DAY FOURTEEN: In search for a better tomorrow – Re-imagining home

Anubha Sinha explores the devastating impacts of domestic violence in Dokal, an Indian village and how the formation of a womens collective and action research has brought about change.

Anubha Sinha

What could be a better place than one’s home? The space of love, safety and care where one gets nurtured and learns social norms. This privilege of being loved in a household is not for everyone. Over the past three years, I have learned how lives can be shaped by experiences and fears of violence coming from the intimacies one shares within the home. My perspective is based on immersive action research that I did in my M.Phil in a village called Dokal in the state of Chhattisgarh. The action research was based on the stances of domestic violence that was recurring in the village and women were suffering it quietly. The populace are the indigenous tribes of this core forest zone of central India.

The populace are the indigenous tribes of this of physical harassment, molestation, marital rape, sexual abuse, mental harassment, emotional abuse, financial crisis, humiliation, self doubt- everything gets formed with the existence of violence or in anticipation of it.

Looking at the continuous suffering of women in the village with continuous effort; together we (me and women) formed a collective of forty women called ‘Sangwaari’ (means companion or friend in Chhattisgarhi; the local language of Chhattisgarh). The collective was a place for women to share their suffering and understand the situation of their houses and together it was an effort to find a way to deal with it as it was an everyday matter. Here are few instances that led us to think about the situation of form the collective:

Incident 1

A seven member house; where two families live together. One woman who is infertile and can never carry a child lives with her husband, who steals everything she earns for consuming Mahua, an alcoholic drink made from fermented flowers of the Mahua tree (Madhuca longifolia). The other is a dominating woman with a political identity in the village. She has a husband and two children. Now, this empowered strong woman has all good faith in making others empowered too; but only outside her house. Instead of a caring and empowering relation with the woman who cannot bear a child, there is one based on disgust and humiliation. I am referring to the infertile one here as Badi Maa. She is the one with a caring heart as it craves for a child but unfortunately the reality is complicated. She bears the threat of getting killed, and is humiliated for being a useless woman. She gets abused since her husband is alcoholic and of no use. In spite of everything, she works hard to earn a bit of respect silently and lets people abuse her thinking this is fate.

Incident 2

Since her birth, Dimple (now 7 years old) has been taken as a bad omen as she is the girl child of Dulaari and Vikend. Vikend (an alcoholic) took every opportunity to beat Dulaari and sexually assault her in order to have a boy child. The marks on Dulaari’s body signifies the terror that she has against her husband and in-laws as they all held her responsible for having a girl child and abused her for not being a good wife. Dulaari is open hearted, loves to dance, have small talks, and is chirpy, but all of these make her an unconventional daughter-in-law. She does not talk to people freely now.

Incident 3

How easy it is to continuously get beaten up and fulfil the expectations of giving love at the same time? Everyday Raajbai opens her door with a smile and to learn something new, forgetting the slap and abuse of last night, but for how long? She is a worker of the panchayat (village council). She has pushed herself to come out of the cocoon just to give her girls a better life. However, it is strenuous for her to rise everyday and make a good day till the end. She is fighting for a better life with four girl children by her side and to make a statement that even if one beats her every day, she won’t stop as it is not going to give her what she deserves or desires.

There are many such stories in the villages that are being made every day. Every story here draws a picture of home coloured with the heaviness of the fear and threats that one acquires from the most intimate relations of people around. It has created self-doubt in many women.

Looking at all the instances, a collective borne out of that pain “Sangwaari” was formed to help each other in rebuilding the lives from scratch with the families they love. The collective was the space where women with such traumatic journeys could come out and get a space to share their lives and dilemmas, sort of a therapeutic place. It was the path of collective therapy that we intended to build.

The normalisation of alcohol consumption and violence after that was such that women or even men (who do not used to drink) never took a gender based violence as an issue; though they used to complain about the misbehaviours of such drunkards. Such paradoxical context several times interrupted the mode of interaction with the collective. Such normalisation creates the culture of violence.

