I never thought of myself as a leader. I couldn't make the jump across the chasm, in my own mind, from my place of self perception. My self image was very different to how others told me they saw me. There was no vaulting pole long enough to carry me that distance. So I simply did not believe them. I rejected the notion.These people, they pointed out to me that I had done something remarkable. In my mind, I had merely survived, doing the best that I could, falling down, getting up, fucking up substantially along the way, and I made a point of reminding myself of those fuck ups pretty regularly. I was nothing special, even though I had some grand ideas and outlandish notions about changing the world.

UNTIL... one day, I found myself working on something that made me take a long hard look at myself...

I run retreats. You may or may not know this. My deepest passion is working with women to recover their life and their love of themselves after experiencing abuse. The women who join us have experienced abuse in many forms during personal and family relationships. These women have chosen to make changes in their lives and have already made the gargantuan decision to leave those relationships.

My drive for this work comes from a deep place that I'm yet to fathom. It is not simply a purpose, as defined in the socially enterprising context of doing business. This drive is instinctual, it is at the very core of who I am. It is not JUST what I do.

So, during our retreats, I create a space for reflection, and I would like to share that space with you now, if you care to participate.

Sit in a comfortable spot, and maybe have a notebook and pen handy.

Let's begin...

What makes a good LEADER?

Think about that word Leader. Think about the people who you consider to be leaders. Write down a list of names. They could be famous people, politicians (or maybe not lol), successful in business, arts and entertainment, the personal development industry, teaching, religious guidance, science or some other notable field. They may be in your family, your community, your school, your place of work.You may consider those in essential services to be leaders, the police, medical staff, SES or fire crews. Maybe military personnel, entrepreneurs, inventors and innovators, the list goes on.

The point is, it's different for everyone, so dig into who YOU consider to be a leader, name them in a list, as many as you like, and let's look at it.

Let's look at the character traits of each of those leaders that you have named.

What special attributes do they have? In  group during the retreat we would discuss this, we would come up with numerous characteristics that a leader would typically display. I would write them up on a white board and the list typically includes words such as:

Strong, dedicated, resilient, intelligent, focused, determined, out-of-the-box thinker, brave, wise, tenacious, confident, humble, discerning, solution oriented, empathetic, goal driven, kind, someone who feels the fear and does it anyway.

Now add your own perceptions of what traits a good leader possesses, and the behaviours they need to display in their role. Be as descriptive as you like. In fact, the more in depth the better. Dig into who that person is, and what are the traits that make them an effective leader, someone who people would respect and be confident in following their lead.

In the years that followed my leaving the abusive relationship I had been in, my sense of who I was was severely diminished. Actually, who was I? I really didn't know. The 30 year old woman with that strong sense of independence, certainty about life and clear vision of the future, that naively expected that marriage would somehow bring completeness, was long gone. A decade later I was a shell.

I read and researched all the available data and articles on domestic violence, it's long term effects and it's prevalence in society. I came to realise that I was well and truly smack bang in the demographic of "victim". There was no getting away from that. It was fact. My prospects were not good. My physical and mental health, my financial situation, my work potential, pretty much my entire future existence could be predicted according to the authorities on the subject, and the predictions were not good. "Victims" typically remain dependent on social services, government, the health system and extended family (if they remain connected with family).

In our retreats we ask "What is your perception of a victim?"

Again we get the typical responses in the group, but I would love to invite you to create another list. If your story includes the experience of domestic and family violence you can probably draw on your lived understanding of the dynamics involved. If you have been successful in leaving an abusive relationship think about how you think others may perceive you. Or how do you see women who have been abused, if you have not experienced abuse yourself?

Make your list of the character traits of someone who is perceived to be a victim.

So what are the "victim" traits?

We see descriptions like helpless, hopeless, weak, afraid, timid, indecisive, incapable, lacking confidence, inconsistent, unreliable, unstable, at the mercy of circumstance and with a sprinkling of comments like brave, deserving of admiration, deserving of pity or feeling sorry for.

Words are powerful. Words are invocations. They can shape your opinion of who someone is. Just by the use of one little word like "victim". A word can also imprint on a person many or all of the associated traits, subconsciously worming their way into the psyche and feeding existing insecurities and vulnerabilities.

The night I left was a night of a spectrum of emotion. It was pivotal. It was catalytic. I took actions that I did not believe I was capable of, yet, I took them anyway. The ensuing weeks, months and years demanded that I keep on taking action, pushing boundaries and flying in the face of expectation, despite being scared, vulnerable and uncertain. I used to wonder how the hell I got through. How the hell I kept moving forward. But I did, all the while believing I was a victim, believing the most negative and diminishing untruths about who I was at my core and what I was capable of.

Until that day, doing my research, delving in and working on how I could help women to see just how extraordinary they are, I knew that women who have mustered the courage to leave abusive situations needed to see that they are remarkable. Then it hit me. I was saying "they", but what I should have been saying was "we".

So all of those powerful leadership traits, those words that describe capability, strength, determination, tenacity, wisdom, resilience, the words that people had used to describe me, but that I had so vehemently rejected, apply to all of us.

Leaving an abusive relationship demands you to become the leader in a dire situation, just like any human being who strides out to challenge the paradigm they are existing in. Everything about strong leadership applies when getting yourself out of a bad situation. To leave an abuser requires strength, it requires determination and resilience, because that abuser will not give up easily. It is well documented that the point that a woman leaves is the most dangerous and life threatening point. Leaving and leading require immense courage and demand the respect and acknowledgement of our wider communities. I cannot express enough the sense of admiration and pride I hold for these incredible women who take a stand for their own sake. Our own sake.

So lets go back. If you have taken on the label of "victim", remember it is just that. A label. Peel it off and flick it in the bin. It does not belong to you, it does not describe or define you, it does not predict who you are to become. That is a choice for you to make. Domestic violence is an experience, a shitty experience, that takes a strong will and some innate leadership qualities to move through, and ultimately leave that experience behind. These are YOUR qualities, that you have beautifully displayed and should embrace and accept as yours. Whatever fuck up's you think you've made, whatever thoughts you've had about reacting the wrong way, doing the wrong thing or not being who or what "they" think you should be, I promise you, we have all been there, and ultimately IT DOES NOT FUCKING MATTER!

