The sad truth is that in Australia, eventually most women receive the phone call, from their daughters, their sisters, mothers, aunts and friends. The call that starts something like, “Hi, it happened again and this time he really hurt me.”
Most women have direct experience of the impact of domestic violence in their own life or in the lives of the women they love.
From a woman’s perspective the violence that can accompany relationships with the men in their life and the lives of their children is just a fact of life.
But it is as if there are two universes (at least) operating in Australia, because the Justice and Peace Office has had conversations with a number of clergy or parish staff who have told us that family and domestic violence is “not a problem around here.”
This is sadly not true; it simply means that it is not being brought to the attention of the clergy as a pastoral problem.
How big is the problem? Domestic violence accounts for 40 per cent of calls to NSW Police. Close to one in four women have already experienced such violence in their lifetime, as well as a smaller number of men.
That’s, on average, several hundred women in every Catholic parish in Sydney. And it does happen in every part of Sydney.
If you thought domestic thuggery sounds like a thing of the past, something that happened in the days of men coming home from the bar drunk, think again.
It’s getting worse, not better. Sydney has had a 13 per cent increase in reported domestic violence since 2018.
Domestic violence and sexual assault have been the most common criminal incident in New South Wales for three years in a row.
The age group experiencing the fastest increase are girls and young women aged under 24, for whom the more accurate term is “intimate partner violence.”
As our society changes and people feel less bound by social mores or morality, is it really so surprising that self-restraint would also be on the decline?
So, it is important, when that dreadful phone call comes through, that we deal with it and not brush it away.
As a church, let’s not repeat our historic mistake regarding child abuse by being too ashamed to talk about family and domestic violence.
Sometimes we might have the sense that we’re letting the team down if we admit that marriages can be anything less than perfect. Let’s be open that this can happen to anyone.
Lastly, let’s also talk about the flip side of gender ideology wars. Plenty of ink gets spilled in the Catholic world, including in these pages, about gender ideology. It’s possible to go too far the other way, too.
It’s neither realistic nor helpful to go to the opposite extreme and champion gender roles as they were in agrarian societies, before the industrial revolution.
Social media and other online spaces have allowed the proliferation of extreme and misogynistic views such as the so-called “incels” (involuntarily celibates).
These hateful perspectives do not come from a faith perspective, and Catholics don’t do ourselves any favours if we tacitly endorse them by constantly repeating their favourite talking points.
There are plenty of witnesses to the beauty of loving intimate relationships in the world; let’s work to bring those voices to the fore.
And when the phone rings and we get that call, let’s educate ourselves and our communities about what can be done for the desperate woman and children at the end of the line.
CatholicCare offer counselling, support and safety planning for individuals, families and children affected by violence. They also offer services for men and their family members to get help and advice about developing positive relationships. Phone 13 18 19.