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What we tell ourselves about domestic abuse

By Denisse Sandoval

I’m reading a really great yet shattering book at the moment, See What You Made Me Do, by Jess Hill. I’m reading it in order to understand why men abuse women, and why women feel so guilty about leaving abusive partners.

You see, although I work as a social justice advocate, I too have experienced domestic abuse, which this book is all about.  This surprises people, as they know me to be a strong activist for numerous causes, but, as Rosie Batty said after her ex-partner killed her son, family violence can affect anyone, no matter how nice their house is or how smart they are.

Recently I have caught myself thinking I might be permanently doomed to attract abusive men, that something I was doing was drawing them towards me, that maybe I am too outspoken, too assertive, and therefore too much to handle for men.

I thought maybe I needed to tone myself down because, after all, men have their place in society. But as the fog and anxiety lifted I began to cope the way I have always dealt with major crises in my life: I began to read. And in this research I discovered that all types of women get abused.

My fear of attracting abusive men has now subsided and, after changing the locks on my house, I feel all the more secure at night.

Through all the drama and pain, I have been trying to understand why this kind of thing happens to women. Yes, men also experience abuse, but look at these statistics:

A report from 2018 by The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia, found that:

  • one in four women have experienced emotional abuse, while one in six men have.
  • in Australia on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, while one man a month is killed by his current or former partner.
  • one in six women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner, while for men this statistic is one in 16.

According to Jess Hill, out of the 87,000 women killed globally in 2017, more than a third (30,000) were killed by an intimate partner, and another 20,000 by another family member.

It is clear that family violence is a gendered issue, as women are significantly more likely to suffer as victims. Women have to deal with this issue in a way that men don’t, because we are empowering and asserting ourselves as equals in a system that historically favours men.

I’d like to remind you of what the Bible says in the book of 1 Peter 3:1-7:

“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. 

“You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

According to this scripture, as good Christian women, we are meant to submit to our husbands and quietly influence them with our actions. We should obey our husbands and treat them as our lords. Peter also tells husbands to be respectful of the weaker partner, the weaker sex, yet here in these Bible verses the hegemony is clear here, that men are superior to women.

Reading this passage, I asked myself how much the western culture and society of patriarchy has affected men’s understanding of their entitlements? Are men entitled to having a clean house, fresh food cooked to their liking, and a wife working full time whilst they chase their own pursuits? And, if so, are women entitled to feel safe and protected by their husbands? And how do these entitlements work for same sex couples because even in those relationships there may be abuse?

I encourage all people reading this to think about why men abuse women, and how our interpretation of scripture and use of language might be perpetuating a system and hierarchy that is not conducive to equity and justice.

If you need urgent help, call 000. Free counselling is available at Lifeline, call 1800 737 732.

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    Denisse Sandoval

    Denisse Sandoval is Social Justice Advocate for the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

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