To understand the actual scenario of the ongoing violence and its effect on domesticity, we started having focussed group discussions not only with women but with men as well. Due to severe cases of physical violence and abuse, women also took the critical step of entering the homes that were brewing mahua and broke the distillation set up of those homes as well (where mahua is brewed). Later, the discussion deepened and a conscious thought occurred regarding the changing the course of conversations in the house saying, an eye for an eye will make the world blind and we cannot respond violence with violence itself. Dokal has a group of dancing troops which is called ‘Nacha party’ consisting of men who perform folk dance with folk stories.

We took their help and asked them to be our partners in conveying the message that if change has to be made, it has to be from home.

Small steps are being taken by these strong, collective women every day, just to show her family that she can survive and, by doing this, she is discussing the wrongs of the world and her efforts to make it more liveable.

Author’s Bio

Anubha Sinha, Alumni Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi, MPhil Development Practice (2015-2017). Her thesis is titled ‘Rethinking Violence, Understanding Domesticity: A Journey with ‘Sangwari’ in Dokal, Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh’ Currently she is a consultant, PRADAN working with women’s collectives. She can be contacted at

Day Fourteen | Textile Testimonies and Gender-Based Violence

Lydia Cole

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) have become topics of global focus. From #Metoo to landmark judgements in international criminal justice processes, visibility – amid promising calls for action toward justice – is often contingent on the testimony of survivors. In our haste to hear these stories, the long-term impact of demands for testimony is overlooked.

In this post, I propose an alternative site in which we might listen to and hear testimony. Specifically, I take a look at arpilleras – appliquéd wall-hangings – from Peru, featured in the Conflict Textiles collection. The term ‘arpillera’ literally means burlap or hessian, the material on which the textile is made. However, the term has become synonymous with this form of appliquéd wall-hanging.


The Conflict Textiles Collection: From Chile to Peru 

The Conflict Textiles collection is a physical and online archive of materials hosted by CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet) at Ulster University. Curated by Roberta Bacic and Breege Doherty, the mainstay of the collection is the Chilean arpilleras which were crafted to denounce violence under the Pinochet dictatorship. Made with the support of the Vicariate of Solidarity, arpilleras depicted the killing, disappearance, and poverty experienced under the regime, as well as acts of protest and everyday strategies of survival.

As with the collection itself, the arpillera travelled to other global contexts. Inspired by the Chilean arpilleristas (those who make arpilleras), women living through the Peruvian civil war (1980 to 2000) began to stitch the violence in their own country.

Curator Roberta Bacic uses the term “textile photograph” to describe the arpilleras; a reference to the way that they bear witness. The Peruvian arpilleras, like the Chilean pieces, testify to conflict experiences, depicting scenes of massacre, displacement and poverty, and commenting on issues related to gender-based violence.

quilt cole 1
‘Debo ser humilde y sumisa? / Should I be submissive and subservient?’, Peruvian arpillera, Anonymous, 1986, Photo: Martin Melaugh, © Conflict Textiles.

‘Debo ser humilde y sumisa?’ (Should I be submissive and subservient?) was produced in 1986 in Lima. The textile shows a gathering in a room which has two posters emblazoned on the wall. One states: “Women, value yourself!”, while the other rhetorically asks, “Should I be humble and submissive?”.

This is an emotive piece, with the figures stitched with a range of expressions: some cast their eyes and heads down, though others take a different stance: the figure in light blue appears inquisitive, while three women sat at the bottom of the textile hold a book, perhaps engaging with the themes in the posters. Above all, the arpillera depicts: ‘women who have already made a space to deal with their issues’.

Providing answer to the poster’s question, the arpillera emphatically portrays a space of agency, with suggestion of their ongoing discussion of issues related to gender, violence, and patriarchy.

quilt cole 2
Violar es un Crimen / Rape is a Crime’, Peruvian arpillera, MH, Mujeres Creativas workshop, 2008, Photo: Martin Melaugh, © Conflict Textiles.

