Stop Family Violence operations manager Mark O’Hare said victim-blaming was a worldwide issue. Picture: Guanhao Cheng

DV forum spotlight falls on perpetrator

Stop Family Violence operations manager Mark O’Hare is calling for a pivot in how domestic violence survivors and perpetrators are questioned.
May 30, 2024
Guanhao Cheng

SOCIETAL attitudes towards victims and perpetrators were challenged on Tuesday at the Swan Multicultural Family and Domestic Violence Forum.

Stop Family Violence operations manager Mark O’Hare spoke during the morning session, highlighting society’s unequal expectations for men and women in family roles and the choices perpetrators make in their behaviours.

“I found this narrative when I went on a walk, that people treated me like a superhero for just pushing my girls in the pram,” he said.

“Yet, my wife never got any of that. What does that tell us about the gender expectations for women?

“It’s a job; it’s just what mums do.”

To Mr O’Hare, the most baseline tasks being met with praise was an indicator of the low expectations society had for him, and men at large, as parents.

Mr O’Hare said this translated to community biases, which then formed the base for systemic prejudices against women when matters went to court.

“What we found, in the services, was that there was documentation that was much more favourable to dads than it was to mums,” he said.

“For example, in some of the documentation, dad was a perpetrator of family violence and attended an assembly. Now there’s this huge case note of dad attending the assembly: got there on time, spoke to the teachers, took time off work, stayed back a bit.

“But mum had attended that assembly every month for the last five years, and not one case note.”

Mr O’Hare said this gender bias had a huge impact across systems and what’s being collected.

“Dads who are choosing to use violence are attending courts all the time and saying, ‘Your honour, I now want access to my kids,’” he said.

“Mums are attending, saying, ‘Hang on a minute, he’s really violent.’

“Courts are coming back with, ‘Well, I’ve got documentation here that he’s doing all these really good things.’

“When we do this, we’re actually setting up victim survivors to fail and we’re not bringing the perpetrators into view, time and time again.”

Mr O’Hare condemned victim-blaming, inviting listeners to turn questions onto the perpetrators.

When asked how many had heard the phrase, “why doesn’t she leave?” more than half of the forum attendants raised their hands.

The attendants were then invited to call out reasons they have heard before which ranged from “you will not see your children,” to threats of lethal violence against them or their children.

“What we’ve just done there, if somebody could have this upfront, can we see there’s actually a bloody good reason why she doesn’t leave?” Mr O’Hare said.

“If we shift our expectations, we can ask much better questions of dads in this space.

“Who here has heard a perpetrator say, ‘But you need to look at her substance use, she’s going crazy. She’s doing this.’?

“Well, where’s the questioning around what you’re doing to support her recovery?

“We’re really interested in what you’re doing that’s supporting her mental health.

“Then we get more nuanced, and from, ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ to ‘Why doesn’t he stop?’”

Mr O’Hare said he wanted to make it very clear that family and domestic violence was always a choice.

He used an interaction he had as a community corrections officer from 20 years ago with a perpetrator, Jack, as an example.

“‘Oh, Mark, I just got no control. I got no control over this. I just go from zero-to-a-hundred like this, you know?’” he said.

“I called him on it. I said, ‘Jack, should I get the security guard in? Should I get the services on you? Am I not safe right now, having this conversation with you?’

“Straight away, without a flinch, he said, ‘No, no, no. You’re alright.’

“That doesn’t tell me that someone doesn’t have any control over their behaviours. That tells me that this is a very purposeful, very targeted behaviour that somebody can choose when to display and when not.

“And he was choosing, quite mindfully, not to display that behaviour in front of his community corrections officer who’s writing a report on him.”

Mr O’Hare then pulled some material from Insight Exchange into how to frame perpetrators and their behaviours.

“When he chooses to behave in ways that are controlling and abusive, it’s not because of his biology, spirituality, culture and alcohol or drug use, mental health, relationships, childhood experiences although they are important and need to be recognised,” he said.

“We know, for example, people who experience family violence at home, it is a contributing factor to perpetrate violence later on.

“We know millions of people who horrifically, and unfortunately, experience family violence that choose not to be violent as an adult.

“It’s because he chooses to. When I say that, I’m not saying don’t think about any of these matters. These all play a part but he’s making a choice.”

Mr O’Hare urged people to not create excuses for perpetrators as they deny them of their own capability and responsibility and extend their use of abuse and violence.

“I work with many, many perpetrators. They weaponise other people’s excuses all day long,” he said.

“You can tell somebody who’s choosing to use violence all the right stuff, and they hear that one wrong thing, that excuse, and they’ll take that.

“We can all play a part. Specialist programs are of course incredibly important but as is every person in this room. What does that mean for me as a man, when I’m out with my friends? What does it mean when they say something; what do I need to be picking up?”

Deputy Mayor Ian Johnson said in 2022, 37 per cent of homicide and related offences in WA were family and domestic violence-related and 64 per cent of assaults were family and domestic violence-related.

“Sadly, that equates to about 25,000 people who have experienced violence in the home,” he said.

“Today, we hope to strengthen the connections and understanding between our community leaders and sector experts.”

If you are experiencing family or domestic violence, help can be found by calling 1800RESPECT.

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