It is the silence and acceptance of the community and people surrounding women and their children who are victimised through domestic violence which allows the present levels of domestic violence to continue.
The National Community Attitudes to Violence against Women Survey 2009 highlighted the attitudes in the community towards domestic violence and demonstrated the prevalence of some myths about violence that have remained in the community.
For example, overall, the results showed that national community perceptions of what constitutes domestic violence have broadened significantly since 1995, and that the vast majority of respondents agreed that physical and sexual assault, and threats, was domestic violence (98% in 2009 compared with 93% in 1995). However, while the vast majority of people surveyed did not believe that any physical force against a current or former wife, partner or girlfriend could be justified under any circumstances, 34% of people believed that ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’ and roughly one in six agreed that a woman ‘is partly responsible if she is raped when drunk or drug- affected despite the law being very clear that under these circumstances victims of sexual assault are unable to provide consent.
Another study carried out by Flood and Peade 1 demonstrated that men are more likely to adhere to common myths about domestic violence; consider a smaller range of behaviours as violent; express victim blaming attitudes; and downplay the harm caused by violence and its seriousness.
We know from discussions in the ACT that many in the community do not think that domestic violence occurs in the ACT, and issues that continue to exist include:
- The belief that domestic violence only occurs in poorer / lower socio-economic families;
- Beliefs that domestic violence is a personal / relationship issue;
- A lack of understanding about why women stay in violent relationships leading to a victim blaming culture;
- The spread of information that contributes to the belief that domestic violence is perpetrated equally by men and women, and that women are making false allegations of violence.
These attitudes at a local level can influence the responses by women to violence by affecting their ability to disclose the violence and seek help; and can also affect the decisions of other people in the community acting in response to the violence.