‘Violar es un Crimen’ (Rape is a Crime) is a 2008 replica, with the original a design from the Mujeres Creativas workshops in 1985. The textile shows a protest which took place outside military command in Lima. On the right-hand side, a woman has entered the military command, angrily confronting the armed military police. All the figures wear dark colours and hold flowers, representing the cantata (the national flower of Peru). This flower is primarily found in the Andean mountains and its inclusion symbolises a connection to Ayacucho, the community for whom they protest. 

Speaking about the arpillera, Maria (a participant of the action) states:

In October 1985 many people were killed in Ayacucho and women were raped, but nobody protested. Two groups of us decided to demonstrate in front of Comando Conjunto… since the people… living in Ayacucho felt too vulnerable to do so… [Later we] decided to make an arpillera of our action to show that we do not condone such brutality.

‘Rape is a Crime’ denounces sexual violence and displacement in Ayacucho through its depiction of resistance and solidarity with those unable to make their voices heard.

quilt cole 3
‘Violencia Doméstica / Domestic Violence’, Peruvian arpillera, MH, Mujeres Creativas Workshop, 2008, Photo: Colin Peck, © Conflict Textiles.

‘Violencia Doméstica’ (Domestic Violence) is another arpillera produced in the Mujeres Creativas workshops and responds to the contemporary context. The piece is divided into three sections. In the first, we are shown a scene of domestic violence within the home. The second shows the neighbours seeking justice at the local police station. Later, with the police unwilling to take further action, members of the community decide to enact their own justice. In the final panel, the man is tied to a tree and holds a sign which reads “I will not beat again”.  

Responding to the prevalence of domestic violence in Peru, the arpillera again speaks to a wider discussion among the group on issues of gender-based violence, and signals toward community action toward justice.

Conflict Textiles are therefore a promising site to learn (and unlearn) our ways of knowing SGBV. Untangling narratives of victimhood, together the arpilleras stitch a continuum of gender-based violence. As textile testimonies to a range of gender-based violence, arpilleras bring women’s voices, agency, solidarity and resistance to the fore. 


Dr Lydia Cole (@LydiaCCole) is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Durham University on ‘The Art of Peace: Interrogating community devised arts-based peacebuilding’. Completing her doctoral research at Aberystwyth University in 2018, her research engages at the intersections of feminist international relations theory, critical peace and conflict studies, and visual, creative and participatory research methods. Lydia’s research on gendered violence and conflict textiles has been published in journals including International Feminist Journal of Politics and Critical Military Studies. She has also co-curated exhibitions including Stitched Voices / Lleisiau wedi eu Pwytho and Threads, War and Conflict.

Day Twelve | From ‘Battered Wives’ to ‘Coercive Control’: Domestic Abuse in Late Twentieth Century Scotland

Anni Donaldson

Women's Aid

Image reproduced courtesy of Scottish Women’s Aid

Scotland’s response to male violence against their wives, partners or girlfriends has come a long way since the 1970s when wives’ were ‘battered’ and police didn’t get involved in ‘domestics’. Forty years since the publication of Violence against Wives – A Case against the Patriarchy, new legislationThe Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 – criminalised coercive control, and reflects our long journey to a deeper understanding of this complex and enduring problem.  

Whatever it is called, men’s violence against women has been a reality in Scotland for centuries. I wondered if a close look at its history in Scotland could teach us anything new.  My oral history research into domestic abuse experienced by a group of women who grew up in the post-war period shed some light on how we got from ‘battered wives’ in the 1970s to ‘coercive control’ in 2019. Most, but not all, of the women grew up in working class families in towns, cities and villages across Scotland.

Girls growing up in changing times

The women I spoke to were dating, getting married or moving in with their boyfriends when Scotland was experiencing fairly dramatic and contrasting social and economic change. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the country’s traditional heavy industries declined, male unemployment rose and more women entered the workforce. In the 1960s and 1970s, progressive legislation was advancing women’s reproductive rights and equality in relation to abortion, pay, maternity leave and sex discrimination. Although marriage was still the norm, the so-called ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s had challenged the conventional patterns of young people’s sexual relationships.

