Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Addressing gendered violence in Australia



Content warning: This article discusses family and sexual violence.

We don’t want to admit the truth of who we are as a nation: there are Australians who are violent toward the people they say they love the most. Living among us are those who take what they want, out of entitlement, privilege and the naked use of power.

Main image: Girl sitting on the floor, backlit. (Elva Etienne/Getty Images)

Almost 10 Australian women a day are hospitalised for assault injuries perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner. In the year that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) made that stat, 2019, 3,600 women hospitalised for assault injuries identified a spouse or domestic partner as the perpetrator.

The Oz social media phenomenon Destroy the Joint reports that 63 Australian women died from family violence in 2019, and 55 in 2020. This year? At the time of writing we have lost nine Australia women. A different site, Impact, states that, at the time of writing, 17 Australians have been killed through family violence.

Those lists do not even begin to include those who are suffering from lifelong physical, emotional, psychological, mental and spiritual limitations and pain brought on by the experience of physical assault, sexual abuse and rape. Nor do they address the relational impact on those who with friends and relatives who have survived it or been lost to it.

The violent abuse of power in our homes, in our governments, is being laid bare. It begs the questions how many have suffered during a plague that shut many of us into confined quarters with abusers.

When I interviewed Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton in his final week before retiring in June 2020; he listed mental health issues as coming second as a ‘statistically significant issue we deal with [following] family violence’.


'We see the world and our place in it through a gendered lens. Denying the reality of that lens of experience only hides our problems.'


‘We respond to a mental health issue every 10 minutes, and our members respond to a family violence issue every seven or eight minutes,’ he added, ‘and attending issues stemming from drug addiction or substance abuse follows on from that.’

Police attend a family violence issue every seven or eight minutes. Think about that.

Last April, the ABC reported police attending family violence issues in Victoria every six minutes. Nationally, 2016 stats says police were responding to a family violence incident every two minutes.

These stats beggar description. In June 2020, based on 2019 figures, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that some ‘one in three homicide offences (30 per cent) and sexual assaults (33 per cent) were family and domestic violence related’.

You can take your own best guess at how prevalent violence is for most of us in Oz. This is more shoulder-shrugging than fearmongering on my part — it's under-reported and under-researched; not understood.

At the Salvation Army Melbourne Project 614 on Bourke Street, where I have worked since March 2020, we get referrals for practical support from family violence agencies. The Salvation Army has noticed a rise in enquiries for information and requests for support regarding family violence.

The regional manager for the Salvation Army Family Violence Services for South East Victoria, Giselle Bailey, told me last year that family violence services in her area had been closed because of the pandemic and subsequent government decisions, with their workers doing their roles from home.

She said services for family violence have never ceased throughout the pandemic, and staff were committed to this while working from home. Physical offices were closed, but the demand for services had not changed.

The head of The Salvation Army’s Social Mission Department, Major Jenny Begent, told me during last year’s lockdowns that an increase in requests for additional information and support could possibly parlay into an increase in people applying to access the Salvos’ family violence services — once the various lockdowns have been lifted and partners are back at their places of employment again. 

This is a complex subject, still taboo for some. While I don’t know any friends or family who are struggling with family violence issues, for me to say so baldly is in itself a Pollyanna statement; the context of family violence is more subtext.

Abusing power reveals itself reluctantly as a taboo thought; an illicit public conversation even today. Family violence manifests into visibility to the public often through overheard cries for help, court cases and IVOs.

Many of the commentariat rightly suspect that things have worsened because of COVID-19. Uniting Church social work doyen and former Victorian Government minister for education Bronwyn Pike told me about a year ago (May 2020) that family violence ‘can be very hidden in a pandemic… People are not coming forward because they are locked in a house with the perpetrator of violence; they don’t have the freedom to get out and seek assistance.’

Things are dire; accounts of rape, sexual misconduct and dismissive responses infest our institutions and governments.  

