Thursday, 31 December 2015

Hitting Home - a reflection

Hitting Home
by Siv Parker

Dear reader, this post is full of triggers.  But quite frankly, I am not dragging the dead carcass of endless, inexcusable and swiftly smoothed over 'male on female violence' into 2016.  Writing gets it out of my head.

I rarely see actual violence these days.  But I know what it looks like. 

Years ago I was part of the unofficial rescue team for my partner’s brothers – both of them, his brothers who drunk or sober, high or low, beat their girlfriends, destroyed their homes and cried about how they were the unlucky ones.
I tell you, I wasn’t very sympathetic. I didn’t like either of them. I disliked the mother even more, who would ring at all hours expecting us to retrieve one or the other and some days BOTH of them because she was worried the police might be called.

Call the police, was my response.

She’d coo in this horrible wet-lipped mumble.  I took it for some kind of baby talk, and it did it’s job because her middle son would set off twenty kilometres in one direction, or thirty in the other to collect them ‘before he hurts himself’.  

I was not equipped for the job - the two or three times a month we’d be deployed - was each time pretty much the same as the last.

We’d approach carefully. Sometimes their home would be lit up, other times as quiet as an evacuated bombsite. Sometimes they’d be calm, other times raging. And we’d treat it like a visit, and jolly the brother into the car and set off to the welcoming arms of the drooling mother.

She was a piece of work.

For the first six months I had the misfortune of spending time at her home - the blinds always down, the tv always on, the temperature always unfit for human habitation -  until I refused to return. She’d tell me that she expected to be reunited with her ex-husband and they’d live out their days driving around in his commodore. I think this was a ploy, a reassurance that we wouldn’t always be called out at all hours on woman bashing, home wrecking son protection missions.

One day the ex-husband came to town for a visit.  He lived in another smaller town in the country.  In the divorce he had taken the then teenage middle son. Middle Son had an education, two trades and was halfway through an engineering degree when I met him. He was fit, healthy and you’d wonder how he was related to the other two, so starkly different was he from his thin armed, rib cage revealing, tank topped, skinny jean legged brothers.

His father said, as he sat in his commodore in the drive way on his annual trip to the city, that not only did he hate having to visit, his ex wife made him feel physically sick. 
I remember that. Physically sick he said, in an Hungarian accent, stressing every syllable. Phy-si-ca-lly sick.
They had been separated for twelve years, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to sit in her lounge room. Even his commodore looked sad to be there.

I only met him the one time, through the commodore's window, while he had his car running, but he was my favourite parent.

When it comes to violence in the home, people ask, why does she have to leave? Why can’t he be removed?  When there are kids this is even more challenging, obviously. But before it gets to that point, before one or the other or both think what their physically ruinous relationship needs is a tiny body to be soaked and swaddled in toxic adult sized role plays. Before they are sitting their child in front of a G-rated movie inside an R-rated (violence, language, sexual content) home. That’s when changes need to be made.
One of them is to leave. Go. Bye bye. Be encouraged and supported to leave before they need a state-issued phone to ring the police.

I really liked one of the girlfriends.  She was fun and gentle and reminded me of the women I knew from home.  Nothing was too much trouble and she didn’t complain about her punch pocked walls and doors.
You’d think it was happening to someone else, she didn’t wear her bruises in an obvious way.  The one time – one time – we took her, and not him, was the only time I actually saw one of the brothers take a swing at his darling.

The brother had changed drugs – it made him extra jumpy, quite unpredictable. He’d rarely been one to have a normal conversation with.

What is normal? Oh I don’t know…doesn’t slump and pass out after a long pause.  Doesn't bounce. ‘Normal awake’, I guess you could say, was his state the one time he tried to tell me that life was unfair because people didn’t share anymore.  I could see where the conversation was headed.  It was pointless to point out he had never contributed in any way for the two or three trips a month we took to ferry him to his mother to be cooed over and fed with a round of the houses’ specialty: toasted tomato and corned beef sandwiches.

I didn’t put it past her to dope him. One especially creepy visit, she rattled a jar of tablets at me.  The old dope the son with tranquillizers in his nescafe trick.  It explained why some visits I’d find a son as wet lipped and entranced as her with Murder She Wrote.

But that unwholesome illusion of mother and son quality time, doesn’t block out the memory of dopey son punching his girlfriend in the side of the head.  We’d managed to get his girlfriend out of the house.  It seemed best because he had piled all the furniture up in the corner of the lounge room and the bed was tipped over.

I mean, what do you do?  Third trip in a month, we decided to mix it up a little and casually, light heartedly got her out of the flat, across the carpark and into the back seat of our car. 

At this point, my instinct was to reverse out immediately.  But brother boy was reluctant to appear eager to leave.  They chatted through the open windows and then just like you’d pick a bit of fluff off someone’s shoulder, he reached in the window and punched her hard on the side of the face.
And then I wised up to what violence against women really is - she didn’t flinch. 
Her head was knocked to the side a little but she steadied and kept looking straight out the windscreen. 

From that time on I always drove the car. I never, ever wanted to be sitting there, anywhere, waiting for some man to decide when he could leave his woman-bashing brother without causing any offence.