‘All men were interested in in the sixties was sex, and at that point I was terrified you know, I’d never met anybody that liked just me so I was a bit confused’ (D. b. 1949)

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female Prime Minister when the new Conservative government was elected. However, Mrs. Thatcher did not express allegiance to feminism or support for women’s equality; the Conservative’s neoliberal politics were profoundly patriarchal and based on her party’s traditional family-centred values of individualism and traditional gender roles.  Freedom and citizens’ rights were reframed as consumption; as Thatcher said:

‘…who is society? There is no such thing! …There are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.’

Against this backdrop, the group of women who participated in my research experienced violence and abuse early in their relationships, often whilst dating.  Before their eyes, they watched boyfriends shape-shift from romantic suitors to budding patriarchal tyrants.  

‘I think that once we’d had sex he had some sort of ownership over me’ (S. b. 1963). 

Family life, work and violence

By the 1970s and 1980s, the women had become teachers, nurses, accountants, health professionals, civil servants and administrators. Settling into family life and having children, family incomes and standards of living gradually rose as home and car ownership, family holidays and home improvements were made possible through joint loans and mortgages.  However, these same women continued to experience domestic abuse – physical, emotional and sexual abuse – whilst juggling demanding jobs, childcare, housework, parenting, family debt and the need to ‘keep up appearances’. 

A new financial balance of power challenged the patriarchal family conventions which the women and their husbands had absorbed since childhood. Historically, men’s higher status in the family came from their role as the main breadwinner and for many, assaults on their wives was a common practice for enforcing the family pecking order. 

 By the 1980s and 1990s, with women’s earnings now essential to the family budget and to maintaining their living standards, the function and the way the men used violence began to change. Easier access to credit led to higher spending, and mounting family debt created ever more complex family finances which further entrapped the women.  Women lived their lives with the constant threat of severe physical and sexual violence and described wearing a ‘mask’ in public.

Men devised new ways to extend their control into women’s working and social lives.  Cars and telephones made surveillance easier: husbands telephoned women’s workplaces to check they had arrived, drove them to and from their work and social events.  Men decided if women could attend social events alone; refused to look after their own children; scrutinised their partner’s clothes; insulted their appearance; monitored when they returned home from nights out and punished them for being late.  Women were subjected to jealous outbursts and some were raped for speaking to other men in their husband’s presence, or because they were suspected of flirting.   

In these closely examined narratives, it is possible to see how being a ‘battered wife’ in the confines of the home evolved into being a victim of  ‘coercive control’ –  a constant, invisible presence in every area of the women’s lives.  

While advances in women’s equality, better jobs and higher wages broadened women’s horizons, the violence and abuse did not end.  Instead it adapted to the new context and persisted. The patriarchal legacy was alive and well and violence against women survived into the late twentieth century by adapting successfully to changing times.  

From private violence to public prevention 

The patriarchal system was tenacious and adaptable but so too were women. With no help from the police or other services, and with society still largely hostile to their situation, the women I spoke to finally separated from their partners by devising carefully planned, long-term exit plans, helped only by a small circle of trusted family and friends.

zero tolerance

Image used with the kind permission of Zero Tolerance

However, the first public Zero Tolerance campaign, which launched in Edinburgh in 1992, showed women that their private hell was becoming public business.  

‘I remember seeing big Z-Z-Zs… how empowering that would have felt to me in 1986 to have seen that, that would have just made such a difference.’ (M. b. 1955) 

The state’s efforts to advance women’s equality have yet to lead to an end to domestic abuse.  Here’s hoping Scotland’s commitment to prevention and its new Domestic Abuse Act create a truly hostile environment for violent men. 


Anni Donaldson is a Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Strathclyde., follow her on Twitter @AnniDonaldson, and read her blog here.