To US!


Jane Sleight-Leach - Founder & Lead Facilitator, the Life 2 Project

I've been thinking a lot lately about the #MeToo campaign.

I don't know how many times in my own life that that simple little hash tag has applied to me, for major life events, for every day instances of harassment and down to subtle inferences that my existence as a female is of less importance than that of my male counterparts. It is rife let me tell you. It is dealt with on so many levels by so many women and girls every single day, within families, in education, in the workplace, in social settings and in religious institutions and belief systems.


I don't bring this up today because of the current public backlash of vile behaviour being called out, or because of long overdue awareness being brought to attention.


No. I speak today because I feel it is not enough to simply say "ME TOO".


I walked across a street yesterday with my daughter. We were walking to the car. We were minding our own f@*king business, not even paying attention to anyone around us, AND WE WERE VERBALLY SEXUALLY HARASSED, we were yelled at in the street by a total stranger.


It is not enough to put my hand up, and my daughters hand up and say "me too". It is not enough to stand up and be part of an ever growing tribe of women who have abuse as a common bond. Not when this shit happens over and over and is treated as normal. That behaviour that we were subjected to is not OUR responsibility. It is the responsibility of that man who assumed that he has the right to perpetrate misogyny at will.


So to that man who chose to invade us yesterday I point at YOU and say #YOUTOO.


YOU TOO are the same the Weinsteins, the Trumps, the industries that commodify and sexualize women and girls, the rapists, the abusers, the bullies the establishments who accept and turn a blind eye, the supporters of patriarchal privilege. It’s all varying intensities of the same pervading stench.


For far too long the attention has been on the impact of the experiences of women, and the cause of that impact has remained out of focus and unexamined. There needs to be a mechanism to promote accountability in order to bring about change.


So I'm choosing to turn and point at YOU, to place focus on YOU, and say what you do is not acceptable and I'm holding you to account. This is not about shaming or revenge, far from it. It is about raising consciousness and awareness of unrecognized and embedded beliefs and behaviours so we can begin to move forward as equal beings with respect and honour.

I invite you to examine your beliefs, scrutinize your actions, question entitlement, challenge hierarchy and denounce patriarchy.

I want to be able to trust men, and I especially want that for my daughter. I want for my son to grow into manhood and be able to interact with women without the burden of suspicion or mistrust. I believe these are essential elements of a quality of life that everyone has a fundamental right to.

I say #TimeForChange

Time to call out #YouToo on those who choose to remain part of the problem and time to align in love, trust and acceptance with everyone else until there is no other option for anyone.

Hindsight, as we all know, is 20/20. I don’t know how many times I’ve said to myself “I should have seen that coming”....
I've made a decision and ended up being disappointed, derailed or hurt.  Well, in actual fact, I often did see it coming, but chose to ignore the warning signs, and more importantly, I chose to ignore that nagging gut feeling that told me that something wasn’t quite right.

Why do we do that? Why do we ignore our most accurate and true compass, our INTUITION?

My intuition, when it fires up to warn me that something is wrong, feels like a swarm of bees in my belly that slowly rises. It starts with a gentle buzzing, but if I am caught up with rationalizing or excusing what I know deep down isn’t in my best interests, those bees take flight and the vibration intensifies and cannot be ignored. I have learned, by experience, to take heed.

We live our lives much of the time in fear of what others think of us, of upsetting others, making them feel bad and not wanting to appear selfish. I believe this is true for many women, and too often we self-sacrifice to put other’s needs and wants squarely first. We have been taught to do it and in doing it we deny our true spirit, we deny ourselves the experience of true meaning and pleasure and we silence our-oh so important intuitive alarm bells.

If we do not listen to ourselves then who else will?
If we do not back ourselves who-else-will?

What IS that feeling? 

Say, for instance, you meet a new man and you start to get to know each other. You like him but there is a doubt that you just can’t put your finger on. It isn’t anything he’s specifically done, but something imperceptible is creeping in and creating a slight mistrust. It nags you and pulls at your shirt sleeve, trying to get your attention, like a little girl with something really really important to tell you. You want to give the benefit of the doubt because, after-all, he seems like a great guy, AND what if you are just being silly and getting cold feet. What IF he’s the one and you miss your chance? What if…? Also, you certainly would not want to offend him or hurt his feelings in any way. You wouldn’t want to come across as someone who is demanding and critical now would you? You wouldn’t want to seem like someone who values herself enough to recognize that what she sees in front of her does not serve her, now would you?

Another example may be in a sales environment, when a skilled sales person taps into our discomfort in saying no. How often have you been talked into buying something, all of your objections neatly dealt with, later to feel regret, sometimes even anger at having been manipulated into the purchase? Where is that anger directed? Is it the sales person you are angry with? Or is it pointed at your own heart like a poison dagger?

That FEELING you get in the pit of your stomach, in your heart of hearts, when you are in a moment of doubt, When you can see no logical reason for it, when you are debating in your head, making excuses, telling yourself to stop being ridiculous, that feeling in the pit of your stomach is your deep unconscious KNOWING drawn from the very centre of your soul. It is ancient, pure, timeless and universal. And we attempt to question and override this pure energy with our busy, rationalizing, conditioned thinking mind. Take a look at the image at the top, no wonder we're confused.

What if you just said no?
It is hard to say no because we are brought up being taught to please others and be polite, and often saying no is just not polite.

Quick exercise:
Can you say “No, I’m not going to do that, it does not serve my best interests.”?
Say it a few times over, does it feel wrong to say that? If so, where in your body is that feeling most intense?
That feeling is you bumping up against a core belief. Those suckers are powerful.

Is it better to agree to something that we know we do not want or need just to avoid displeasing others, and so causing ourselves the pain of feeling less worthy? Is it that we truly believe that we ARE less worthy on some level? If that’s the case we need to talk…
Listening to our intuition may help us to avoid some of the long term hurt and ultimately feel less compelled to give up on our own needs in favour of the needs or demands of others.

