opinion

OPINION: 'I'm a doctor for DV victims. Another family law inquiry is dangerous for women.'

This post deals with domestic violence and might be triggering for some readers. 

It took Kathryn over one year to charge her husband and father to her two daughters with assault after he strangled her. The deep bruises around her neck, the screams that had alerted the neighbours, were ‘good evidence’ according to police. In the lead up to the court case, they were confident he would be found guilty. And he was. But his sentence was just three months long. The day after he was released from jail, he knocked on her door. She opened it, and he punched her in the face. Her two daughters stood terrified behind her. “Next time, I will kill you… and them.”

Kathryn has learnt her lesson. She won’t go to the police again. “They didn’t even tell me he was being released; he was released early.”

She will also never utilise the family court. “The lawyer said that since he is not violent with the girls, he will get probably at least get supervised access. And that after a period of time, it will be unsupervised… and that’s when I know he will follow through with his promise to kill them… I know he will.”

Kathryn continues to live with him, trapped with absolutely nowhere to run.

As doctors, we hear these stories, in the consult room and in the hospital. We tend the wounds, and treat the trauma. We know all too well that their fears are based in reality. We watch abused women have their children torn from them when they are held responsible for ‘allowing’ abusive men near the children. These are fears that we share with the patients each time they tell their remarkably similar stories.

The statistics on domestic violence are quoted, over and over again.

One in four women experience domestic violence.

Every four hours a woman is hospitalised as a consequence of domestic violence.

Every week, one or two women are killed by their partner. And 43 per cent of these women are in the process of trying to leave them.

EVERY WEEK a woman is murdered.

Violent crimes are reducing… EXCEPT family and intimate partner violence.

Watch: The hidden numbers on women and violence. Post continues after video.

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There have been a number of Inquiries into the Family Law Court over the last 20 years. The report of the most recent inquiry was only in March this year. And each time the recommendations carry a similar message: the court needs to prioritise the safety of mothers and their children. Most of these recommendations remain unaddressed.

The Final Report of The Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into the Family Court was released in March this year. Their data indicates that family violence, including physical hurt and emotional abuse, is reported by approximately 60 per cent of separated parents prior to and during separation.

Up to 70 per cent of parents also report that children have been exposed to family violence and nearly one in five parents report that they have safety concerns for themselves and/or their children as a result of ongoing contact with the other parent.

Family violence is a core business of the the Family Court.

So why is there any presumption that women are lying?

Most people believe women in violent relationships should leave.

Most people believe violence is unacceptable.

Yet, despite the fact that people agree women should leave a violent partner, when a woman tries to do this in a legal manner, she is accused of lying or manipulating.

Our society has made escape impossible. If she stays, she is putting herself and her children in danger. She will be accused of failing to provide a safe environment for her children.

If she wants to leave safely, she will be accused of lying.

It seems Pauline Hanson and Kevin Andrews are pushing for an additional inquiry into the family court for political and personal motives. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand the rationale of a new inquiry before recommendations of the previous ones have yet to be implemented.

Pauline Hanson says that many women lie about violence, yet 70 per cent of women don’t tell anyone at all after a violent episode.

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Pauline Hanson thinks men are treated unfairly by the judicial system, yet even when women do report their abuse, only 28 per cent of abusers are charged. And of those abusers, only 89 per cent will go to court. Even when those cases go to court, only about 11 per cent will be found guilty (NSW Parliamentary Research Service, 2018).

According to BOSCAR findings, in NSW of the men that are found guilty, only about 14 per cent go to jail. And more than 95 per cent of those perpetrators will be released early.

Statistically, there is absolutely no evidence that the court favours women in the judicial system. And it is wrong, misleading and dangerous to pretend that it does.

Women need to feel that if they report abuse they will be believed. The shame and stigma of being attacked by the person who is meant to love and protect you is enormous.

A court system which explicitly presumes women are liars is going to compel abused women to silence. It is going to result in even greater morbidity and mortality than we already are seeing.

Pauline Hanson has been very clear about her personal investment in the issue of women lying when reporting domestic violence. This clear conflict of interest and her position of power in this inquiry is an example of political corruption.

As medical professionals who work on the forefront with victims of violence, we would categorically disagree with a new inquiry into the Family Law Court without adequate justification as to why public monies would be spent in this manner.

At this stage, there is not enough housing for victims of violence, most women cannot afford legal representation in the family court, and there is minimal funding for meaningful psychological support for victims of trauma. It is inconceivable to consider funding yet another inquiry.

Dr Karen Williams is the founder of Doctor’s Against Violence Towards Women. The feature image used is a stock photo. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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