are to violate her - or at least to fantasise about violating her - to inflate their own misguided sense of what it is to be a man. These are more fundamental questions about human being which no amount of regulation can address.

Fiona Winn | 01 December 2016  

I think the bishops' response is, once again, 'too little, too late'. These days, given the diversity of this nation's people, I think an attempt at a supposedly 'Catholic' response to any widespread social ill, such as domestic violence, is too narrow. We need a broadly human response. When churchmen, or religious leaders, of any stripe, talk about the resources they need to help combat the evils of domestic violence, I think monolithic organisations and standard programs rather than relatively small and effective ones like the Jesuits' work with the mentally ill or refugees. The latter would be my preferred approach. I also think we need to develop strong, local, inclusive groups to address these issues, not necessarily based on the old confessional ties. When anyone mentions 'pornography' I get a wee bit concerned. I think of Catholic schoolboys in the 1960s taught the most utter repressive tripe about women and sex whose only way of finding out about female anatomy was through what are now relatively mild magazines like 'Man'. Of course this was nothing like the awful, violent porn movies and sites readily available these days. I think we need good role models of how men and women should relate. Celibate bishops are probably not best placed to give this example.

Edward Fido | 01 December 2016  

The Catholic Church is seriously culpable in having and maintaining discriminatory structures. Governance by an all male celibate elite is contrary to the Gospel values of equality and freedom. No wonder the Catholic Church was pre-eminent in the cleriical child sexual abuse tragedy. And what a tragedy that good people have deserted the Catholic Church in droves because they don't find Christ there. Many have come to dislike a sexist Church with clergy who dress like Roman princes and whose lives in many cases are far removed from the life of the bare-foot Son of Man who had 'nowhere to lay his head'. Pope Franis at least has a preferential option for the poor and fortunately some but not all clergy are following his lead. But even Pope Francis can only go so far with a Church hierarchy that has in many ways departed from the life and values of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps the next Pope might handle the entrenched Church sexism and allow the ordination of female clergy. Pope Francis seems inclined to ordain female deacons, in spite of entrenched clerical opposition. Treating women as second class citizens is no longer an option for an authentic Christian Church.

George Allen | 01 December 2016  

“violence against women flows from discrimination and prejudice”. In turn, the discrimination and prejudice flow from the primitive instinct that says that ‘might is right’. Men are usually more physically powerful than women and children, and this can lead to the illusion that it is their ‘right’ to decide what is to be done, and to whom. Alcohol can dampen conscience and allow the instinct to determine outcomes. As well as physical power, there are other influences that translate as ‘might’, such as money, personality, education, connections, and all the other factors possessed by the ‘Haves’, , who ironically regard themselves as the ‘Right’, when they tend to be the ‘Wrongs’, because they tend to think in terms of Self rather than as Social Beings. Those who are ‘Left’, tend to show more responsibility towards our Social Nature, Peace and Harmony.

Robert Liddy | 01 December 2016  

Catholic priests are male because the faculty of priesthood originates in the Second Person of the Trinity, who is male, and is not found in the First or Third Persons and because, in not having the eyes to peer into the workings of the operating entity that we know as the Second Person, humans cannot know whether maleness is or is not a compulsory component of the priesthood of the Second Person. If the non-sequiturists who wish to claim Male Priesthood --> Male Social and Domestic Tyranny, they should be consistent and blame God for not having a begotten Daughter either in addition to or in substitution for a Son. If we posit the two premises that God is the union of the empirical and the normative (ie. God is constituted as he should be) and that with God, nothing is impossible, why has God never been constituted with a specifically feminine personhood?

Roy Chen Yee | 01 December 2016  

I think one of the things our dear old bishops need to realise is that alcoholism is a disease. Several clergy and other religious suffer from it and it effects their lives and work. We need to take our focus away from the bishops' pulpit sermonising and start to focus on the unnecessary overuse of alcohol in all facets of Australian life. Alcoholism and the resultant damage and violence can't be combated by talk. It is also not a 'religious' problem but a medical one and we need vast resources - not necessarily administered by church associated bodies although sensible help from clergy may assist - to combat it. The problem of alcoholism in Aboriginal society with its particular problems needs to be addressed. Violence - often of a sexual nature - is a real problem in Aboriginal communities. This particular topic is often considered unmentionable by the politically correct. It needs to be faced. Once again this is not primarily a 'spiritual' problem but a health one. We, including religious professionals have done enough damage - and also immense good - to our Aboriginal fellow citizens. We need to stick with the good.

Edward Fido | 02 December 2016  

It’s only a social convention that the nuclear family, in contemporary Australian culture, is atomic. There’s no reason why it can’t be molecular. “…to educate young men to act respectfully….”: If enculturation (through social and political propagandising) is to be the answer, why only enculturate that the object of the young man’s respect is the woman? Why doesn’t the propaganda promote that a man is responsible to respect his father and father-in-law for how he treats his spouse? Is there a statute of limitations on the in-law’s protective instinct for his daughter? If we can have umpteen genders because personality supposedly is fluid, there’s no reason why we can’t socially engineer a cultural norm that men have a manly accountability to the role models who preceded them for how they treat women and children. Just as drivers of road trains are qualitatively different from other drivers when on the road because of the accident that the machines they control are particularly powerful, adult males are qualitatively different from women and children because of the muscles that drive their fists. From this accidental physical basis in reality, socially engineer bi-directional accountability to relatives who possess comparable muscles.

Roy Chen Yee | 03 December 2016  

Thank you for your artical . Having assisted Women & Children and worked with perpetrators primarely male over a period close to 30yrs, has given me clear insight into this society ill. During my initional involvement in QLD no legislation existed. Neither government involvement in safe accomodation . Over these years a number of key issues became clearer . Firstly in addressing the Domestic / Family Violence the children were seen as an extension of the mother. Those children experienced at the minimum phycological abuse but more often child abuse occurred too. The DV sector held the position removal of the children was punishment for the mother. However on many occasions the woman was unable to protect herself & her children . I hold the believe addressing the impact on children is of outmost importance to prevent intergenerational violence. Secondly, as long as q this assault of physical, sexual, phycological abuse of women / children continues to be seen as a " Domestic" event nothing will change. Domestic violence implications need to be equal to common assault. Breaching a DV Order currently has no bearing. Drug abuse (including alcohol) & other treatments towards women plays a strong correlating factor . However Domestic Violence is about power & control as well as learned behaviour. Building a positive message of respect & equality of women needs to be part of a daily teaching curriculum.

Henrica de Hue | 17 January 2018  

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