Our fear around being judged by others is most often what lands us in hot water. My own intuition has been ignored too many times and I have had to live with the consequences. Many of my experiences could have had a very different outcomes had I listened to my intuition more closely. Happily I can honestly say that is all in the past. I’m definitely still learning, probably always will be, but I know to pay attention when the bees wake up.

It really is OK to say no. It is absolutely essential to say no in those times when your soul speaks it. When we are really tuned in and have the courage to follow our intuition the reward is immeasurable. I have experienced profound peace and sense of satisfaction from decisions and actions based on my intuition. Natural boundaries have grown and others have grown to respect them. Those decisions were not necessarily the easiest, but they felt right.

It is absolutely necessary to nurture ourselves and care as much for ourselves as we do for others. This is particularly true for anyone within an intimate relationship, as the relationship you have with yourself is the foundation for any external relationship. A relationship that demands more of one person than it gives is out of balance and ultimately painful and destructive.

Matrix Reimprinting helps you gently locate core beliefs that drive your patterns of behaviour and thinking, and then change those beliefs and unhealthy perceptions so you can see with new eyes, hear with new ears and make decisions with  insight, clarity and honour for yourself.

Book a session, join a workshop, attend a retreat.

Jane Sleight-Leach
Founder & Lead Facilitator, The Life 2 Project
0412 200515

“Every time we impose our will on another, it is an act of violence.” Gandhi

Our relationships with others are constantly shifting and evolving. As an intimate relationship grows the two people grow and evolve within it. It’s natural and normal as a relationship develops that one partner may take a more dominant role than the other.  One may make more of the decisions, the other happy to go with the flow. One seeks to influence the other through communication, talking things through and coming to a mutual decision. Sometimes the balance can shift and the other may become the influencer. When both partners are comfortable and both are respected and valued equally this makes for a very happy environment. The same can be said for any relationship whether it be between friends, family members or work colleagues.

When we care for someone naturally we want to protect them, make sure they are Ok and not getting into something that could be risky or potentially hurt them. Open communication with both partners agreeing on a course of action if a situation arises is the mature and respectful way to address it. This way both are supported and feel secure. Being protective of another is an act of love.

When the behaviour is to a degree that one person is controlling the actions and freedom of choice of another then a line is crossed. This type of behaviour is unhealthy and damaging.

Do you feel uncomfortable with the level of control the other person is taking? Are your opinions and needs being honoured? Do you feel you have a choice?

Intimate partners in a healthy respectful relationship are not threatened by the presence of other people in each other’s lives. Someone who seeks to control the other generally either does feel threatened and they have deep insecurity.

If your partner for instance discourages you from seeing a friend because they “Don’t like them” are they genuinely concerned for your welfare or are they attempting to sabotage your friendship for their own ends? Is this a one off or is it a regular occurrence? If this kind of behaviour is regular take look at the pattern.

Finding yourself in a controlling relationship could mean that at some stage you have let your boundaries slip or you have not put any in place from the start. When you are at the point that you realize something is wrong it is often too late to take a stand or re-establish boundaries because the controller knows your soft spots.

Subtle Signs of abusive control

  • Insists on knowing where you are and who you’re with at all times. This may at first be disguised with claims of just wanting to know you’re OK or that they miss you, but over time may become more demanding.
  • Being critical of friends/family members you are close to.
  • Being critical of your appearance.
  • They may try to blame you for causing their behaviour.
  • No communication around joint affairs, just demands or unilateral decision making.

Not so subtle signs of abusive control

  • They may have angry outburst if you do not comply with their demands but insists that it’s because they love/care so much.
  • Guilt tripping.
  • Monitoring of your communication with others.
  • Bullying behaviour, threats of consequences. Either physical or emotional.


Do you feel uncomfortable with the level of control the other person is taking? Are your opinions/needs honoured? Do you have a gut feeling that something is wrong? You are probably right.

A controlling person will go to great lengths to get their own way; they will manipulate, they will be intimidating, be highly critical, and usually are skilled at debating and distorting the truth, often outright lying and, by their very nature, disrespectful and hurtful.

Hoping that the controller will change, that somehow they will see the error in their ways or that your patience and care will make a difference is pointless. Unless the controller decides that they want to change their ways they won’t. To have the insight to know that they cause hurt in others (or care) requires empathy, which is in short supply in these characters. Their idea of love is distorted to a sense of ownership of the other person.

And it is highly likely that their behaviour will worsen over time into something more insidious.

The time to take action is when you get that gut feeling that something is not quite right. Trust that feeling.  Make it known that their behaviour is not acceptable and be prepared to state what you expect from them as a partner. If they are genuinely just a little insecure this may be enough for them to see their folly and make some changes, but if the behaviour is of a more insidious nature it’s probably time to head for the door before real damage is done.

Jane Sleight-Leach

Founder of The Life 2 Project

FEAR is one of the biggest immobilizers known to human kind. It stops us in our tracks no matter how capable, educated, physically able or determined we are. When fear steps into the arena the game can be very quickly over. Now I'm not talking about the fear that comes up when you are in a position of physical danger, that is the useful kind of fear that will spur you to get the heck out of there. I'm talking of the fears that we create for ourselves by either recreating past events or projecting the worst possible outcomes in the future. That critical insider with the voice of doom.


Women particularly harbor fears, but what is interesting is that many of our fears come from our own habitual self talk, criticism and self minimization which turns inevitably into self-sabotage, and ultimately to regret. That inner critic that we all have can sometimes shout so loudly in our head that it drowns out the creative, passionate drive and ambition that we all have deep inside. In my opinion regret is one of the saddest words in the English language. It speaks of missed opportunities, lost hopes and dreams and a sense of grief for what could have been in a life unfulfilled. There are so many variations on the theme of fear. Fear of judgement, of not being good enough, not clever enough, fear of failure, success, loss, abandonment, getting older, of not "looking" the right way.... the list is endless. If we allow these fears to take over we are constantly scrambling to live up to ideals that we could never hope to achieve. I'm not saying here that you are not good enough to achieve what you want to achieve. I know that is what many could possibly interpret here. What I want to get across is that it is our fear of not "having, being or doing" what we aspire to that prevents us from "being, doing or having" what we want.


