I applaud the men who appear in the Family Commission's 'It's not OK' ads, admitting to having abused their families and exhorting other abusers to change their behaviour. It can't be easy facing up to the nation and confessing you've done something morally repugnant. The message these men put forward is both powerful and pragmatic: if you're a domestic abuser, you can and must seek help to stop your behaviour. These ads, fronted by ex-abusers, form part of a broader series which urges us to view domestic violence as a community problem, not dismiss as something private happening behind the closed doors of an unfortunate few.
So far, so good. But if we want men to stop abusing, to take responsibility and seek help for their behaviour, we must consider carefully how we treat those who do come forward. Tony Veitch is at the moment being publicly vilified, and I don't have huge amounts of sympathy for the guy. Even Matthew Ridge, noble champion of feminist causes, has denounced him. Veitch offered his victim compensation and sought counselling for his violence, and may have had genuine remorse for what he'd done; but ultimately, he was trying to conceal his violence for the sake of his career.
What if Veitch's circumstances had been slightly different? What if, instead of saying 'I'm sorry, but...', he'd simply said 'I'm sorry'? What if he had turned himself in to the Police? What if he and his victim had children together, and she and the children were dependent on Veitch for their financial wellbeing? How, as the general public, would we have reacted to him, and how might his employer have reacted? We are faced with serious practical problem heres: vilifying men who are violent may discourage abusers from coming forward. Faced with potential loss of employment and the means of supporting their families, both abusers and victims may be reluctant to admit violence. In a previous job, I worked with a woman in this very situation. She and her children lived with her violent husband - but because a criminal conviction would have prevented her husband practicing his profession and thus supporting their family, she felt she could not have him charged. You'll say that this dilemma is the product of a patriarchal society which makes women financially dependent on men, and you'd be right. Nonetheless, that's what we're stuck with for now.
Of course, there are philosophical as well as practical issues with how we treat perpetrators of domestic violence. Most feminists take a leftist, liberal view of crime, pointing to the way in which individuals are influenced by cultural and socioeconomic factors. It's problematic to on one hand allow that a patriarchal, violent culture may affect the actions of men, then advocate a response to offenders which is only punitive. Some sort of 'reform' or 'rehabilitation' - both of abusers and the social forces which perpetuate abuse - is surely needed.
I'm not sure where this namby-pamby woolly liberal leftist reflection leaves us in terms of practical responses to domestic violence and those who perpetrate it. I know it won't offer much comfort to a woman recovering from spinal injuries. But, as always, I welcome the thoughts of readers.