There were 50,382 family violence calls to Police in Victoria last year. That’s an average of over 968 a week and 138 calls a day. Enough is enough! This is evil and it has to stop. Most of the abuse is from men toward women within the family with the kids caught up in the trauma both directly and indirectly. Add this to the horrendous violence to people like Jill Meagher and Tracey Connelly, both women senselessly murdered on our streets, and we are forced to admit that our society has a serious problem.
Family violence is not only physical: it can be sexual, emotional, verbal, financial, and social abuse and it is sometimes initiated by women or between children and their parents. It’s a complex problem but let’s concentrate on the way women are treated by abusive men in their lives, for this is the majority case.
Imagine a world without family violence. Social problems would be decreased enormously. Homelessness, substance abuse, depression, suicide, and learned aggression, just to name a few, would be in decline because we know that so often these problems are a result of family violence. A world without family violence would be a much safer place for women and children to live in and human flourishing would be much more the norm. This human flourishing would pour out onto the streets and into our workplaces and yes even our sports fields would be better off if we are able to say enough is enough and call for an end to men treating others with the ultimate of disrespect, violence.
Last week the Herald Sun in Victoria started a campaign called “Take a Stand. Say no to family violence”. It asked four prominent men in the social structure of Victoria to stand up and say enough is enough: Ken Lay, Chief Commissioner of Police; Premier Denis Napthine; Lord Mayor Robert Doyle; and Andrew Demetriou, AFL Chief. Ken Lay has called for men in our community to “call out family violence for the crime that it is”.
“We’ve got men engaging in criminal behaviour who aren’t being talked about, aren’t being made to feel shameful for what they’ve done, and that’s where the narrative needs to go,” he said.
When men are violent toward women it is a shameful thing. One of the complicating factors is that such violence is often learned behaviour. Learned from where? Obviously the first and most dominant learning place is the home, where boys are raised in abusive environments. Family violence begets family violence.
But it’s not the only place. There is violence all around us and if a boy/young man is from an abusive home the abuse he sees out there in the world simply reinforces what he is learning at home. We see violence in the way politicians act toward each other both in Parliament and through the media. We see it on our sporting fields. On the same radio station we can hear a call for family violence to stop and then a few minutes later a few of the boys laughing about a “good old fashioned biffo” on the footy field. It’s mixed messages and the learning continues.
The reporting of street violence in some media outlets actually glorifies the violence rather than naming it as shamefully un-Australian. And so it goes on.
Wisdom has some powerful things to say into this subject. As usual, such wisdom can be found from a lot of different sources. Psychology speaks about how important it is for learning environments to line up so there is no cognitive dissonance. Other Social Sciences speak of the essential nature of peaceful environments for social wellbeing. The major world religions all line up with some common ground on the importance of love, humility, and compassion; all factors that work furiously against family violence. So, what wisdom does the Bible have to throw into the mix here?
A few different biblical perspectives come to mind, like the biblical call to respect one another regardless of gender, age or race. Or there’s the characteristics of a healthy family and a healthy society, where violence is just not on as far as God is concerned. Micah 6:8 reminds us that God considers justice and mercy and humility as good and right; three things that can’t co-exist with violence. However, what stands out to me is the way Jesus treated women and children as depicted in the gospels of the New Testament.
In Jesus’ day, the cultural view of children was lacking in respect and value. Kids were unimportant; immaturity was equated with inferiority. Children were prized by parents, but in society they were largely ignored. Jesus challenged this view in his teaching and his practice. One example is given in Matthew 18, where Jesus dares to hold children up as a role model for what greatness is all about and condemns abuse of children in no uncertain way.
Women too were regarded as inferior and their treatment often lacked dignity and respect in the time of Jesus. The first century Jewish historian, Josephus said that in all things the woman is inferior to the man and Jewish Rabbis were encouraged not to teach or speak with a woman.
Into this culture, Jesus came and is depicted by one modern author as a feminist. In his 1997 work, ‘Jesus was a Feminist’ Leonard Swidler states: ‘By a feminist is meant a person who is in favour of, and who promotes, the equality of women with men, a person who advocates and practices treating women primarily as human persons (as men are so treated) and willingly contravenes social customs in so acting.’
The gospel accounts certainly depict Jesus as a champion of women’s rights in both his teaching and his practices. Women figure dominantly throughout his ministry. He taught them spiritual truths, he invited them to be among his followers, he commissioned them to bear witness to the fact of his resurrection, he came into physical contact with them, and he promoted the dignity and equality of women in his storytelling, always depicting them in positive rather than derogatory ways. Swidler concludes from this sort of evidence that it should be clear: ‘Jesus vigorously promoted the dignity and equality of women in the midst of a very male-dominated society: Jesus was a feminist, and a very radical one.’
If women and children were valued as they should be—respected and treated as people who are equal and highly valued—family abuse would be addressed. This involves a cultural change so that this type of attitude becomes the Australian way. I dream of an Australia where abuse of women and children, inside and outside the family, is seen as such a cultural abnormality that it is just not put up with anymore.
I think it’s really good that we have male leaders in our society like Ken Lay, Denis Napthine, Robert Doyle, and Andrew Demetriou willing to make the call to stop family violence. For it to have an effect, that action needs to become common place amongst Australian men. More than that, the everyday decision to treat women and children with respect and to value them as equal and significant has to penetrate our halls of power, our sporting fields, and our workplaces as well as our homes. We will then be on our way to becoming a nation that sets a good example in the things that really matter.
Food for thought.
Dr David Wilson is Director of Sophia Think Tank, a Bible Society Australia project.