Fear creates a stress response, whether it is a "real life" threat, or one we have conjured up in our imagination. Imagine yourself taking a nice relaxing walk. It's a sunny afternoon and you're enjoying the fresh air and natural surroundings. You glance along the footpath and few metres ahead you spot a brown coloured snake. How do you feel? Afraid? Panicked? Want to run in the opposite direction? Paralyzed? Do you feel a churn in you body with the surge of adrenalin?

Any normal person would feel any or all of those things if encountering a potentially life threatening situation. Your subconscious mind takes over in a millisecond to protect you from the perceived danger. Your logical, rational, creative brain function shuts down and your entire neural system is now in a state of high alert. You cannot move forward. Your instinct is to stop or retreat.

Now look again. That thing up there isn't moving. You look closer, strain your eyes a little, put on glasses even, to see it a little clearer. Focus. What is it? Is it a fallen tree branch, or is it a snake? Your physiological response is telling you it's a snake, but now you are really looking at it you are not so sure. Take a step closer, it's a bit scary still but...wait a minute...it really isn't moving. Closer now you can clearly see that it is indeed a tree branch, the shadows from the foliage giving it a lifelike dimension.You see it for what it really is, breathe a sigh of relief, and you step past it going on with your journey.

What then, if we had such a strong physical response to what we "thought" was a snake, do we conjure up in our bodies when we have such an array of fearful thoughts and beliefs constantly triggering us? The answer of course is a drip fed cocktail of toxic stress hormones that keeps us paralyzed and exhausted, sick and tired. We suffer adrenalin fatigue and reduced brain function. Loss of focus, creativity, ambition, patience and the ability to empathize. We suffer reduced immunity, digestive disruption, effects on the menstrual cycle, plus many more conditions that are the damaging effects of stress and fear on the female mind and body. Our mind is such a powerful force that it can create a full physical chain reaction based on a perception. WOW!


Translate this into any everyday situation that women face. Let's take for instance someone's fear of judgement. She is terrified of being thought of in a negative way by her friends, family or colleagues if she does or says something that she perceives may upset or challenge other's beliefs or opinions. She might look bad and experience disapproval or ridicule. She could even lose a friendship or be shunned by family. She could lose the respect and position. She may want to speak up but the fear keeps her silent, stuck, frustrated and anxious.

What if she DID speak up and say what's on her mind though? Is that perception really a snake? Is it REALLY going to bite her, cause her pain or worse? Could it be that, if she pushed on ahead, she may be gain more respect or even the admiration of her peers for speaking her truth? Others may have a similar opinion but also be too afraid to speak up. She then becomes an influencer, giving permission and inspiration for others to speak their truth also. It is all possible. Doing the very thing she is most afraid to do may in fact bring more of what she most fears losing.

The picture below is me in Melbourne doing my first ever Rap Jump. I stepped off the roof of a 12 story building and ran face first down the side to the ground. I believe that all too often we stand out on the edge of our challenges, looking down and fearing the fall, instead of anticipating the excitement of the journey ahead.

Was it easy to have faith and step off? No way! It was one of the scariest things I've ever done. Was it worth it? Hell YES! It made me recognize that the scariest part of any challenge we face in life is taking the fist step.

Stepping off the edge

I work with women to create a shift, dissolving irrational fears and beliefs and damaging negative emotions that keep us stuck and our goals and dreams out of reach. Take the first step and use the form below to find out more, or call on 0412 200 515.

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Australia is leading the world in recognising domestic violence as an issue which can potentially impact on workers and workplaces, with over 1 million Australian employees now covered by domestic violence clauses in their agreement or award conditions.

The Safe at  Home, Safe at Work project brings together a collection of resources developed as part of the Domestic Violence Workplace Rights & Entitlements Project...

I remember when I was in the thick of the issues at home my job was my escape, my safe haven and a place where I knew that I was respected and valued. I had the comfort of knowing that for the hours that I was working there were no eggshells beneath my feet and no fear of sudden outbursts.

After I left my relationship things became difficult to manage. I became a single parent, my stress levels escalated dramatically, I had financial challenges and I began to need extra time off to deal with court issues, appointments with professional services, doctors and therapists, as well as being there to support my children. I soon ran out of annual and sick leave entitlements and  inevitably my work and productivity suffered. The stress of holding it all together at work and at home became too much to bear. There was no provision in my workplace agreement for issues relating to domestic violence, so I eventually had to say goodbye to my corporate career. This brought about more stress, a sense of failure, feelings of hopelessness and isolation.

If this reminds you of someone you know, or if you are experiencing something similar please visit THE SAFE AT HOME SAFE AT WORK website for information and resources. You are entitled to support.


Danny BlayLIFE 2 Article May 2013 by Danny Blay from NTV.

Today’s article features the words of Danny Blay, Executive Officer of the organisation NO TO VIOLENCE .

No To Violence (NTV), the Male Family Violence Prevention Association, is the Victorian state-wide peak body of organisations and individuals working with men to end their violence and abuse against family members.
The NTV mission is to provide counselling, advisory, referral and educational services to men who have inflicted or are at risk of inflicting violence on family members and to family members exposed to male family violence or the risk of male family violence.
NTV seek to work towards a world free of men's violence against family members, and where family members can live without the fear of violence.
Their members come from a wide range of professional and community backgrounds and work in a range of settings including government, community-based settings and private practice.

