Domestic violence victims vulnerable to the system

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Source: Wikimedia commons

#This story has been updated following the announcement by the Federal Government of $100mil for program to help stop violence against women and children.

The recent horrific murders of two women and a child, and attack of a third woman, have highlighted the seriousness of domestic violence in south-east Queensland.

Two women were murdered in public places by their ex-partners on the Gold Coast, a six-year-old girl was allegedly murdered by her father in Brisbane and another woman survived a machete attack in Wacol.

Media reports say only one of these victims had a domestic violence order (DVO) against their partner.

Karina Lock’s ex-partner was subject to a DVO which was due to expire in December this year when he murdered her at Helensvale McDonald’s.

Griffith University lecturer in domestic violence law Trish Thompson said the system was not adequate to deal with domestic violence, and it was important for women to take out domestic violence orders to protect themselves.

She said domestic violence protection orders sent a message to society that this behaviour was not acceptable.

“[In Karina’s case] the fact that there was a DVO in place tells you straight away that she was seeking help, she probably needed more protection and the message is out there for society to take DVOs seriously,” Ms Thompson said.

She said a recent New South Wales Coroner’s report found it was more often the case that domestic partners were killed when there was no DVO in place. But it was clear that friends and family of the victim were aware of the abuse.

Working Against Violence Support Service (WAVSS) General Manager Linda-Ann Northey said protection orders were an important first step in protecting women against domestic violence, as it ensured a breach could be recorded.

“Women are more likely to be able to determine their own safety and to make that decision themselves with the support of agencies and other services to help them through,” Ms Northey said.

“A protection order sits in the civil court. When someone breaches that it becomes a criminal matter and so it actually has greater jurisdiction for people to respond and to charge someone criminally.”

She said her organisation was currently working on processes to ensure valid evidence was collected so perpetrators could be criminally charged.

“Our goal is to help to upskill community, friends and family and to also let women know that were not going to leave you stranded if you make contact with us.”

Ms Northey said when women felt at risk they needed to discreetly tell someone they could trust.

“They really need to think about their own safety and keep their cards close to their chest,” she said.

“The most important thing for women to know is if they are really feeling unsafe and their life is at risk absolutely call Triple Zero — call the police and obviously there is a whole framework behind that.

“Our goal is to help to upskill community, friends and family and to also let women know that were not going to leave you stranded if you make contact with us.”

The tragic case of Gold Coast mother Tara Brown who was murdered by her former partner reveals the extent to which victims are still not being given the support and information they need to protect themselves.

Tara Brown was turned away from Southport Police after they said they were unable to assist her when she contacted them with concerns about her former partner.

Following her death, the Queensland Police Service Ethical Standards Command confirmed they were investigating the “appropriateness” of the response given to Ms Brown.

Domestic violence victim Sarah* said from her experience police tried to avoid involvement in domestic issues.

“[Getting involved] suggests things going beyond their role description,” Sarah said.

“It becomes a personal interest and their job is to be unbiased and by assisting they are taking an extra interest.”

She said few police officers would take the extra time to pass on details of support services or to even ‘flag’ cases in the system as a high priority.

Sarah said she did not trust the system which was reinforced by her interactions with one police sergeant from an inner city station.

“He said to me, ‘You look like you have married a real arsehole, but if I locked up every arsehole I met, I would have a jail full of arseholes'”, she said.

According to the Queensland Police Service (QPS) safety is the first priority when dealing with a domestic violence situation.

If police believe domestic violence has been committed there are numerous options available to them to help protect victims, including an application for a protection order, a police protection notice, or an application to a magistrate for a temporary protection order.

“He said to me, ‘you look like you have married a real arsehole, but if I locked up every arsehole I met, I would have a jail full of arseholes’…”

Police can also detain the respondent for a maximum of eight hours if they have reason to believe domestic violence has been committed and there is a risk that the respondent will “cause personal injury or property damage”.

This enables police to organise a protection order application or to apply to a magistrate for a temporary protection order.

Linda-Ann Northey said police often gave people information about the support services available but they needed permission from domestic violence victims to directly refer them to services.

In domestic violence situations involving children, if police are concerned for the children’s safety and well being they are required to complete a report to child protection and support services.

Law lecturer Trish Thompson said the police reporting procedure was important to prevent child abuse.

