Domestic violence and a simple tool called the 'No Test' could identify an abusive partner
PHOTO Too many victims of domestic violence see themselves as part of the problem, according to counsellors.
Emma* was 17 years old when she met 22-year-old Tom* at a party.
Describing herself as "on the chubby side" with low self-esteem, she was initially over the moon when such a seemingly charismatic man was interested in her.
"He'd been having a rough time but I thought all he needed was someone to care for him," she said.
"However, looking back now I can definitely see that the signs of control and jealousy were there from the very beginning."
It took Emma, who had a child with Tom, years before she decided to finally leave — during which time she said his behaviour became more and more controlling, eventually turning to physical abuse.
"He struck me on the shoulder, he pushed me to the ground and hit me repeatedly and pulled me around on the floor by my hair," she said.
"I was in such a strange place. For eight years I had been worried everyday that he was capable of something like this but he had never taken it this far."
Domestic violence counsellor Rob Andrew said Emma's story was an all-too-familiar one.
"It's a major social problem that needs to be addressed," he said.
"Mostly it begins gradually. It's very insidious."
A powerful tool to help women
Over the past 20 years, Mr Andrew has had countless conversations with women seeking help from abusive partners, each of their stories personally unique, while also starkly similar.
"A colleague of mine, many years ago, asked me why it always took her so long to see a man's true colours," he said.
"I asked her to explain and she told me how the man she was in a new relationship with had blown up at her after she'd had to cancel on a date as she was feeling unwell.
"We unpacked this together and realised it was the first time she'd said no."
Out of this came what Mr Andrew has called the 'No Test'.
"The No Test is basically to watch out for the way your partner responds the first time you change your mind or say no," he said.
"While expressing disappointment is OK, it's not the same as annoyed.
"Annoyed is 'how dare you', a sign of ownership or entitlement."
Mr Andrew said it had proven a powerful tool in his work.
"A lot of the women who will present to services will see themselves as part of the problem," he said.
"With the No Test, we're not trying to give women knowledge that they didn't already know, but when they see it in black and white in front of them like that, they realise they of course have the right to say no, that they aren't to blame."
Blaming the victim never the answer
Mr Andrew said it was often concerning when women with abusive partners were told to be more assertive, sometimes even from professionals suggesting "assertiveness training".
"Being assertive with a man who's threatening to bash you is not a very good idea," he said.
"It almost comes from what I'd call 'deficit thinking', that somehow these women need to be trained up so that the people won't abuse them.
"The only person who can stop the abuse is the person who is doing the abusing."
Instead Mr Andrew said he asked the women questions like: How did you survive? How did you cope? How did you hold on to hope and dignity?
"When they start realising the ways in which they've resisted, how they've held onto hope and dignity, suddenly their eyes light up," he said.
"I call it repositioning.
"Often the women will look at their lives from the mountaintop of judgment, blaming themselves.
"The mountaintop of recognition is when they can start to recognise they did stand up for themselves, they do have a voice.
"We can't stop the man from abusing them, but if we help the woman to have a different identity description of herself, to start recognising these things, then it's amazingly helpful to them."
Not painting women as angels and men as the devil
Speaking on ABC Radio Perth's Focus program on Wednesday morning, Mr Andrew received some complaints from listeners asking why he was not including men as victims of domestic abuse.
"Look, that's very possible and we would never deny the possibility of men being in controlling situations of course," he responded to one text.
"We're not trying to paint women as angels and men [as] the devil."
In response to a caller who said he had recently got out of a relationship with an abusive, controlling woman, Mr Andrew cited statistics showing more women are murdered by men in domestic situations than vice versa.
"So the statistics point out men being abusive to women is far more serious," he said.
Mr Andrew said he also did work with men, those seeking help — sometimes sent by the authorities — for being abusive.
"People have different ways of thinking about this but I see it as an attitudinal problem," he said.
"So what we're trying to do with the men is to expose the attitudes that they have, look at where those attitudes take them and ask them if that's the sort of man they want to be in a relationship.
"Most often they'll say it's not, [that] they're not proud of themselves."
'We've got to keep chipping away at it'
Mr Andrew recalled one man who had come to a group session after his partner, with whom he had two small children, told him he needed to do something about his behaviour to prevent her from leaving.
"Now I don't know the level of abuse or what it was, but he's reported things are so much better at home now," he said.
"This man explained he'd taken on his behaviour from his father and grandfather who'd raised him.
"He said he'd go to work, come home and go straight to the couch for a beer. In his head he was done for the day."
Mr Andrew said when the man began thinking about the type of person he wanted to be, he began making small changes, even engaging more with the children.
"He recognised he was being self-centred, and it's these types of things we address — self-centredness, ownership, entitlement, rightness."
Mr Andrew said he knew his views were likely to elicit some strong and perhaps critical responses.
"I hear a lot of people saying how it's so hard for men now, it's all so confusing," he said.
"It's very easy to be a man. Just be polite and respectful to people, it's not that difficult really.
"But in saying that, we are to some extent dealing with 2,000 years of history of women being a second-class citizen.
"That's the nut of the problem and we've got to keep chipping away at it."
* Names have been changed to protect identities
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