One-hour English documentary The Abused combines actual recordings of emergency calls, police cam footage and interviews that chronicle two women’s separate experiences of intimate partner violence, and the aftermath of reporting the offender to police.
This documentary is at times harrowing to watch. The Abused does not conceal the physical and emotional horror of the violence perpetrated upon these women by their male partners.
We meet Hazel when police respond to her emergency call for help. Cowardly, hidden from the public gaze, Hazel’s partner has repeatedly stomped on her head and viciously punched her in a sustained attack inside her own home. The results are distressing. As Hazel reveals more of her story, we begin to understand just what she has had to endure over time. Why didn’t she leave? He threatened to kill her, she knew he meant it, and that he was very capable of doing it.
We also meet Kelly who, for the first time, has called police after being physically attacked by her partner in front of her small child. Police have previously attended the house on other occasions after phone calls from concerned neighbours, but Kelly has been too terrified to tell them about the extent of the ongoing abuse. In the past, her partner has strangled her to near death and threatened to make her dig her own grave. But like Hazel, we begin to understand that Kelly is also too terrified to leave, tell neighbours or police for fear of the violent repercussions from her partner.
Both stories expose how hidden domestic violence still is, despite the horrifying statistics. It highlights the fear, difficulties and complexity around leaving an abusive relationship and having to rely on the criminal justice system for protection.
How to Leave an Abusive Relationship
The 30-minute companion film, How to Leave an Abusive Relationship screens before The Abused. It provides an optimistic message from those working in the domestic violence sector – that with well-organised support, women and children can, and do, successfully leave abusive relationships, even while knowing that leaving can be the most dangerous time for them.
Domestic and family violence is not always physical
We see in these films that intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic and family violence are not always physical, but power and control are always the central drivers of it.
This can take many forms: isolation from family and friends, withholding money, verbal put-downs, reproductive control, technology-facilitated abuse, sexual and physical violence. These acts of intimidation and violence are commonly used together to satisfy the perpetrators’ sense of entitlement to exert power and control over their partners.
Behind closed doors in Australia
These films are set in the UK, but we know that one woman is murdered every week in Australia by her current or ex-partner. One in 4 Australian women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner. Police deal with a domestic violence incident every 2 minutes in Australia.
Overall, the count for domestic violence incidents attended by police is 239,846 per year around the country. And that’s just the cases that are being reported.
Leaving an abusive relationship in Australia can be dangerous, emotionally draining and confusing. Complications around children, housing, finances, pets, medical issues, transport and legal issues to name but a few, can be overwhelming.
But dealing with all these aspects is business as usual for specialist domestic violence services who provide confidential advice, support and safety planning to women and children every day to help them navigate the best possible pathways out of violent relationships in the safest possible way.
Karyn Walsh, CEO of Micah Projects who run Brisbane Domestic Violence Service (BDVS) says, “We need new investment that is focused on supporting women from crisis to recovery, working with them at their pace and over time. Lack of affordable and safe housing is still a driver that makes decision making harder for women”.
Some specialist services, like BDVS, now offer advice and technical support to women around the use of technology. Tracking and stalking women using technology is now a new threat used by abusive men.
The Australian integrated approach
Australia is working towards a fully integrated system to tackle domestic violence that uses information from multiple government agencies and community services to develop a multi-faceted systems response.
Some form of High Risk Team now operates in all states of Australia to identify and track high-risk domestic violence offenders and provide tailored support to women and children.
But despite these efforts, the problem in Australia continues, and services struggle to keep up with the demand.
Young people can make a difference
Respectful relationship programs for young people like the award-winning R4Respect in Logan, Queensland are emerging as an essential tool in the efforts to prevent violence from happening in the first place.
Gender and racial inequality underpin male violence towards women. These programs aim to challenge widely held toxic ideas of masculinity as well as gender norms and promote bystander action that identifies and calls out harmful behaviours from an early age.
The Abused and How to Leave an Abusive Relationship Safely air on Saturday, 23 November at 8.30pm on SBS VICELAND. Both will stream at SBS On Demand after broadcast.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic and family violence anywhere in Australia, and looking for confidential advice and support any time of the day or night, you can call 1800 737 732 or go to https://www.1800respect.org.au/ for online chat and information about services in your area.
1800RESPECT is open 24 hours to support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse.