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Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month – May 2021: A call for change – Part 1

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Attwood Marshall Lawyers Family Law Special Counsel, Michael Twohill, joins Steve Stuttle on Radio 4CRB to discuss the “silent epidemic”: domestic and family violence, and the prevalence of high-level violence on the Gold Coast.

Introduction

May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month, which is an annual event supported by the Queensland Government, held each year.

The aim of this initiative is to:

  • raise community awareness of domestic and family violence and its impacts;
  • reinforce that there is zero tolerance for domestic and family violence in our community;
  • help anyone who is experiencing domestic and family violence understand how to access the help and support they need;
  • encourage people who use abuse or violence against someone else, to take responsibility for their behaviour and seek support to change it.


This is a very somber topic however it is a serious problem and one that needs to be discussed. There have been too many horrendous cases of
domestic and family violence on the Gold Coast and throughout Australia, in recent years, and it is imperative we advocate for significant change to help eliminate or at least curb this devastating trend. 

High-level domestic violence on the Gold Coast: Is the issue getting worse, or is it simply closer to home?

Domestic and family violence has been an issue in Australia for a long time.

Since the 1970s, there has been widespread social and economic advances in the status of women, including growing awareness and action around gender violence which has helped change people’s perspective on this issue. However, despite greater awareness and acknowledgement of domestic and family violence, this issue continues to be prevalent.

In 2015, the Australian Federal Government proclaimed that violence against women had become a national crisis.

Family violence and domestic violence are frequently referred to as a “silent epidemic” that is quietly engulfing Australia, and statistics tell us that gender violence has reached a particularly significant moment.

COVID-19 and Domestic and Family Violence

The COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated the problem of domestic violence in that being confined together exacerbated the conflicts and victims were unable to leave the family home. However, the issues were already bubbling away at an alarming rate Australia wide prior to COVID-19, and sadly, violence against women has continued to surge.

In Australia, during the pandemic, almost 1 in 10 women in a relationship experienced domestic and family violence, with two thirds saying the violence started or escalated during the lockdowns.

With more people working from home, people at risk were becoming isolated, which is a terrifying concept for anyone put in a position where home is not a safe place.

The Gold Coast has some extremely alarming statistics recorded over the past year, including:

  • The highest number of strangulation offences in Queensland
  • Local family and domestic violence counsellors struggling to keep up with demand
  • More than 6,500 women sought help; that’s around 18 women EACH DAY asking for help! (The number of offences would be much higher as many cases of domestic violence ago unreported or people are not seeking help).

Domestic and Family Violence: The red flags

We’ve heard about many cases where there was threatening or violent behaviour that had been going on for many years. Domestic violence does not take the form of a single incident, it is an ongoing behaviour and the severity and frequency of violence often escalates over time.

In many of the recent cases reported in the media, all the red flags were there. We seem to hear similar stories over and over again; the victim went to the police seeking help and unfortunately, they just simply were not taken seriously or did not get the immediate help they needed.

Police play a significant role in trying to stop violent behaviour from escalating, however it can be difficult for the police to truly understand the severity of the situation.

Queensland’s tragic timeline of high-level domestic violence

  • 2021: In April, Kelly Wilkinson was killed at her Arundel home by her former partner. She had three young children under the age of 9 in the house at the time. Kelly had sought help from police almost every day after her first domestic violence complaint. The warning signs were there.
  • 2020: Hannah and her three children were ambushed by her estranged husband in their car on the morning school run, when he doused them in petrol and set them alight in the Brisbane suburb of Camp Hill. Hannah had done everything she could to protect herself and her children. The warning signs were there, and the system failed to help them.
  • 2017: Teresa Bradford was killed by her estranged husband at Pimpama in front of their children. Her husband had been released on bail only two weeks earlier on serious domestic violence charges after beating his wife. The red flags were there, the system failed them.
  • 2016: Shelsea Schilling was killed by her estranged partner in her Southport unit. She had taken out a domestic violence order against him, which he had breached.
  • 2015: Fabiana Palhares was killed with an axe and stomped on by her ex-partner and father of her unborn child at her Varsity Lakes home. The perpetrator himself had said “I am like a time bomb that is going to explode, I will be put in jail one day” only 10 days before he committed the crime and killed his former partner. The warning signs were all there. He needed help, and she needed protection, but unfortunately, the worst-case scenario played out.
  • 2015: Tara Brown was beaten to death with a fire hydrant by her ex-partner while she was trapped in her car at Molendinar. Only days before she was murdered, she had made a desperate plea for help to police. Again, the warning signs were there.
  • 2015: Karina Lock was shot dead in public at a Helensvale fast food outlet. There was a history of domestic violence and Karina had moved to the Gold Coast for a fresh start. It was a public act and his intent was known. There was no stopping him and no protecting her.
  • 2015: Melinda Horner was killed in a murder-suicide in Burleigh Waters. Melinda’s friends feared for her safety and pleaded with her to leave before the worst happened. Melinda had taken out a domestic violence order years before the murder-suicide. The relationship was tumultuous at best. The warning signs were there.

