Parish representatives deepen understanding of domestic violence

‘Chaos’, ‘War zone’, ‘domestic terrorism’, ‘lost childhood’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘tangle’, ‘why me?’, ‘is there a way out?’ These were just some of the words used to describe family and domestic violence by participants in an interactive workshop hosted by Catholic Social Services Victoria last week with Sr Nicole Rotaru rsm.

Twenty participants from Melbourne parishes attended the workshop in order to increase their understanding of domestic and family violence and its impact, particularly from the perspective of women and children. It also provided participants an opportunity appreciate the power of empathetic listening in helping to bring about change, in the individual and the wider community.

“We live in a very difficult time,” said Sr Rotaru. “Following the Royal Commissions into Family Violence and the Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse, we are living in a climate of fear, a climate of suspicion and of having to tread very lightly. And I think we are still living in a climate of silence.”

“Family violence thrives in silence. Victoria Police receive 600 calls a day related to family and domestic violence, and they’re the ones that they receive. I hate to think how many more calls would come if all the lines were answered, or if all the calls were actually made – and that’s just in this state.

“It takes tremendous courage, enormous courage, for a woman to leave the home with her child or children, because when she does, that is actually their most vulnerable time. That’s the time when the phone calls, the texting, the stalking and the searching starts, and it’s the time when she is most likely to be murdered.”

Over 12 months, on average, one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. 1 in 3 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone they know. Findings from the Royal Commission into Family Violence clearly show that domestic and family violence is an issue of inequality between men and women. There are rigid roles and stereotypes that reinforce the power imbalance between men and women. It is about power and control over another person, in order to create fear. 95% perpetrators are male, 5% are female. It is estimated to cost the Australian economy $21.7 billion a year.

“Violence cuts across every socio-economic level, and it is always a choice,” said Sr Rotaru. “Men who might be violent at home are not violent at work or in other social circumstances. “When it comes to the perpetrator, we know it is an issue of exerting power and control over another and we know that they often have a history themselves of being brutalized, of having come from an environment of domestic and family violence. They think, ‘this is how you treat women, this is what you do’ and it’s been backed up by some of the things we see on television and in commercials. It’s about how we speak about one another, and how we treat one another.

“There has been some very interesting research done by Stuart Brown in America around perpetrators of violence. He found was that for perpetrators of violence, many of them had been deprived of play. So as a child, they didn’t play, as a teenager, they didn’t play. As an adult, they didn’t play. Play is creative and restorative. We can never underestimate the power of play.”

Sr Rotaru has a background in education, social work and creative arts therapy. She wrote the book Smarty Pants, Kitty or Tiger? using stories and artwork of women and children at McAuley Family Services’ crisis program, McAuley Care. The women and children were participating in the Creative Arts Program and gave voice to their experiences of family violence.

Sr Rotaru shared many of the stories in the book with workshop participants, walking through the experience of the women and children and their artwork. It was an opportunity to grow in empathy. A video by American researcher Brené Brown, drawing on the work of Theresa Wiseman, provided further explanation.

“Empathy is to see the world as others see it, to be non-judgemental, to just hear it, to understand another person’s feelings. It’s to communicate the understanding of that person’s feelings, which is the toughest part. It’s not through words. It’s through emotional connection. And you don’t have to open your mouth for someone to know that you’ve got it. It can be just the way you look at someone,” explained Sr Rotaru.

The workshop concluded with participants brainstorming the various opportunities for adopting a preventative or restorative approach within the parish or work setting. These notes are being summarised and will be available here soon.

“People want to support and help but we need to tread carefully,” said Sr Rotaru. “It’s about knowing how to help in a way that won’t endanger someone’s life. It would be wonderful if every Catholic parish in the archdiocese said we’re going to offer a workshop so that we can deepen our awareness and understanding of family violence and so that we can know how to listen with empathy, and without judgement. We need to know how to best direct people to particular numbers so they can get advice from experts about how to leave a place safely. 

The workshop concluded with participants brainstorming the various opportunities for parishes to adopt preventative or restorative approaches to assisting women and children impacted by family and domestic violence. These notes are being summarised and will be made available on the CSSV website.

 “We just need one brave parish to take up the offer of learning more about family violence and how we can make a difference. How can we get that brave parish?”
Email Sr Nicole Rotaru RSM

Watch a video interview with Sr Nicole Rotaru rsm about the workshop, here (thanks to Melbourne Catholic)

Further resources and reading: 

Victorian Catholic parishes resource kit

McAuley Community Services for Women

Good Samaritan Inn

Australia Reimaged: Towards a More Compassionate, Less Anxious Society by Hugh McKay.

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