Official figures relating to domestic violence don't show the true picture.
Every three hours, give or take a few minutes, a woman is hospitalised in Australia because of domestic violence. She is the victim of a spouse, a partner, a carer, maybe a sibling. I say every three hours or so because so often, women just will not reveal how they were injured.
That number works out to about seven women a day. Then there are the secret seven. There are so many more who will never confide. Who will say they ran into a doorknob, they slipped in the shower, that they are cold to justify the jumper, the shirt; women who will never tell how their arm was broken, their lips split, their private parts made public by these violations. We should honour those seven women who at the hospital actually reveal what happened.
The figures we have, from research completed by Sophie Pointer, deputy director of the Research Centre for Injury Studies at Flinders University, are from 2002 to 2005. But experts say the situation is unlikely to have changed much.
We cannot do this any more. We cannot read about another woman killed at the hands of an abusive partner, another child murdered by a parent, another story about rape. We cannot wring our hands and hope it will go away.
It is not just about what we choose to read. It is about the kind of society we want to live in. This is not the one. I do not care whether other countries are worse. We need ours to be better.
I, we, all of us, should want it to stop.
Of course, the injuries are one thing. Usually, our bodies can recover from injury. But every week in Australia, one woman dies at the hands of a partner or former partner. Actually, it’s closer to one death every five days.
Here are some other things we do know about domestic violence from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey for 2012.
One in six women experiences domestic violence at the hands of a partner she lives with or has lived with. That figure does not include date violence or the violence from a partner not sharing the home.
We know this: if you were the victim of sexual abuse before you were 15, you are nearly three times as likely to experience partner violence after the age of 18.
If you are the victim of domestic violence, you are highly unlikely to report it to police if you still live with the perpetrator. Only one in five women ever reports if she stays with that partner. But if she leaves him – or if he leaves her – then that number doubles; two in five women will report the perpetrator to police.
Here is something else we know. Something else for all those people who say schools should teach only numeracy and literacy. When White Ribbon and the University of NSW partnered with a small public school in suburban NSW to develop an anti-violence learning and teaching module, reports of violence at school dropped 80per cent. But what we do know is not enough.
On Monday, Brad Petry, the assistant director of the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics, explained to me that the problem is not what we know. We know that women and children are killed. We know they are harmed every day. Then he spent some time explaining all the things we do not know about domestic violence – and why, in those gaps, the misery and the murders continue.
Because of the unwitting chaos of the method in which the figures are collected, there is no way of knowing how bad it is nationally. What is considered serious in Tasmania may not be seen the same way in Queensland. It is different in different jurisdictions, Petry says. He puts it this way: ‘‘The different legislation and concepts of family make it difficult.’’
Then the people who try to help – the service providers – can only help so many people. Those service providers – the refuges, the crisis centres – do not keep track of the victims they have had to turn away. There are so many agencies involved and a million ways to get in and out of the system and that makes it hard to track.
And those poor overstretched souls and the community organisations in which they work hardly have time to tend the wounded, the damaged. There is again no consistent way to collect the information from those angels. It is not only hard to evaluate how effective they are – but also tough to count the resources they need. It is almost as if each place needs its own volunteer auditor to truly count the cost of domestic violence.
If you cannot quantify it, you can ignore it. The numbers look terrible to me. Pointer says: ‘‘Surely these numbers are enough for someone to say it has to stop.’’
We are two years into the Department of Social Services’ National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The end date is 2022.
I am not at all sure we can wait that long.