Domestic violence: Where it starts, how it could end

Columnist Peter Leith is 91-and-a-half and a YourLifeChoices living treasure. Here he reflects on the powerful lesson he learnt as a domestic violence counsellor.

Long before we had helmets to protect our brains, cricketers had boxes: to protect their genitals. For the same reasons, most rugby players are tightly strapped ‘down there’ while very few wear protective head gear. A clear indication of where male priorities lie.

In 2001, at the age of 72, I gained a certificate in domestic and family violence from Swinburne and started working as a volunteer telephone counsellor with the Men’s Referral Service, now known as NTV (No To Violence) at their premises in Richmond, Melbourne.

We were each supposed to do no more than two three-hour shifts a week, but because I lived a long way away from Richmond, I did one six-hour shift every Friday between 6pm and midnight – for five years.

It was an incredible learning experience and fuelled by ‘a few beers after work at the end of the week’, there was never a shortage of incoming phone calls.

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The calls were, roughly speaking, equally divided between women and men.

Almost without exception the words, ‘It only (or always) happens after he has had a few drinks’ featured in the caller’s conversation.

With equal frequency and regularity were the words, ‘He starts picking on the kids who are hanging around the kitchen’, or the equally common, ‘The kids keep interrupting when I just want a bit of shush’.

I learnt firsthand what was later confirmed by the relevant literature – male-perpetrated domestic violence is learned behaviour. Men learn it from their fathers or other, older male relatives or friends of their fathers.

The importance of the need to exert authority to ‘show who is the boss’ featured in conversation after conversation.

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One conversation that lives with me to this day was with a man who admitted that, at the kitchen table on Friday evening, he sometimes begged his wife to stop talking about some complaint she has and ‘if she doesn’t, I find myself giving her a slap’.

Perhaps half an hour later – it was a long conversation – the same man spoke of his childhood and how his father warned him and his siblings, ‘If you don’t stop doing that by the time I count up to three I will give you a smack!’

When I called his attention to what he had just said, he made the connection immediately.

Domestic violence, in all its forms, is learned behaviour and it can be unlearned.

Has domestic violence crossed your path? Do you believe it has become a bigger issue than decades ago or is it simply exposed more often?

Do you have a story or an observation for Peter? Send it to [email protected].

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Written by Peter Leith