Family violence – time to account for the role of alcohol

Violence, both within and outside the home, is finally receiving the attention it deserves.

Grogwatch has previously written extensively about the changes we as a community can enact to reduce alcohol related violence in entertainment districts, but the answers aren’t clear when it comes to the less visible conflict in homes around the country.

Last night’s ABC TV agenda-setting Q and A program featured the 2015 Australian of the Year and family violence campaigner Rosie Batty. The show was devoted solely to the issue of family violence, and makes for must-watch TV for anyone who cares about tackling epidemic of abuse that has stained our society for too long.

We know alcohol plays a key role with violence in homes. Don’t get us wrong, alcohol doesn’t cause otherwise peaceful people to become suddenly violent, but it does allow people who have violent tendencies to express their aggression more easily and more often. The key effect of alcohol is to reduce inhibitions, or the internal brakes on our behaviour that prevent us from acting in ways that are risky, inappropriate and dangerous. As sober brain makes different and better decisions than one impaired by alcohol.

The alcohol industry will claim that alcohol doesn’t cause people to be violent, and they will try to blame the violence on illegal drugs. Both of these are partly true, but the fact is aggressive people become violent when they lose their inhibitions. Some illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine, provoke violence, and this needs to be addressed too, but it doesn’t compare to the amount of violence generated by people on alcohol.

The impact of violence on the today’s police force is an extraordinary burden – in Victoria alone more than 65,000 family incidents were reported to police in 2013 – a third of all police work.

A new report released today by Rosie Batty on behalf of FARE and the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research has found that more than 10,000 kids are in the child protection system because of a carer’s drinking.

This of course comes as little surprise to many who work in this field. In fact in 2011 Michael Livingstone’s research found that the density of all types of alcohol outlets was associated with rates of domestic violence. The largest effect was from take-away packaged liquor licenses (bottleshops and booze barns), which have proliferated across suburbs in recent years and typically discount liquor so that it is cheaper than water.

Here in Victoria, we look forward to the Royal Commission into Family Violence beginning. This is a unique opportunity to truly look at the causes and not just the symptoms of this stain on our society. The Terms of Reference are broad and include how we as a community can contribute to preventing family violence. GrogWatch hopes alcohol’s role in this abuse is fully explored and accounted for, and looks forward to the outcomes of the inquiry.