The hardest question, the why, is submerged. Even accounting for the many imbalances of power that sustain our communities, it is more complex than a matter of relative physical strength — biological determinism doesn’t cut it. Toxic masculinity looms as an apt description and driver.

Living within many of us are personal and generational memories; the bestowing and receiving of backhanders, shirtfronts, ‘don’t argues’ and the sporting glory of normalised violence. We see the world and our place in it through a gendered lens. Denying the reality of that lens of experience only hides our problems.

The death of Rosie Batty’s son at the hands of his father, 20 years later, and Rosie’s subsequent and ongoing contribution to public discourse as an Australian of the Year (2015), have done much to open up this taboo subject. Sadly, Batty’s brave efforts to encourage conversation and generate lasting change attracted some trollish responses.

It seems often it is two steps forward, one step backward. 

And as we trudge forward towards non-violence, the social media feeds keep counting dead people.



Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

If you or someone you know is in crisis you can call Lifeline at 13 11 14 or 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732.

Main image: Girl sitting on the floor, backlit. (Elva Etienne/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, family violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, Destroy the Joint, Salvation Army



submit a comment

Existing comments

I am surprised that in a Church based publication, an article of abuse of power would not include some reference to Church abuse and it's cover-up, and a note on the connection between toxic masculinity and clericalism. I have wondered if clergy were prepared to stay silent about clerical abuse because as children they were trained to be silent about family abuse. Thank you for the article.

Martin Nicol | 01 April 2021  

A timely and appropriately provocative reflection, Barry - it provokes me to suggest there's a dimension that goes beyond male social conditioning that requires moral and religious addressing and remedy - both individual and communal. The spirit of Christ that motivates groups like the Salvos and Vinnies is more than a step in the right direction. A blessed Easter.

John RD | 02 April 2021  

Family violence does not figure prominently in my experience, or that of my family. Observation is that its cause is complex, often associated with alcohol and drugs, financial and sexual conflicts and inadequate moral guidance from a young age. The key to improvement of attitude and relationships is “respect”. The decline in society generally of solid Christian values and the incursion of progressive ideas into the home and school environments of our children has guaranteed the continuing erosion of respect from our values. Our behaviour reflects our values.

Peter | 02 April 2021  

"Why?" may well be "the hardest question" but the answer is very simple, viz: "the abandonment of Judeo-Christianity". Such things as pornography, the adulation afforded violence in sport, the normalisation of everything that degrades the human condition through the money making enterprises of the "great" economies such as the USA , AUS and GB, the sexualisation of young children, the abandonment of marriage/family and the legalisation of killing others through abortion and euthanasia in the name of human rights are but a few of the specific causes, all of which distill down to the fundamental abandonment of Judeo-Christianity. The time for the money lenders to be driven out of the temple yet again is long overdue! And all this aided and abetted by governments who can find no votes in imposing any changes that might impinge on the rights of the abusers of all things humanly decent.

john frawley | 02 April 2021  

JF: Benedict XVI, with his characteristic acumen, might add "Christophobia" to your clear-eyed diagnosis of our current condition, but he knew, too, that our world's always ripe for the Gospel, even if its big players fail or refuse to acknowledge it. As GM Hopkins says: "May he Easter in us!"

John RD | 04 April 2021  

Maybe the moneychangers are always in need of being chased from the temple. A speaker at the Palm Sunday rally spoke about the Frustration we can feel for things not promoting justice , equality and compassion. We were reminded that Persistence is required in being warriors for good while remaining hopeful through the hope implicit in the Resurrection. Hope inspires us in the little things we do in our relationships and communities that possibly help create change . It encourages us to maybe advocate and press for a new , enlivened and productive mental health system that addresses the needs of so many?. We may be also able to actively support educational programs that open all of us up to a broader world view which values and respects others. All the while we remain positive and not give in to "the way things used to be" mentality. Our grandfathers didn't use a telephone. Now we have the internet and all that allows. Learning to understand the pressures people live prevents us being judgemental . To actively work for change may be in small or bigger things.(85 year old religious sister helps teenagers prepare a submission to high court about climate change!) . We may never see the outcome of our small deeds but we try anyway even if a whole generation goes by before there's widespread change... The early Christian communities were a small group spreading the good news of their Leader. Frustration , persistence and hope may be the mantra for those two steps forward and one step backwards that Barry reported..