Danny writes “As a society we are often drawn to ‘pathologising’ men who use violence towards family members because it seems to be different to other forms of individualised violence. That is, when we talk about race-related violence (eg, when south-Asian cab drivers were being routinely targeted in Melbourne) the discourse was immediately about racism. When we talk about ‘gay-bashing’ and verbal abuse (eg the current debate concerning the AFL) we talk about homophobia. But when we talk about men’s use of violence towards women we seem inclined to talk about:

- Drugs
- Alcohol
- Upbringing
- Depression
- Inability to express emotions
- Past trauma
- Vicarious trauma
- Short fuse
- Anger
- Genetics
- Types, or typologies
- Testosterone
- Culture
- Class
- Immigration experience
- Experience of war and dispossession
- Women being complicit/inviting it
- Undiagnosed mental health disorders
- Absent fathers
- Personality disorders…

What we (and here I mean the broader community) don’t talk about is gender, power, sexism and misogyny. Why? My take on it is that talking about family violence and violence against women is immediately personally affecting. When I talk to ministers of government or business leaders or trainees new to our sector or just members of our community about male family violence many people will immediately internally or externally reflect on their own personal experience – family of origin, childhood, intimate relationships, parenting, members of their family or neighbours where it was suspected that ‘things just weren’t right’ but nobody ever asked. People are affected when discovering that one in three women experience violence in a relationship (“One in three? Let me think of one in three women in my life…”), that violence against women is the biggest burden of disease affecting women under 40 and that one woman dies at the hands of their (former) partner about every 5 or 6 days in this country. And when it’s personal, many of us want to not engage with it or find other, perhaps more ‘rational’ explanations, rather than what we know:

1. The vast majority of men who use violence towards women do not use violence towards anybody else
2. The vast majority of men who use violence towards women are socially functioning, integrated, connected, educated and employed
3. The vast majority of men who use violence towards women are never found out
4. Most men who use violence towards women tell the women it’s their fault or due to some other ‘stresser’
5. Most men who use violence towards women do not take responsibility for their actions and do not see violence as a choice
6. Most men who use violence towards women have not considered the impact of their use of violence towards others, including children

Personality disorders and other forms of mental health issues that are commonly associated with men who use violence towards women and family members would be demonstrated outside the home if they were indeed present. Almost always this is not the case. Instead, comments such as ‘but he’s such a nice man’, ‘he wouldn’t hurt a fly’, ‘that’s not violence’ and the like are all too common.

What we know from working with men who use violence towards family members is that it is not too difficult to demonstrate that individual men’s use of violence is a choice, is controllable, is damaging and is not because someone or something has set him off. Many men come out the other end of Men's Behaviour Change Programs with this ‘new’ knowledge. (Of course, it isn’t really new to them at all as they are able to reflect on times in their life when they didn’t resort to violence, such as when the boss annoyed them or the police officer pulled them over for running a red light.) Almost every single man who calls the Men’s Referral Service does not demonstrate any type of disorder in this sense – they are communicative and respectful on the phone. This is also the case in Men's Behaviour Change Programs. I personally have never come across a man with a personality disorder in a program. Again, there are inherent consequences to them if they are disrespectful or abusive to our workers, as opposed to when they use violent and abusive behaviour at home.

What is central to our work is challenging men’s own and others’ myths and preconceptions about men's violence towards women and children. Indeed, our work would be a lot more straightforward if there was a demonstrated causal link between a mental health disorder and propensity to use violence only towards women – we might even get a test developed to determine the likelihood of certain men using violence towards women – but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. All men have the capacity and potential to use violence. Some do, some don’t, and there is no rhyme or reason why, other than entrenched and learned sexism and misogyny. Boys aren’t born with it , they (we) learn it, and not just from home. This is why our job is so huge and complex. Sexism and misogyny is everywhere and in many guises, and it is our job to challenge it and expose it.”

Danny Blay | Executive Officer
No To Violence and Men’s Referral Service
p: 03 9428 3536 | m: 0417 690 311 | skype: dblayntv
e: danny@ntv.org.au | www.ntv.org.au | www.mrs.org.au

Dr Elspeth McInnes

BA Hons 1 Flinders University of SA, PhD Flinders University of SA

In this presentation I want to talk about my research insights which go to the drivers of poverty in Australian society and their relationship to gender. Before I do that I want to briefly scope the ways in which poverty is talked about by policymakers, researchers and community sector service providers. In Australia poverty is normally defined either in relation to the Henderson poverty line - a basket of goods approach, in statistical terms as the half point of the Australian median wage, or in terms of deprivation of access to reasonable social standards - such as the ability to afford a week holiday away from home once a year. This last approach is the measure which gives greatest insight into what people go without when they live in poverty.  Under all measures, single parent families consistently present as the family type at most risk of experiencing poverty.

It is important to note here the immediate and longer-term impacts of poverty for children. Low income families struggle to meet the costs of housing and utilities, food, health, education, clothing and recreation.  For a child, these struggles translate into frequent housing changes, including homelessness. Social isolation from peers and wider family connections comes with no money for recreation or leisure.  Living without gas or electricity and thus the capacity to control temperatures, store and cook food and maintain hygiene means a diet of junk food, dirty clothes and bedding, living with candles and shivering in the dark.  These experiences leave developmental markers of chronic stress, poor nutrition and poor social skills, setting children on a trajectory of enduring disadvantage.

When we look to recent policies to address poverty in single parent families, such as the ‘Incentive to Work’ Act which, from January 1 this year,  pushed all single parents with children aged 8 onto the lower Newstart Allowance, leaving them between $60 and $100 worse off per week;  both the Coalition under Howard and the Labor Party under Gillard, have opted for a punitive behaviourist approach which first nominates the one-liner that 'a job is the best form of welfare', then reduces the capacity for economic survival by reducing income support payments and decreasing the economic rewards of paid work using increased clawback against earnings.

The policy premise is apparently that increasing family poverty creates jobs.  There is no empirical evidence offered for such a claim, but media spin has steadily replaced informed critical scrutiny and single mothers are seen as an unpopular group which can be attacked without much political consequence. The title ‘Incentive to Work’ implies that single parents who are not in the paid workforce lack incentive to work.  Reducing the rewards they get from working by reducing income support at lower earnings thresholds is a strange version of an ‘incentive’ worthy of Alice in Wonderland.  There is no recognition that reducing parental availability to support children by requiring parents to seek work, will itself increase risks of adverse outcomes for children left home alone. In summary, the current policy approaches are dismal, punitive and ineffective.  In the hope of expanding understanding of the drivers of poverty, and thus the prospect of effective policy reform, it is important to recognise the impact of gender.   In this respect I plan to cover three key social institutions - families and unpaid care; labour markets and paid work; and family violence.

