I have specialised in the practise of Family and Relationship Law for more than 30 years. During that time I have seen the divorce rate climb to 1 in 3 marriages and today, it is closer to 1 in 2. De facto relationships are now the ‘norm’ before marriage and most common in relationships after divorce. When the Family Law Act commenced 39 years ago, the divorce rate was approximately 1 in 4 marriages ending in divorce. De facto relationships were not common.
Much of the current debate is directed towards remedies including tougher sentences; dedicated domestic violence courts; quicker responses to requests for assistance; more public awareness; and early intervention to preventing and responding to domestically violent environments for children. This is all good and needs to be supported and pursued. All of those initiatives however, are directed towards dealing with reported domestic violence. It does not deal with the more than 60 per cent of domestic violence cases in Australia which go unreported. More importantly, they are all initiatives directed at the consequences of domestic violence, rather than its root cause.
Lack of male role models
I do not know the specific circumstances of each of the perpetrators of the recent spate of tragic and horrific domestic violence events on the Gold Coast that have been widely reported in the media. I would however, be prepared to wager that as young boys they did not have access to strong male role models.
No doubt they were the ‘victims’ of their parents’ broken marriages and/or lived with their mother who may have had more than one relationship; witnessed and/or experienced a significant level of conflict and family violence; were poorly educated; were either bullied or was a bully at school; have minimal social skills; and suffered some form of psychological dysfunction.
There are lots of reasons why many young boys may not have sufficient access to good and strong male role models in their lives. Regrettably, less than 20 per cent of primary school teachers and less than 35 per cent of secondary school teachers, are male. Commonly with marriage break-up, most children still live primarily with their mother and spend less time with their father. In many cases, their mother has a number of different relationships; they have little opportunity to experience a strong male role model and relationship, instead seeing men come and go from their mother’s life and their lives. Like their mothers they too feel controlled by their circumstances.
Provided their mothers report the domestic violence to which they and their children are exposed, those children (both boys and girls) can receive some early intervention assistance. More than 60 per cent however are unreported. How can they be helped? – through schools, teachers and targeted education.
Need for targeted education
Sex education for all children is available and good. Relationship education is equally important but presently minimal only or in some instances, non-existent. Having said that, I acknowledge that the Australian school curriculum does include some provision for teaching and helping students to develop both personal and social capabilities as well as an understanding as to how reasoning can assist in ethical judgments. The introduction of these programs however is new. The extent of implementation and effect is not yet known.
The point is that all children and particularly boys, should be taught right from the start of school and all the way through that bullying, intimidation, aggression and violence is not normal and is not acceptable. Rather it is simply cowardly; that the real emblem of a good person is respect for one another; that real men defend and protect, not violate; what it means to be a male; to be a husband; and to be a father. The real stamp of a man is someone who aspires to ensure that everyone, particularly wives and children, feel safe in their home; in their hands; and in their midst – not intimidated by their ability to exercise power and control.
Link between rising divorce rate and increasing domestic violence
Until such time as we accept that increasing domestic violence is a direct consequence of a dramatically increasing divorce rate over the last 40 years and the present perpetrators of most domestic violence are the offspring and products of the most divorced generation in history, the problem is only going to get worse. The only way to address and rectify the problem (rather than just addressing the consequences), is to ensure that our children receive an early and ongoing education and understanding of what makes a good human being; what behaviour is and is not acceptable; the importance of relationships; and most importantly, that respect for one another (particularly our own family members) is fundamental.
Proper education specifically directed to these relationship issues needs to commence immediately. Hopefully the present generation of 5-10 year olds will represent the first generation to experience a decline in domestic violence. Until then women and children need governments at all levels to move swiftly to implement measures to provide better protection for the future.