What change needs to be made to stop the violence?

It is hard to describe as a lawyer the feelings that you have when you see the various stages of The Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act being implemented over the years, and the reforms the Governments have tried to put in place, only to see the sad reality that the issue does not appear to be under control or improving, in fact it seems to be getting worse.

There are a number of reasons why the current system is not working.

We need to see:

  • greater education for community awareness delivered via all facets of the media
  • educational programs included in school curriculum so that the message is clear at every level, that domestic and family violence in any form is unacceptable. It is so important to work with young people to break the intergenerational cycle of violence.
  • greater penalties for perpetrators of physical domestic violence. Anyone who commits an act of physical violence should be charged with a criminal offence. At the moment, this is not an automatic consequence and usually there is no conviction recorded. If perpetrators of physical domestic violence understood that they would be arrested immediately and held in the courthouse to await a court appearance, and then charged for a criminal offence, this would help as a deterrent. The act of physical violence needs to be treated more seriously.

We can’t criticize the police in the manner in which they try to assist people who are suffering from domestic violence, because they are doing their best and there is a lot of things they cannot foresee. We have previously called for a dedicated domestic violence police unit to be formed in each locality. Hopefully, the governments will consider this suggestion, as the police often complain that domestic violence matters absorb a large portion of their time and there are demands from other areas. Perhaps a well-trained specific unit to deal with this area will help.

The government’s efforts and recent announcement about providing some substantial financial aid to various organisations to try to put more perpetrator programs in place and support services for victims is a good start.

Prevention and intervention are key to trying to stop violence occurring in the first place.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers are here to help

If you are experiencing domestic or family violence, we are always available to discuss your circumstances with you. Once we have an understanding of what you are experiencing, we can then determine what type of protection order may be necessary.

For urgent matters where physical violence has taken place, we will direct you to contact the police as soon as possible. Alternatively, we can prepare and file a private application for an urgent protection order, e-file it, and seek to have it listed for urgent hearing before a magistrate. We will help you throughout the entire process.

We can obtain Domestic Violence Protection Orders which will also include any applicable children as protected persons.

It is our goal to resolve matters between parties in a way that does not cause any more conflict. As lawyers, we are meant to be the utility used by the parties to reach an agreement, not the cause of the inflammation of the conflict between them. If you are in a situation where you are not comfortable and you are being physically, emotionally, or financially abused, there is help available.

Any act of violence, emotional abuse, or financial abuse is not okay; not now, not ever! If you are suffering from abuse, please reach out when it is safe to do so.

Our experienced family law team is ready to assist you and can provide you with trusted legal advice and fast legal action. Contact Family Law DVO Paralegal, Brittany Watsford, on direct line 07 5506 8264, email bwatsford@attwoodmarshall.com.au or phone 1800 621 071 any time.

If you have committed domestic or family violence: There are services available to help you get the support you need to stop your behaviour. If you are the respondent named in a domestic violence application and need advice, we can explain the legislation to you in simple English, become involved and assist you to negotiate the matter with as little conflict as possible. You can contact DV Connect Mensline (1800 600 636) where you can gain access to telephone counselling, referrals and support services.

Help is available:

If you are in immediate danger or there is an immediate threat of violence, please call the police on Triple Zero (000) and don’t hold back any information.

The below 24-hour helplines are available to help women and their children experiencing domestic and family violence. 

  • DV Connect Womensline (1800 811 811) offers emergency transport and accommodation as well as crisis counselling and interventions.
  • The Domestic Violence Prevention Centre on the Gold Coast can be contacted on 5591 4222 or 5532 9000. They provide a wide range of programs to support women and their children and also work with men who perpetrate domestic and family violence.
  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) is also available to provide support for people, friends and family experiencing or at risk of experiencing sexual assault, domestic or family violence. They also provide support for professionals who are supporting someone experiencing or at risk of sexual assault and domestic violence.
  • Lifeline is a National charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis access to crisis support and suicide prevention services. They can be contacted on 13 11 14.

 

Read more:

Domestic violence in long-term relationships – know the signs of abuse

Camp Hill murder-suicide a wake up call for judicial system: Family Law Special Counsel

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