Day Eleven | A calling to account: Suing perpetrators of domestic violence in Australia

Anni Gethin

anni gethin day 11Image of King Street Court House Sydney by Kgbo, used under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license

The costs of being a victim of domestic violence (DV) are huge. Prolonged abuse by a partner results in psychological, physical, and financial devastation. Leaving the abuser brings a set of formidable challenges, including staying safe, impaired capacity to work, sole parenthood, and high risk of poverty and homelessness. DV costs victims and the Australian economy AU$22 billion a year, yet the people responsible – DV perpetrators – are almost never required to pay for the damage they have caused. 

Suing DV perpetrators in civil actions is one way to put accountability back where it belongs, and to bring some measure of just compensation to victims. In Australia, Domestic Violence Redress, a  joint venture between survivor charity, The Brigid Project, and law firm, The People’s Solicitors, aims to make these actions widely available to DV survivors. 

Most people don’t know that suing an abusive ex-partner is even possible, but it certainly is; in 2018, I took legal action against my former partner and obtained an AU$100,000 settlement in DV-related damages. That my case was unusual was obvious from the reaction of the judges during the five interlocutory hearings – they had clearly never seen a similar case. 

Researching the topic, I found there had only been 9 heard cases in Australia where DV survivors had sued the perpetrator (these cases are Jackson v Jackson (NSWSC, 26 March 1999, unreported); Ainsworth v Ainsworth [2002] NSWCA 130; Penn v Caprioglio [2002] VCC 37; Grosse v Purvis [2003] QDC 151; Varmedja v Varmedja [2008] NSWCA 177 Giller v Procopets [2004] VSC 113; [2008] VSCA 236; Elliott v Kotsopoulos  [2009] NSWDC 164; Morris v Karunaratne [2009] NSWDC 346; Cooper v Mulcahy Mulcahy v Cooper [2013] NSWCA 160). Similarly, an international search only found a very small numbers of cases in other common law countries.

I got the idea for suing my ex-partner from the litigious United States, specifically the OJ Simpson civil case – this case suggested that if the criminal system fails you, then you can bring a civil suit. The criminal system had failed me: it was traumatising and disempowering and did nothing to compensate for the debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from the abusive and violent behaviour of my former partner, nor the associated loss of income from being unable to work for two years. The criminal process also delivers little to nothing in terms of perpetrator accountability.

Tort law, by contrast, can compel a person or company pay money for the harm they have caused, whether by negligence or on purpose. Tortious harms can occur from events such as a street assault, being defamed, or trespass on your property; tort also applies to some domestic violence behaviour. In Australia, there are around 25 intentional torts. DV victims can potentially use a number of these torts to sue perpetrators, although tort law does not by any means cover the full scope of domestic violence. 

Where there has been physical violence, then the tort of battery is relatively easy to establish as it makes actionable any touching without consent. Battery includes slapping, pushing, punching, hair pulling, sexual assaults, and attacks causing serious injury or disability. It also includes physical contact that is primarily degrading, such as urinating on the victim (see Morris v Karunaratne [2009] NSWDC 346, 3), or pouring beer on her (see Cooper v Mulcahy [2012] NSWSC 373, 204). 

DV perpetrators commonly stop their partners from leaving the house, even tying them up or locking them in the home; these behaviours could result in an action for wrongful imprisonment. Intentional infliction of emotional harm is a tort that potentially makes the more shocking emotional abuseby perpetrators actionable, such as sexually abusing children or slaughtering pets. The tort of deceit brings into scope fraud and financially abusive behaviours, such as forcing a victim to sign loan documents.

There are also torts which I call the ‘stalker torts’, because they enable actions against this common form of DV. Stalking is typically used by perpetrators to control a partner, and to terrorise a victim if the victim attempts to leave. Trespass to land, nuisance, and breach of privacy torts were all used in a landmark Queensland case where the survivor successfully sued an ex-lover who stalked and harassed her for many years (Grosse v Purvis [2003] QDC 151).