But with her in the backseat, silent and expressionless, I wanted to start screaming.  I wanted to scream all the way out of the carpark.  I wanted the passengers in other cars to look our way as we drove down the highway wondering ‘what the fuck is that sound?’

I still want to scream in his face. And I can tell you what I would say.
See, some time later, he got cancer and they said he’d need to store his sperm to avoid it being damaged during chemotherapy.

I would scream in his face – that grey, gaunt, smirking, human evacuated face atop his ropey, needle specked neck – scream at the top of my lungs: ‘don’t breed, you woman bashing mongrel excuse for a man.’

So. No. Not real sympathetic. And happily, she left him. Last time I saw her she had a thick coat on, her hair looked like a new woman and she smiled with her broken eyes. 

These days, of course, I would talk in reasonable tones about what needs to be done about violence.  Firstly, we need to put a value on women’s rights, on men’s rights and on children’s lives that doesn’t place them above or below the others.

Don’t tell me violence is caused by colonization. All women are potentially at risk of being a victim of domestic violence, even if it’s only lately that a clearer picture is being painted by the media.

The solution, therapy, rehabilitation what ever you want to call it, needs to be specific to the community.  Make it resonate with shared values, have it wrapped up in cultural safety.  Nurture a model of healthy and productive families even when people live in poverty, surrounded by drugs and alcohol.  Actually know what a family looks like.   Start with the basics.

Just don’t tell me the violence that overwhelmingly men wreck on their women and children is because of colonisation.  That is to leap nimbly over facts and reality.  That is a don't worry brah and a sham sista approach to a deadly endlessly repeating cycle. 
We may wonder why it is that no one ever acknowledges the state of Aboriginal homes where little girls and boys sing of a Let it Go life kept safe and protected by their lightsabres.

When do they become the driver who lets his brother bash his woman through an open window?

And why is that to hold any public position – especially an elected one - or any form of public expression comes with a mute button?

Reports of violence dehumanizes our men.  I hear that.  Correction: men beating and killing their wives, and terrorizing their children dehumanizes us all.   

We will watch women from other backgrounds advance without us, just like we always have.  It makes us awful hard to understand and embrace when a single woman’s life is less cents to the dollar that you’d get for a man, or so it looks. 
There is no collective benefit from shielding and suffering in silence.  None whatsoever.  

I don’t care who tries to say otherwise.  The rats eat through the walls and the furniture and then start on the humans as they sleep. And then as they are awake. And we let it happen.

Black feminism Aboriginal-style has always come with a mute button. Do not mention the violence. Or what?  Face more violence?  But this time from other women as well?

Why is the safety and protection of women and children what comes later?  It’s always second place, if mentioned at all.  The plan that it comes after a long, long list of demands on successive nonresponsive government is a plan to fail.  Demands for more refuges, more lawyers, more safe houses, more police, more legislation. The system gets bigger and more fortified around the violence.

Cemeteries often have dirt roads.  They are travelled so often, the weeds never get a foothold.  The road less travelled is the one to the prison’s visitor centre.

The legacy of violence on a hair trigger is we keep the peace, we don’t provoke it, we are to blame, we all suffer.  Colonisation has been an ongoing process for over two hundred years but we can stop the violence. 

Seems to be that the worse thing you can call a person is a racist.  Or a women basher.  If we can insist on our moral authority to call out racism, we need to take a good, hard look at violence.  And if you are not able to speak up - you have real fear, or it damages your brand, or it is just too awkward until you get some years on you - that's ok, you know where your mute button is.  All I ask is that you don't try and activate mine.

Posted earlier today

I feel I cant move on into 2016 without wrapping up my thoughts on 'Hitting Home parts 1 & 2'. 

I blogged earlier - Home Truths - after watching Part 1.  One of the finest – actually, the best because I can not think of any other documentary that comes close to really airing the stories of abused women.  And what hit hardest?  Hearing from the children, who witness, hide, fear and flee with their mothers from male violence in the home.

But it was only a precursor to the other half.  Part 2 took a look at who is mostly causing the battered and broken families. 

I didn’t have to see the trailer to know Aboriginal men would feature prominently.  And so they did.   Their ex-partners described the last time they’d been assaulted. In between we cut to the perpetrators.  They talked up through lips that barely moved, what had brought them to being in an anger management group in prison. 

It looked hopeless to me.  But if you can’t talk about male violence - and all signs are that it is strictly off limits - you can't share any doubt that prison will rehabilitate them.

There’s a look they get.  They get the cast of recidivism like they’ve been sitting a long time in the shade.  Their edges are blurred.  They are a shell.  What begins as a restlessness, a bouncing knee soon afflicts both legs. They have gone and left their shell behind. 

As a worthy, reliable companion following Hitting Home parts 1 & 2, the documentary Call Me Dad  gave a quite frankly surprising account of what was possible when men wanted to repair their relationships with their children. They may have thought of restoring their partnership with their wives, defactos and long gone girlfriends.  But I was more interested and moved by how their behaviour changed towards their children.  

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