Celia | 04 April 2021  

Celia. "We may be also able to actively support educational programs that open all of us up to a broader world view which values and respects others." The educational program that you urge is embodied in the principles of Judeo- Christianity. These are what need to be taught to today's world.

john frawley | 05 April 2021  

John RD. You are quite right and while I have always admired GM Hopkins' beautifully expressed belief and truth, Francis Thompson's Hound of Heaven is perhaps the greatest of all testaments to Christ's love and confirmation that H e will never abandon his sheep no matter how far they might wander from the fold. And even when the sheep do follow false gods and flee Him "down the nights and down the days and down the arches of the years" through the "labyrinthine ways" of their own minds and when fallen to the depths of "Titanic glooms of chasmed fears", His strong feet follow, follow after "with unhurrying, chase and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy, and they beat - and a Voice beats more instant than the feet- 'All things betray thee who betrayest me'." To me, the greatest poem ever written!!!

john frawley | 06 April 2021  

Thanks for the reminder, jf - it's high among my favourites.

John RD | 08 April 2021  

Certainly an education in values and attitudes that respects others and promotes and provides practise in "Love one another as I have loved you" is so very needed. Maybe though it is not only Judeo- Christian religions that have the mandate on this kind of teaching and learning. There are many other teachers and many other places where good values and attitudes, reflection, contrition and service are encouraged. Other Eastern religions, such as Buddhism , parents in the home( best educators of all), , the media,(think Compass) various" prophets" in film making, maybe even in governments and the many institutions that make up our society. Just imagine a government which attends to the dignity and needs of refugees, or the plight of our suffering neighbours , as in Timor Leste or which implements policies to benefit the unemployed , disabled ,or aged , surely it is providing a form of education too that teaches many people about compassion, respect and service to all. . Education occurs across many platforms and teachers come in many shapes and sizes.

Celia | 08 April 2021  

Celia: ‘Maybe though it is not only Judeo-Christian religions that have the mandate on this kind of teaching and learning. There are many other teachers and many other places….that [teach] many people about compassion, respect and service to all.’ True, but leads to the irony that the eagerness of Christian philanthropy (expressed in, for example, the cause that is Eureka Street) to cooperate with other hues of belief to relieve the cares of the world sidelines the imperative that all are commanded by the Great Commission to be united in Christ. Christians don’t exist to help the needy. They exist to help the needy so they can move to Christ. The effect of value-neutral Western states, historic Christian schisms like the Orthodox and Reformation mutinies, and the existence of rival philosophies and religions (and all other philosophies and religions are ‘rivals’) is to create many silos of philanthropy that remain, in their individual sense of righteousness, obdurately so.

roy chen yee | 10 April 2021  

Similar Articles

New Home Affairs Minister has opportunities for compassion

  • Claire Victory
  • 08 April 2021

The treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum calls for a determined response on the back of years of poor public policy that has led to the misery of thousands and cost Australian taxpayers billions. I stand to support the Minister in the early days of her new role to make compassionate and sensible decisions, to find a different path for the resolution of the challenges she faces.


Why reef interventions are not enough

  • Yolanda Waters
  • 06 April 2021

The health of the Great Barrier Reef is now in critical status. And with current efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees far from sufficient, suffice it to say, things are not looking so great for the Great Barrier Reef. Restoration efforts are designed to help guide the Reef through the next few decades of locked-in warming but, they will only be effective if we combine them with a serious reduction in global emissions.