Prevention first step in reducing family violence

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The Victorian Government’s 10-year family violence prevention plan is a good start, says a survivor. Fatima Halloum reports.

It begins with a slap. He tells you it’s your fault, because you forgot to do the laundry. It becomes a sharp shove that leaves your skin covered in bruises. Broken promises of “I’ll never do it again” escalate to broken bones until the next time, when you’re laying in the hospital fighting for your life.

When Maria Dib wed her partner of two years she never expected the same man who held her hand through the birth of their children would later be the reason she lay in a hospital bed, unconscious.

The 39 year-old mother of four says the verbal abuse started early on within the first year of marriage and quickly turned physical.

“I thought I was his punching bag,” Dib said. “I’d say to myself, ‘Just let it go, he’s just angry.’ I always made excuses for him because I thought I loved him.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of someone known to them, a figure the government is hoping will decrease following the introduction of a prevention strategy.

Premier Daniel Andrews recently introduced Victoria’s $2 billion domestic violence package, a strategy he said would implement all 227 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. This would reportedly include funding for 17 new support and safety hubs, emergency counselling and crisis support and housing, hundreds of new child protection officers and reforms to the court and justice systems.

However, while Ms Dib says the plan is a “good start,” she says more can be done to protect our children.  “Kids are the biggest victims, because we as adults can find ways to deal with it. With children, it’s just a memory that will haunt them for their rest of their lives.”

Dib’s own children are aged between 14 and 7 and were often witnesses to their father’s violence. “I can barely stand to remember it, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for them.”

Ms Dib’s younger sister Kedija said watching her nephews slowly regain their confidence has been a miracle.

“After the divorce they were very shy and reserved, especially the eldest because he was old enough to remember the abuse,” said Kedija. “He’s slowly coming around. He plays soccer now and that helps take his mind off things.”

Ms Dib says the Government should also work on finding a solution for abusers who skip out on paying child support payments.

The primary school teacher is owed hundreds of dollars but says her ex-husband is unwilling to pay up. “No one can force him, not unless you go through the courts. It’s lengthy and expensive and the whole experience is just traumatising.”

“Not only are you worried about emotionally supporting your children, but suddenly you’re living on half of an income. You don’t know if you’ll end up on the streets,” said Dib.  “You don’t want them to feel any less valuable as a child just because you can only afford necessities.”

Premier Daniel Andrews stated in Ending Family Violence, Victoria’s plan for change that the Government is committed to “a decade-long agenda of action and investment to protect victims, punish the guilty, and change community attitudes”.

Ms Dib says she believes the plan will also bring more awareness to the issue. “Women will feel more comfortable speaking out and men, or the perpetrators, will know that there are consequences.”

She says it’s imperative that victims focus on their wellbeing and are not afraid to reach out and seek help. “Lean on your family and friends, don’t let your circumstances make you feel like a failure.”

“Always be optimistic,” said Ms Dib. “Stay strong and look after yourself.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic or family violence, call 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.