“It’s well known now that where there’s domestic violence in the family of origin of a child that it is up to six times more likely that the child would be sexually abused,” Ms Thompson said.

In one case currently before the court, a victim of domestic violence said she had received poor advice during an ongoing dispute with her ex-partner.

She said her ex-partner had taken her children from her more than 12 months ago, and she had only learnt, through this interview, that she had options to have them returned through a recovery order.

Trish Thompson said the system needed work around issues of break-and-enter by former partners into the family home.

She said law reform in this area was needed so offenders in domestic violence cases could be charged for breaking into their home when the victim was still residing there.

“The idea that someone’s name is on [the title of a property] and therefore they won’t be charged with break and enter is privileging property over protection of domestic violence,” Ms Thompson said.

“The consequences of not charging someone with break and enter when a woman is living in the home for protection from domestic violence can be lethal.”

“The idea that someone’s name is on [the title of a property] and therefore they won’t be charged with break and enter is privileging property over protection of domestic violence.”

Domestic violence victim Sarah’s ex-partner was wearing her down financially and emotionally through the Family Court system, she said.

She said he did not comply with court orders to provide information or details to enable their property settlement to go forward.

Ms Thompson said if the perpetrator failed to abide by court orders it was important for victims to engage legal professionals to take out a contravention order, but Sarah was never prompted to do this.

Ms Northey, who is also a committee member for the Domestic Violence Death Review Action Group said Sarah’s situation was difficult because some issues fell under family law while others fell under domestic violence legislation.

Despite Sarah’s situation, Ms Northey said positive steps had been taken to place domestic violence on the public agenda.

“The last 12 months has been a critical mass of change within the sector and across the community,” she said.

“We’re actually at the point where we are starting to make a difference and it’s because everybody has been working so hard on it behind the scenes.”

Today, new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced more than $100 million in domestic violence support initiatives to keep women safer.

In mid-September Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the government would legislate to “increase maximum penalties for first-time breaches of DVOs to three years jail and subsequent breaches to up to five years jail.”

Announcing changes to the way Qld deals with DV Source Facebook
Announcing changes to the way Qld deals with DV. Source: Facebook

“These tougher penalties send an important message to perpetrators of domestic violence – you will be held to account, you will be punished,” Premier Palaszczuk said.

“We have seen domestic and family violence spill out onto the streets of Queensland in recent weeks and I want this legislation to send a clear message about just how seriously this government takes domestic and family violence.”

Law lecturer Trish Thompson said tougher sentencing helped communicate the message that domestic violence was unacceptable and that people should teach their children to behave respectfully.

“The important thing is to take a different approach to the fact that if that offence was committed in a criminal court, what sort of sentence would you be looking at then,” Ms Thompson said.

Annastacia Palaszczuk said the changes would include “special witness” status whereby victims could give evidence in absence of the alleged perpetrator to protect them from being intimidated in court.

Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath said new measures ensured domestic violence offences would be recorded on people’s criminal record.

“This is designed to help our judges and magistrates to become aware of repeat or problem behaviour before it escalates,” Ms D’Ath said.

She said an independent Death Review Board would also be part of the new legislation to “identify systemic issues regarding services for domestic and family violence victims”.

“This is about refining the systems already in place – investigating the factors that place a victim at increased risk, and identifying any gaps in support services,” Ms D’Ath said.

Trish Thompson said lawyers and police with specialised education, training and knowledge about domestic violence would also help improve the system.

“What we want to see is that power and control is not used in the system negatively against women and their children.”

She said there were competing allegations of domestic abuse and specialisation would enable professionals to identify the victims in most need of protection.

“The only way you can know [who is most at risk] is if you’re specialised enough to be able to tell the difference,” Ms Thompson said.

Ms Northey said it was important for domestic violence specialists to “recognise the power and control that’s going on in these cases”.

“What we want to see is that power and control is not used in the system negatively against women and their children.

“What we’re really ultimately trying to do is to make a social change where there is a total non-acceptance of domestic violence so there’s an understanding across culture and community and core values in society that violence against women and children will not be tolerated.”

*Names have been changed to protect people experiencing or who have experienced domestic violence.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence in any capacity you should reach out for support.

In an emergency dial 000

DV ConnectDVconnect : 1800 811 811

Mensline: 1800 600 636

Sexual Assault line 1800 010 120