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Alcohol & its role in violence behind closed doors – an interview

This week GrogWatch interviews Ingrid Wilson about the role alcohol plays in family and domestic violence.

Ingrid is a PhD candidate at the Judith Lumley Centre at La Trobe University. She is researching women’s experiences of alcohol-related intimate partner violence. Ingrid is also Deputy Chair of WIRE Women’s Information and previously worked at the Australian Drug Foundation (former Policy Advisor and Coordinator of the Alcohol Policy Coalition).

 

How prevalent is domestic violence in Australia, and what role does alcohol play in this?

Domestic and family violence is widespread across our community. We know it goes on behind closed doors in our cities, towns and suburbs. And more recently, we’ve seen some tragic examples of violence by an intimate partner occurring before our very eyes in public spaces. The latest national survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that 17% of women and 5.3% of men have experienced violence from an intimate partner since the age of 15.

The use of alcohol is a feature in a high proportion of domestic violence incidents. One in three women reported that recent domestic violence incidences were alcohol-related in a national survey. In Victoria 2012/2013, over 23% of the family violence incidents attended by Victoria Police alcohol was recorded as definitely present and another 23% where alcohol was recorded as ‘possibly’ present. So given our heavy drinking culture, it’s not surprising that we find alcohol involved in a lot of violence in our streets and in our homes.

Why are you researching it?  Why is alcohol and domestic violence an important issue for Australia?

The research tells us that problematic alcohol use – while it may not be the cause of violence – significantly contributes to the risk of someone being violent towards an intimate partner. This risk increases when one or both partner drinks. Women – and the majority of victims are women – suffer more severe injuries when their male partner has been drinking and uses violence.

We have a big drinking culture in Australia. My interest in this issue came about through my previous work at the Australian Drug Foundation, where we know that certain alcohol policies and interventions can influence levels of alcohol consumption and harm. I’m interested in how these policies and interventions can make a difference in reducing alcohol-related partner violence and – thinking about this from a harm minimisation perspective – how it can make things safer for women living with a spouse who is violent and uses alcohol.

What are you researching specifically?

Any interventions need to respond to the complexity of the phenomenon. I’m currently interviewing women who have experienced alcohol-related intimate partner violence to gain a better understanding of alcohol’s role in their experience of fear and harm from a partner, how they keep themselves safe and their views on what would help around their partner’s drinking. I am also drawing on the perspectives and approaches of those professions who encounter alcohol-related domestic violence through their work with families, perpetrators and victims, and also looking at how the issue is reflected in existing policy frameworks. Bringing this together with the existing research I’m hoping to develop a model to help with our understanding of opportunities to intervene to reduce alcohol-related intimate partner violence.

What should we be doing to reduce or prevent it?

That’s a big question! What’s apparent is that there is a need to look more closely at the role of alcohol in the violence that affects relationships behind closed doors and how we can intervene. Much of the intervention research has focused on treatment interventions for individuals. While this is important work, when you think about it, there are also influences on drinking and violence at different levels. For example, at the broader societal level, attitudes and norms that support heavy drinking and violent behaviour have an influence. There’s also been some interesting research looking at associations between the availability of alcohol and alcohol outlet density and rates of domestic violence so there’s potential there to look at interventions at the community level. So we need to look at this broadly.  I know there’s no magic bullet as these problems are so very complex. But alcohol is one of the few things that we have some ability to influence, so I’m optimistic that it’s an area where there are possibilities for change.

 

WINGS Study (Women’s Impressions – Gathering Stories)

Ingrid is currently seeking women aged 18-35 years to participate in an interview about their experiences of fear or harm when a partner was drinking. To find out more, please visit www.latrobe.edu.au/jlc/research/social-context/wings or call/text the confidential recruitment line 0474 159 118 or email wings.study@latrobe.edu.au. If you know anyone affected by this issue, and it is appropriate to sensitively share this request for research participants, please do so.

If you work for an organisation that encounters alcohol-related domestic violence through your work with families, perpetrators or survivors and wish to share your perspectives, please contact Ingrid imwilson@students.latrobe.edu.au or 03 9479 8805.