Jess Hill has written a seminal book with this name on domestic violence/abuse in Australia.  As we all know, this is a scourge within our society.  At least one woman a week is killed from this, usually by a partner or ex-partner.  But we – the general population – seem to have no idea how to stop these killings, or the huge number of cases of ongoing domestic abuse within our society.

Short-listed for the Stella Prize, this book examines why domestic abuse (a wider term, covering mental as well as physical abuse) occurs in a way I’ve never seen before.  Like Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu’ (on indigenous history) and Esther Perel’s ‘State of Affairs’ (on why affairs occur), it provides deep insights that conflict with orthodox thinking on a major society issue.  I strongly recommend you read it to understand why men kill, maim and abuse their loved and loving partners.  Here’s my brief summary.

  1. Why do Some Men Want to Control a Woman?

Based on wide research, Hill argues that individual men fear other men.  Men also fear that women will laugh at them.  The most humiliating thing for a man is to be regarded as weak, to be ‘unmasculine’.  This brings shame to a man, usually reflected internally.  Men are more violent than women.  Men actually fight more with other men than with women (see schools, pubs, nightclubs, sports fields).

For some men, particularly those with abusive family backgrounds, this shame leads them to want something to control.  Men are stronger than women (physically).  Because we have a patriarchal society, men feel entitled to things.  A man who feels shamed (real or imagined) by other men, may react by seeking to control something he can possess…such as a woman.  By controlling a woman, he feels powerful…which makes him feel like a real man.

  1. How do These Men Control Women? The Concept of ‘Coercive Control’

Bashing/abusing a woman – physical violence – is one way to exert one-time control.   But a man can gain coercive control – long term mental and physical control – over a woman by:

  • ‘lovebombing’ her at the start, demonstrating his love for her, gaining insight into her vulnerabilities, secrets, establishing trust with her
  • Isolating her – from friends, family, people generally through establishing his rules of behaviour which she obeys, because she loves him
  • Enforcing trivial demands – such as dictating dress codes, what she should eat, where she can go, telling him frequently where she is
  • Monopolising her perception – by isolating her from other people and their views, she comes to believe his view is correct (because she loves him and he loves her) so, eventually she sees the world through his eyes
  • Inducing debility and exhaustion – by gaslighting, making small changes in the rules for her environment, making activities difficult for her, denying her money, time and freedom
  • Demonstrating his omnipotence – using constant surveillance, verbal abuse/threats, physical and sexual violence (‘see what you made me do’)
  • Alternating punishments and rewards – giving small unexpected rewards between punishments bonds the victim to the perpetrator and undermines her resistance

Though she tries to change him, to fix him, to soften him, if she stays she eventually submits, having lost all self-esteem along the way.

  1. Why Doesn’t the Woman Leave?

Isolated from her friends and family, having limited resources, facing heavy surveillance, having limited knowledge of sources of help and often having children she doesn’t want to abandon, fearing their fate if she leaves, leaving is not very attractive or feasible.

Also, she feels she can fix him, the situation is partly her fault, it’s easier to forget what has happened.

Going to the police means she loses control of her situation.  They may not be receptive (police are mostly men), the perpetrator may present as ‘nice’ to police, police are not trained to handle domestic abuse (‘not police work’).

She will also know that Child Protection Officers may take her children away while the Family Court outcomes seem unrelated to the specifics of the situation  (Hill scorns the Family Court processes and outcomes, saying a Royal Commission is needed to expose what is going on there).

Finally, if she is forced to return, she (and /or her children) may suffer even more than if she stayed.

  1. How to Fix Domestic Abuse

She has several major recommendations:

  • Recognise legally that it is domestic ‘abuse’, not just domestic ‘violence’ that must be addressed (Scotland has just legalised this)
  • Provide resources (refuges, legal aid, police training, education for family law specialists; Victoria spending $1.9bn on 227 recommendations from their Royal Commission outcomes) and a specialist pathway for domestic abuse cases (police stations exclusively for women and children, as in Argentina and Brazil)
  • A Royal Commission that upends the principles and processes of the Family Court (which have changed greatly since no-fault divorce was introduced in 1975)
  • Community-based, holistic solutions, run by local communities, directly targeting known perpetrators, offering to help them reform or go to jail (Bourke, NSW and High Point, North Carolina are two possible model cases of success)
  • Achieve gender equality (Australia’s current goal, but too long-term to wait for)

It’s a long, complex book, but so readable it’s been short-listed for the Stella Prize.  This is a short summary that will probably shock you.  Read it.  For the benefit of the country.  Please.