What I have to say draws on my research which compared the transition to single parent households for mothers with and without violent partners (McInnes 2001). The issue of violence did not appear when I first scoped this research, which aimed to examine the education and work behaviours of single parents following relationship breakdown.  I had planned to interview both single fathers and single mothers.  The first discovery for me was that mothers and fathers came into single parenthood along very different pathways. Where women in the study carried primary and continuing responsibility for their children both during and after the relationship, men assumed the primary carer role only when the mother was unable to do so for some reason - either through death, disability or a legal judgement. Their engagement as non-resident parents was optional. My second major insight was that, for those women who had to contend with violence and abuse victimization, the violence and abuse dominated and shaped their opportunities and choices. I will come back to this later. Now I wish to turn to my first point of gender analysis - unpaid care work in families.

Time use research in Australia consistently shows that women do vastly more housework and care for dependent others - children and adults - compared to men. Whilst being pregnant and giving birth forces women to stop paid work for a time, they usually remain the primary carer as the children grow, and fit their paid work around the care needs of family members. Such unpaid care work is not costed in GDP and remains invisible in the national accounts.  A paid child care worker counts as part of the formal economy, but the intensive one to one 24 hour attendance of parenting infants or caring for a person with a serious chronic illness or disability, does not.  An example of this was the basis of the 2006 formula changes for the child support system. Policymakers calculated that children became more expensive as they grew and required more services and possessions. This calculation was only possible by excluding the unpaid care work of parents and the opportunity costs to earnings of taking time out from the paid workforce to provide unpaid care.  Anyone who purchases formal child care knows that babies are much more expensive to care for than older children because they require a much higher level of active attendance. Child support policy makers only counted expenditure on children, and excluded labour inputs.

Women's 'traditional' gender role of unpaid care provider takes a high toll on their availability for paid work. When loss of experience, missed training opportunities and disrupted professional networks are factored in, the economic toll climbs even higher.

So this is a first point, gender shapes poverty experiences because it is women who perform the bulk of unpaid care work and therefore women who lose income opportunities whilst providing that care. Care work in families is fundamental to human survival, but should women be expected to continue to sacrifice their economic survival for love?  The latest report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘Investing in Care: Recognising and Valuing Those who care’ (2013) confirms the economic plight of unpaid carers and the gendered profile of mainly women carers.  The report identifies the risks of unpaid care as a pathway to lifelong poverty, as women forgo earnings, savings and career development opportunities. When women have access to the support of a male breadwinner, their lack of personal income is concealed by the partnership earnings. When relationships end, or the breadwinner becomes sick or disabled, women's limited earnings are exposed. So the social institution of women's unpaid care work in families is a key driver of women's poverty.

This brings me to the second relevant institution which drives women's poverty - the labour market. Having noted that unpaid care work keeps many women out of paid work, there is another problem with the gendered profile of the distribution of jobs and earnings. Despite women's rising participation and success in higher education, men still get higher pay for the same job and have access to a much wider range of jobs with better conditions, relative to women. Women employees are largely clustered in the services sector, dominating human services such as health and education, along with retail and hospitality. Many of these jobs are poorly paid, insecure, with minimal opportunities for advancement.   The Fair Work Australia inquiry into community sector pay and conditions highlighted that women in the sector were paid much less than male workers doing similar roles in the public sector.  There is an under-representation of women in corporate boardrooms and in the Parliaments and local councils of Australia. As the Australian Defence Forces sex scandals have illustrated, women face entrenched cultures of sexist abuse when they seek to participate in male dominated workforces. So when women get into the paid workforce they face having less choice of jobs, lower pay, fewer advancement and training opportunities and less secure employment compared to their male counterparts. This flows through to lower superannuation savings, which reflect the lower levels of earnings and reduced time in the paid workforce. The gendered labour market is thus another key institution which systematically reproduces women’s poverty. Women with unpaid care responsibilities need to find, and often pay for, alternative care whilst they are at work, imposing an additional cost on their workforce participation.  In parenting mediation sessions for separated parents, mothers commonly report that contact hours are worked out around the father's work demands. The gendered assumption that mother's work is less important than father's work, continues to play out even after the relationship has ended.

Relationships end for many reasons. We know that marriages are more durable than de facto relationships. This makes sense because the couple have actively committed themselves to a life together, rather than simply cohabiting. We know that wealthier couples are more likely to be married and stay together than those on lower incomes.  Research also identifies higher rates of domestic violence in lower income families. Australian statistics indicate that around one in three women have experienced domestic violence (Mouzos & Makkai 2004).  Mothers whose relationships have ended are more than twice as likely to have experienced violence compared to other mothers (Butterworth 2004). These statistics illustrate the third institutional driver of women's poverty - male violence against women.  There are a number of theories about the relationship between interpersonal violence and poverty which I was forced to consider in my research as half the sample of single mothers I interviewed disclosed they had left a physically abusive relationship.  Half of these again reported they had also been abused as children, showing the intergenerational impacts of family violence.