There are benefits to bringing an action in torts. Damages payouts can be substantial. The largest payout in the DV cases was $800,000 (in Penn v Caprioglio [2002] VCC 37), with damages in six of the nine DV cases exceeding $150,000. These sums should be compared to the tiny amounts available through victims’ compensation schemes. Civil litigation also puts the survivor in control: it is their case, and they instruct their lawyers. This contrasts with criminal cases in Australia where the victim has no role, and the prosecutor and defence can make deals that effectively erase offences. Importantly too, that of the nine DV cases, the women were from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. This is not just an action for middle class victims.

Despite the potential benefits, suing the perpetrator is definitely not for every DV survivor. Perpetrators regularly kill and seriously assault their former partners, and civil courts have none of the protections of family and criminal courts. If a defendant has no money, there is no point pursuing damages. The survivor will also have to relive the trauma to make out their claim, and will need to prove injury or loss. Larger damages payouts can only be expected where the victim has experienced substantial physical or psychiatric injury, and/or a large loss of income connected to the DV. 

Even given these limitations, 1 in 4 Australian women are subjected to DV, so there are thousands of viable cases. Domestic Violence Redress aims to start running actions in 2020, with an initial target of 25 cases. These will run on a no-win no-fee basis, and we will establish a fund to cover the initial costs of litigation and any adverse costs orders. Opening up this legal avenue for redress will make an important contribution to compensating DV survivors. It will also profoundly challenge current social expectations of perpetrator accountability.

Dr. Anni Gethin is a health social scientist with an interest in domestic violence law reform. She coordinates The Brigid Project, a peer support charity for survivors of domestic violence, runs a research consulting business, and lectures in public health and criminology at Western Sydney University. Anni holds a doctorate in population health and, to further her interests in law reform, is completing a Juris Doctor at UNSW. Her current research focuses on legal remedies for victims of domestic violence, and perpetrator accountability.


Day Three | Unintended consequences of domestic violence law

Heather Nancarrow

Unintended consequences

Women are increasingly ensnared in the criminal justice system as a result of domestic violence laws that were designed to protect women from men’s violence. This is especially the case for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

 The enormity of this problem is captured by the Queensland Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board, which reported that 44.5 percent of female adult victims, and nearly all Aboriginal family violence victims, had been identified by police as a respondent to a domestic violence protection order application on at least one occasion. That is, victims of domestic and family violence had been construed as perpetrators, prior to their domestic violence-related death.   

Understanding how and why law that was originally designed to protect women from men’s violence is being used against them – and what to do about it – is the subject of my book, Unintended consequences of domestic violence law: Gendered aspirations and racialised realities, which was published in October.  The limitations of the law as a site for justice and empowerment for women has long been the subject of feminist critique internationally (see, for example, the work of Carol Smart, Kathleen Ferraro, and Leigh Goodmark) and here in Australia (such as Rosemary Hunter’s book,  Jane Wangmann’s doctoral dissertation and my journal article). 

A key feminist concern is male power in law’s structure and processes, with debates centred on whether women should be treated the same as men, or differently. Others are equally concerned, or more so, about white power in the law (see, for example, The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Task Force on Violence Report, as well as Hillary Potter’s Battle Cries and Beth E. Richie’s Arrested Justice), particularly where law’s structures and processes reflect neo-colonial power.

My research, using Queensland as a case study, addresses both concerns and pays attention to the intersections of gender, race and class in the cases of 185 people within four groups, roughly equal in number: Indigenous men, non-Indigenous men, Indigenous women and non-Indigenous women. (Note that ‘Indigenous’ is the term used in police and court records.) Each person in the research sample had been charged on at least one occasion with breaching a domestic violence order (DVO). Here is a sketch of what I found. 


Coercive control and resistance

Although not explicitly framed as such, Queensland’s domestic violence law was originally intended to address an ongoing pattern of coercive control perpetrated by men against their intimate female partners (see chapter 3 of Nancarrow 2019). The law recognised non-physical abuse as tactics of control and assumed a particular kind of victim: a subjugated, powerless woman. Therefore, it gave the state (in other words, the police and the courts) powers to make civil DVOs without requiring the consent of the victim, and made the breach of a DVO a criminal offence.

