Funded by the State Library of Western Australia, 16 Days, 16 Stories is a courageous new collection of stories presented in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence, recorded for the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.

According to Esther, we’re still not prepared to hear disclosures of violence. Hearing stories is a first step and we must not whisper about this issue. To tackle violence, let’s destroy the power of silence and shout about it from the top of the roof.

Content Warning: Please be advised that the following story contains themes of family and domestic violence that some listeners may find distressing. If you have been impacted by family or domestic violence and are in need of support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service.

Photograph of Esther Onek

[Transcript]

My name is Esther Onek and I am a family and domestic violence advocate.

I think there is still a lack of understanding of domestic violence in the community. There’s a lot of community perceptions of what a victim looks like. Also, in terms of, you know, the question is like, “Why didn’t she just leave?” It’s a very ignorant question, but it’s a question that I hear all the time. Also, in terms of, you know, not until you work in domestic violence like you can, you can really see the extent of what’s happening in our community. And I think there is that stigma around. People do not want to talk about.

I think people are scared to talk about it because of the shame that comes with domestic violence. I don’t know, some who, it could be religion, you know, it could be that family for them is really important for them, keeping the family together and to share that to a family member and say, “You know, actually our relationship is not too good, he’s controlling, he’s…”you know. It’s very hard for women to come out and speak to that. And also, others don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear it, but not because they don’t want to, you know, help, but because they don’t know how to or are equipped to be able to handle disclosures with domestic violence. And so, it’s just easier to say, “Don’t want to hear it. Talk to a professional,” and not even just refer them to a professional. They don’t even know where to start. Where do you start? And I think it does give other people a burden also. And so, it’s important that even if we don’t know how to help, that we could listen, just hear a woman’s story. And that’s the most important thing. And that’s part of my work, is just listening to them; validating their experience. Because a lot of the time women are made to kind of internalise and be strong, all the time. But we cannot be strong all the time; you know, there has to be a breaking point which a woman reaches. And for us it’s about lending that listening ear, even if we don’t know how to help. Compassion is free. Understanding is free, humanity’s free. Why don’t we just listen to them and validate the experience?

How I see it is putting a band-aid over a scar. We are not the first responders; the police are the first responders. And I know the police have limited resources and they, you know, they’re very busy as well. And it’s about training the police to be able to, which I have to admit they’re getting better slowly, slowly, slowly getting there, but it’s about the way they approach, you know, survivors of family violence or victims when they attend the first instance. When they do attend, it’s about offering that understanding and compassion, like I was talking about, the listening and hearing their story and saying, “Look, there are services available for you; here are some of the services that are available.” Because, unfortunately, I don’t get the incident report until maybe two days after it has happened. So, we don’t get there quick enough for them to be able to get the help that they need. And when we do, sometimes the perpetrator is already back into the house or is already back into their lives. And it’s very hard to engage, for us as, because I work for a service that only provides support to victims. And I can’t connect with that woman unless the officers are involved or policemen -I can’t do it by myself. So, it’s about the police being more, I guess…which I know that they are and they’re quite busy, but more empathetic and offering that support straight away and saying, “Here….”

There are structural issues and there are also individual issues, how I see it, and part of it is we can blame the system and we can say the system doesn’t work. Yes, the system. We can challenge the system, but the thing is all individual. That perpetrator made that choice to do, to do what he did, what he does. And when we talk about not having enough resources, not having enough, we can have a lot of resources, but the onus is still on the woman take the responsibility. Why is it her that’s taking the responsibility when he made that choice to do what he did? And for us, like I was saying before, we’re putting the band-aid over the issue. We’re working with women. Yes;we’re helping them, but we need to focus more on the perpetrators and the system. And the perpetrators are using the system to be able to perpetrate more abuse. For example, I’ll give you an example for the court system. A woman gets a VRO, a restraining order. He objects to the restraining order. Now she has to take time off work to come back to court, and see him there. And he will patronise her, he will come with his family, make her feel this small. And, of course, then she wouldn’t take it further. She would just agree to a conduct agreement, which is just a watered-down version of a restraining order. She would agree to it because she doesn’t want to take any more time off work. How is she going to support her kids that she’s just left at school? Who’s going to pick them up from school if she’s at court all day? The system needs work. I agree. But we need to focus more on the perpetrators and how they use the system to further perpetrate violence.

I hate that word when they say, “Oh, it’s their culture.” It’s that violence… violence is violence. It doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t discriminate. You can’t just say, “Oh well it’s because of their religion, because of their culture.” We can’t do that. And there was a, I’ll tell you an example: there was an incident where, it was a Muslim, Islamic background, a male who assaulted his wife and they said… and then he was pulling her and they said, “Oh, that’s what they do in their culture. That’s normal.” Does that register in your mind? What’s, what’s normal? Violence is not normal. Violence is violence. And we need to look at it for what it is. We need to look at it for what it is. It’s violence and it’s unacceptable.

I have victims who are CEOs. It doesn’t discriminate.

It doesn’t pick and choose who…. everyone, even the, you know, the CEO of a company, down to a mum, you know, a stay-at-home mum. There’s no discrimination there. It happens to everyone. And I think that’s, that’s sometimes the thing when women come to me, they think, “Oh, it’s just me because, you know, I wasn’t educated, I didn’t go to school or…”and they think it’s their own… they’re the only one experiencing it. And I said to them, “No, even CEOs, I have women who are CEOs who experience violence and they’re very smart engineers.” All of these across the board, it’s violence. Violence is violence.

Community plays a really big role. In terms of kind of spreading awareness of domestic violence. I, for example, live in a very small community. And we don’t talk about it. It happens in the home and it’s so sad because we still have that mentality in the community that it only happens in their homes, when we know that that’s not the case. And it’s about us being more open, trying to make domestic violence not like, a taboo word. I think it’s becoming like, “Oh,” as soon as you say domestic violence, someone says… like my work, I tell them I’m a domestic violence advocate, “No, domestic violence.” Let’s not whisper it. Why are we whispering about domestic violence? Let’s call it loud. Let’s, let’s shout it on the top of the roof, you know, so it becomes, it doesn’t have power because right now it feels like it has power, like ‘domestic violence’ and everyone’s like ‘domestic violence’. Let’s speak about it. Like it’s a normal part of conversation. Why are we trying to hide it? And the community has a role in that. In talking about it, like it’s, let’s talk about violence. Let’s talk about healthy relationships. Let’s talk about, let’s talk about it.

I think it’s a collective thing. Like I was saying, because it’s everyone’s responsibility. Everybody has to take that on them. Because as you know, not only females experience violence, but men also experience violence as well. And it’s for us to teach our men and boys maybe to have that conversation also.

And same for girls and women. What, what respectful relationships look like. And I think having that shared responsibility helps, but also in my work, when it gets to that point where violence is perpetrated, is holding the perpetrators accountable. And that’s what we’re missing at the moment. Because this… there’s no talk about: “If you do this, this will happen.” It’s, you know, that power and control, they want to dominate. We need to have that conversation because it’s a collective thing. Everybody needs to be involved to be able to, not one person can solve the issue of family violence. Everybody has to be involved in working together to be able to do that.

Copyright © 2019 Esther Onek

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by Esther Onek. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

Production by Rita Saggar and Claudia Mancini. Recording by Terri Bellem.

Photo by Claudia Mancini.


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