One theory about the relationship between violence and poverty is cultural and goes along the lines that 'the poor are like that, that's what they do'.  A second theory is that people on low incomes come under greater scrutiny and surveillance so they are more likely to show up in official crime statistics compared to wealthier families. A third theory is that people who are financially stressed and disempowered are more likely to resort to violence to deal with their stress. A fourth theory proposes that the use of violence is a strategy to maintain dominance and control over others. When considering these theories against the reported experiences of the single mothers, only the last option seemed to fit. Some of the women had been married to very wealthy violent men, but their access to wealth depended entirely on staying in the relationship. Some of the violent men had used violence in order to achieve their wealth. For example, one ex-partner was a bikie and drug-dealer.  The surveillance theory was also undermined by the fact that many of the women never reported the abuse.  The dominant theme of the women's experience was that of 'walking on eggshells' in a bid to prevent an eruption of violence, trying to do everything perfectly so as not to upset him.  The stress associated with violence was a dominant concern of the victim who desperately tried to avoid another attack, but not a necessary part of the perpetrator's experience.  Another dominant theme of these women was their lack of access to the financial proceeds of the partnership. As one mother noted "I value my life more than anything. He made it clear he would kill me if I tried to apply for a property settlement.”  This is consistent with the findings of an AIFS study (Sheehan & Smyth 2000), which identified that women were much less likely to gain any financial settlement from the partnership where violence had been a factor.

The research process made it clear to me that there certainly is a relationship between poverty and violence, however it is the victim who is always impoverished.  The perpetrator may be wealthy or poor, but the experience of violence victimization created or increased poverty for the victim. Violence forced victims to leave their relationships and any financial support, abandon possessions, abandon property interests, to spend money replacing the household they had lost, to meet legal and health bills arising from the violence and to become  the only full-time parent for children who themselves were traumatized by violence. Both children and adults exposed to violence face risks of traumatization, anxiety and depression - conditions which can derail people from success in education and in paid work. The disabling impacts of exposures to violence sharply escalate the risks of being unable to successfully gain and sustain well-paid employment.  It is these future-cascading impacts which generate the observed links between poverty and violence.  The damage wrought by exposures to violence increases with the duration of exposure, severity of violence and frequency of attack.  The younger the age of exposure, the greater the risk of developmental traumatization where the young child adapts to survival in a dangerous and violent environment. Such children can face lifelong problems with social relationships, learning and earning, raising the risks of chronic intergenerational poverty.  The family law system’s practices which privilege children spending time with parents, ahead of children’s safety when there are issues of violence, create a context of ongoing harm to the children and distress to the mother.  When we consider that one in three Australian women has been subject to domestic violence (Mouzos & Makkai 2004) and around one in two single mothers (McInnes 2001; Butterworth 2004) have experienced domestic violence, it is clear that violence is a significant contributor to women’s poverty.

To recap - current approaches to poverty fail to take account of the gendered factors which reproduce women’s poverty. Women’s unpaid care work is simply an expected dimension of family life. Women’s lower pay and more limited job and career opportunities systematically reproduce men’s financial privilege, and men’s violence to women can work to enrich the perpetrator and to further reduce women’s health and earning capacity.  These drivers of women’s poverty need to be comprehensively addressed by policymakers instead of the current approach of blaming and punishing individual women for being poor.

As the Australian Human Rights Commission report recommends, we need to be investing in supports for the unpaid care workforce. These supports need to be directed towards the long-term financial security of unpaid carers, their workforce participation and their access to alternative care, training and education.  For example, people who are not in the paid workforce due to parenting or other care demands could receive payments into their superannuation accounts in part recognition of the economic savings their unpaid work creates.   The January 2013 welfare changes forcing single parents onto lower Newstart payments have the ridiculous practical outcome of imposing heavy fines on people who have part-time work. Far from creating work incentives, these changes impose penalties on all parents whose children turn 8, and the biggest penalties are imposed on those who have some work.  A sensible policy, aimed at supporting workforce participation, would provide parents in part-time work with increased benefits from working, allowing them to gain a better standard of living from paid work.  Policymakers could also consider explicit links between unpaid care work and support for training and education.  Scholarships and bonuses to meet the costs of study would send a clear message to unpaid carers that their time out of the paid workforce could also be used to support their re-skilling for eventual re-entry.

Considering the gendered labour market, a lot more could be done to support equal work opportunities and equal pay conditions. There needs to be an improvement in the obligations placed on employers to provide family-friendly flexibility and to monitor equal pay outcomes. Employers who pay workers different rates for the same job need to be held accountable and given incentives to comply with equal pay law.  Harassing and sexually discriminating employers should face heavy sanctions for such practices and be forced to compensate the workers they have harmed. There is a need to address women’s access to diverse sectors of the economy and to explicitly recruit women into male dominated sectors.  Jobs services providers have a role to play in broadening the types of work and training to which women are referred and in ensuring that the protections around participation requirements are actually implemented. For example the Financial Suitability Test which provides that single parents should not be forced to take jobs that provide a net income improvement of less than $25 per week is apparently never implemented according to jobseekers. Similarly domestic violence participation exemptions require that victims MUST be given a 16 week exemption from work participation requirements, yet very few victims of violence are actually offered such an exemption and are not even aware of its existence.

The issue of violence against women provides a continuing challenge across society.  Sadly policy efforts are currently crashing into a declining recognition that violence is a gendered issue. The efforts of men’s rights groups have promoted the idea that men and women participate equally in violence. This claim flies in the face of the fact that it is women as victims which police see day in and day out and four out of five intimate partner homicides involve women as victims. Research comparing men’s and women’s experiences of domestic violence highlight four major differences – men are much less likely to say they are afraid of their partner, they typically do not have primary responsibility for dependent others, the violence stops completely at separation and they are much less likely to suffer serious injury or death (Bagshaw et al 2011) . In contrast women victims report high levels of fear, having to manage the needs of children and, for women, violence typically escalates at separation. Separation and the first year after separation are when women face the highest risk of being seriously injured or killed. Some commentators promote the idea that victims are equally responsible for violence if they do not end violent relationships. Such people typically have no insight into the issues of fear, being responsible for dependent others, having no money, no housing and no supports. Let’s be clear that blaming victims for the violence against them is a clear statement of support for perpetrators of violence. He too will blame his victim for making him hit her.  Another major problem is that many states require police to report domestic violence incidents to child protection services when children are present. The child protection response commonly threatens mothers with loss of their children if they don’t leave the perpetrator. Of course when women do leave, the family law system often orders the children straight back to the care of the perpetrator. Sometimes child protection services also place the children with the perpetrator of the violence because ‘he is only violent to her because she provokes him and he is fine with the children’.  Understandably victims of violence are becoming increasingly resistant to police involvement because they don’t want to lose care of their children. This would be easily addressed by having a policy approach which held the perpetrator to account and supported the safety of the victim and her children, rather than blaming her for living with a perpetrator.  Other needed reforms include increased prosecutions of domestic assaults and for breaches of domestic violence orders, family law reforms to strengthen the investigations of alleged abuses by qualified forensic practitioners, along with financial compensation for violence in the relationship, as well as much greater access to emergency housing and other supports for women having to leave violence.