The law is being appropriately applied in regard to the majority of the men in the sample, though less so for the Indigenous men. That is, most of the men had been charged with breaching a DVO on one or more occasions due to coercive controlling abuse. Their abuse was aimed at general, ongoing control of their partner: an attack on their “autonomy, liberty and equality”.


Fights, dispute resolution and chaos

But the law is not being applied according to its original intent when women are charged with breaches of DVOs.  Nearly all of the women in the sample had been charged on one or more occasions with breaching a DVO due to fights: physical and verbal abuse in the absence of an ongoing pattern of coercive control. This was also true for some of the men, especially the Indigenous men. 

Further, some of the fights that the Indigenous women and men engaged in were characteristic of contemporary forms of traditional Aboriginal dispute resolution (see Marcia Langton’s chapter in Being Black: Aboriginal cultures in ‘settled’ Australia). This is a process traditionally regulated by cultural rules and boundaries, but which may now manifest as less structured and potentially more dangerous due to colonial interference and associated trauma. 

For about one-third (35%) of the Indigenous women, and 5% of the non-Indigenous women, fights (and related DVO breach charges) occurred in a context of “chaos” – a description frequently used by service providers and police prosecutors that I interviewed to help understand why Indigenous men and women were over-represented in DVO breach data. “Chaos context violence” (see Nancarrow 2019, chapter 7) typically involves a cluster of attributes including (but not limited to) extreme dysfunction arising from acquired brain injury, for example; trauma or poor mental health; and substance addiction. 


Implications for theory and practice

Policy analysis must take account of the patriarchal and racist structures in which domestic and family violence occurs, and it must distinguish between coercive control and fights. Giving the state power to make DVOs without the consent of the victim is sound logic for cases of coercive control, but it is not sound for cases involving fights. Nevertheless, fights can be distressing, harmful and lethal, and alternative strategies are needed to address them. Restorative justice practices and couples counselling may be appropriate in such cases.

The logic of state power over victim choice in cases of chaos context violence is not only unsound, it is unjust. To some extent, it reflects the deployment of exceptional state power to punish people for behaviour resulting from violence perpetrated on them by the state. Ending chaos context violence ultimately requires structural reform to address racial and socio-economic inequality; at an individual level, it may involve therapeutic intervention and support.


Risks inherent in a paradigm shift

A paradigm shift in current mainstream responses to intimate partner violence, which distinguishes between coercive control and fights is needed, but there are significant risks associated with such a shift. Further development of knowledge and skills to assess and distinguish between coercive control and fights is needed for any approach. We cannot risk a return to the days when coercive control was dismissed as an argument, or a fight. Nor should we facilitate the criminalisation of women (especially Indigenous women) and some men (especially Indigenous men), whose use of violence is not an expression of patriarchal coercive control, but an expression of powerlessness in a society where power and resources are distributed unevenly along gendered and racialised lines.  

My research represents challenges to orthodoxy within current domestic violence theory and practice. It calls for reconceptualising types of violence to take account of gendered and racialised contexts in which it occurs. I argue that the criminal justice system is not only ineffective in many cases, but it is unjust. Though there are undoubtedly challenges of achieving the recognition of women’s agency in fights; a victims’ choice in engaging agents of the criminal justice system; and unequivocal state sanctions against patriarchal coercive control of women, this nonetheless is what we must work towards.


Heather Nancarrow has a PhD in Criminology and Criminal Justice and has held many state and national leadership roles in regard to policy on the prevention of violence against women. She is currently the CEO of Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, an Adjunct Associate Professor at UNSW Sydney and an Adjunct Research Fellow, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University. Her work has been recognised with several awards including the “Queenslander of the Year Community Spirit Award” in 2009; “Honours in recognition of outstanding leadership of the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children and advancing strategic implementation of the National Plan” awarded by Victim Support Australia in 2012, and in 2010 she was named a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow.