He isn’t usually like that. He just snapped.
How many times have we heard a version of one of these phrases to describe a man who has perpetrated unspeakable violence upon a woman?
It is shorthand for describing that ordinary, good bloke who just was one day pushed too far by his partner, his work, his life in general.
We all know what it’s like to lose our temper, to shout, to say things that we shouldn’t. These ordinary blokes just took it too far in the heat of the moment – they just ‘snapped’. Could happen to anyone, right?
This is the dangerous myth that stops the wider community from considering, and ultimately addressing, the root causes of family and domestic violence.
When we subscribe to this belief, we afford unjustified understanding to the actions of the perpetrators.
Worse, it also allows us to throw our hands up in frustration and walk away from the idea that family and domestic violence can be prevented.
And it can be prevented. But it means taking a hard – and very uncomfortable – look at the perpetrator and the society in which they were raised.
The recent attacks on women are too raw and too brutal to talk about in any individual context, but the questions remain.
What was it about these perpetrators that made them choose violence?
Make no mistake, it absolutely was a choice. This is underlined by the fact that every day across the country, thousands of ordinary blokes will find themselves in heated situations with their partners, and thousands of them will choose to walk away from that situation without causing any harm to their partner.
This alone should demonstrate that violence against women is about more than just losing your temper.
So why not these perpetrators?
Too often when a perpetrator sits in the dock and is asked, why did you do it, the answer starts with “Because she…”
No. The real truth begins differently.
“Because I can’t handle rejection in any form.”
“Because I have never learned to handle my own emotions.”
“Because I need to get my own way.”
“Because I am a misogynist who cannot defer to a woman, in any way.”
These are the truths behind the perpetrators that just snap. And these truths are never hidden – they are always there for all to see.
The sexist jokes about the bar staff, the uncomfortable gaze on the female colleagues, the belligerence that emerges when rejected by potential suitor, the belittling comments about a female manager.
These are behaviours that reinforce gender inequality, and this is what ultimately leads these men to choose violence.
Addressing the crisis
There is good work being done in some of our primary schools around teaching little children about their emotions and setting their own boundaries.
Our high school students are starting to be taught consent, and how to build and negotiate respectful relationships. This is all positive, and hopefully this is the beginning of a generational shift in attitudes.
But right now we are in the depths of a family and domestic violence crisis that has spilled into every community space you can name. It is in our parliaments, our schools, our workplaces.
It is it is killing women every other day and leaving thousands of others utterly traumatised.
We need to urgently recalibrate how we talk about family and domestic violence, both in the media and in our personal conversations.
Our Watch – a national organisation dedicated to the primary prevention of violence against women – has plenty of tools and resources that schools, workplaces, sporting clubs and community organisation can draw on to start this shift.
Individuals can use these resources too, so they know how to respond when they see misogyny and disrespect rear its head.
The 16 Days in WA FDV awareness campaign begins at the end of this month, providing each of us with a perfect opportunity to start a conversation around violence against women. Read the resources, have that conversation, play your part.
HOPE, in partnership with Yorgum Healing Services and as part of a consortia of specialist service providers, have opened a new family and domestic violence hub in Armadale. It’s a space where women can be referred to gain practical advice and support.
It’s also a space for men. We will be providing a space for perpetrators and potential perpetrators to come and address their own behaviour. We want them to develop introspection and emotional regulation and to look closely at their own values and attitudes.
We believe that with the right support, these men can re-educate themselves and take responsibility for their own actions, so that no matter what ‘she’ does, they don’t just snap.
Hope Community Services run two family and domestic violence hubs in Western Australia – the South East FDV Healing Service in Armadale and the Mara Pirni Healing Place in Kalgoorlie.