It is important to recognise that domestic violence is the primary organiser of victims’ options with regard to all aspects of their lives.  In my research it became clear that questions of work or study for victims were subordinate to having to manage the threat of violence.   Neurological research has identified that traumatic exposures interrupt learning. The brain focuses on survival – scanning the environment for threats, with every sense hyper vigilant to clues of danger.  The blood flow to the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain linked to language and expression and executive function – actually decreases when threats are identified. Our survival under threat relies on being able to physically run away, hide from or fight off danger – not reading books about having conversations with people who want to kill you.  When children grow up in contexts of ongoing threat, their brains develop to a permanent state of heightened vigilance, interfering with their learning and social relationships (Streeck-Fischer & van der Kolk 2000). Adult victims not only have to manage their own alarm reactions but also respond to their children’s heightened sensitivities to danger cues. Going into hiding, attending to legal proceedings, dealing with health problems and children’s needs become the day to day necessity which over-rides opportunities for paid work and study. Paid work presents risks if the perpetrator knows where she works. The need for more sick leave and the added stress of coping with constant threat means that victims can lose their jobs if they have managed to hold on to employment.

One common policy reaction to economic disadvantage is to point to education as the cure, but we need to take on board that learning is only accessible to both adults and children in a state of safety. Children and adults whose lives have been affected by violence need access to services which enable them to understand how trauma is affecting their lives, their personal trauma ‘triggers’ and ways to desensitise themselves to these triggers so they can actively engage with the wider world.  Our current medical model restricts responses to medical specialists and drug therapy, whereas we really need trauma-informed practice to be a feature of all human services professionals such as social workers, educators and health practitioners.  It is in the day to day interactions over time that change happens, rather than limiting therapy to a brief visit with a medical expert once every few months.

There is a need for many more services to support victims of violence. The women’s services sector is becoming de-gendered and defunded under the onslaught of managerialist policies which aim for generic services provision. Women fleeing violence face increasing difficulty in getting into emergency accommodation and they may be sharing with men who are homeless.  Women with addictions, those with teenage children and those with mental illnesses can face exclusion from services which do not address those issues.  It is important to note here that traumatization is causally linked both with mental illness and substance abuse. Thus far the compartmentalization of service delivery effectively compromises victims of violence by shuffling them drug and alcohol referrals, to mental illness referrals, to domestic violence referrals in a spiral of ineffective action.

In conclusion I argue that unless we explicitly understand gendered drivers of poverty we will continue, as a society, to miss giving attention to the structural issues creating women’s poverty.  Men of course also contend with poverty, but their drivers go more to inability to access education and paid work. In many cases men living with entrenched poverty can also point back to men’s violence in their childhoods leaving them with separated parents, struggling to stay housed and fed.


Bagshaw, D., Brown, T. , Wendt, S., Campbell, A., McInnes, E., Tinning, B., Batagol, B., Sifris, A., Tyson, D., Baker, J., Fernandez Arias, P. 2010  Family Violence and Family Law in Australia: The Experiences and Views of Children and Adults from Families who Separated Post-1995 and Post-2006, Attorney-General’s Department, Canberra.

Butterworth, P. 2004 ‘Lone Mothers’ experience of physical and Sexual Violence: Association with Psychiatric Disorders,’ British Journal of Psychiatry, 184, pp. 21-27.

McInnes, E., (2001) ‘Public Policy and Private Lives: Single Mothers, Social Policy and Gendered Violence’, Thesis Collection, Flinders University of SA. http://www.ncsmc.org.au/phd

Mouzos, J. and Makkai , T., (2004) ‘Women’s Experiences of Male Violence’, Research and Public Policy Series No. 56, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.

Sheehan, G., and Smyth, B., (2000) ‘Spousal Violence and Post-Separation Financial Outcomes’, Australian Journal of Family Law, 14 (2): 102-118.

Streeck-Fischer, Andrew., and Van der Kolk, Bessell. (2000). Down will come baby, cradle and all: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Implications of trauma on child development. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34 (6): 903-18.

ASCA is a national organisation which works to improve the lives of adult survivors of child abuse throughout Australia. Call 1300 657 380 for the cost of a local call or go to www.asca.org.au. State and territory numbers are as follows: NSW (02) 8920 3611, SA (08) 8388 5661, VIC (03) 9880 7070, QLD 0419 724 561, NT 0408 280 502.

The cycle of violence in domestic abuse

Domestic abuse falls into a common pattern, or cycle of violence:

  • Abuse – Your abusive partner lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or violent behavior. The abuse is a power play designed to show you "who is boss."
  • Guilt – After abusing you, your partner feels guilt, but not over what he's done. He’s more worried about the possibility of being caught and facing consequences for his abusive behavior.
  • Excuses – Your abuser rationalizes what he or she has done. The person may come up with a string of excuses or blame you for the abusive behavior—anything to avoid taking responsibility.
  • "Normal" behavior — The abuser does everything he can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. He may act as if nothing has happened, or he may turn on the charm. This peaceful honeymoon phase may give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.
  • Fantasy and planning – Your abuser begins to fantasize about abusing you again. He spends a lot of time thinking about what you’ve done wrong and how he'll make you pay. Then he makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.
  • Set-up – Your abuser sets you up and puts his plan in motion, creating a situation where he can justify abusing you.

Your abuser’s apologies and loving gestures in between the episodes of abuse can make it difficult to leave. He may make you believe that you are the only person who can help him, that things will be different this time, and that he truly loves you. However, the dangers of staying are very real.