opinion

Mr Turnbull, we need urgent action on domestic violence.

The week before last, three people were brutally killed in Queensland in domestic and family violence incidents. Horrific, yes, and the stuff nightmares are made of. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. On average, one woman dies EVERY WEEK in Australia as a result of domestic violence, but so far this year it’s up to two women.

How did you react to the news? Did you think “oh that’s so horrible” but in the back of your mind were you thinking “it would never happen to me”?

Think again.

Just so we’re clear, I’m well versed on this subject. No, I’m not a scholar. I’m not an advocate. I don’t work for a Not For Profit. I was a victim.

In the back of your mind were you thinking “it would never happen to me”? image via istock

I always thought it could never happen to me. Domestic violence doesn’t affect well-educated career women who have had a great upbringing, right? WRONG.

White Ribbon, Australia’s only national, male led campaign to end men’s violence against women, says that on average one woman is killed every week as a result of intimate partner violence, and one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them.

The work that organisations and people like White Ribbon do to raise awareness and educate men, the perpetrators who are so often not engaged in this conversation, is amazing. But it’s not enough.

The law is behind on this issue. The reforms that have been sitting on the Queensland Government’s desk for more than six months are only now being seriously looked at by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. She is essentially offering a blank cheque to a support service and promising to rush new legislation through parliament.

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Why does it take events as horrific as this to promote action? image via istock

But it took one woman being bashed to death, another being shot in the head, and an innocent child being killed as she slept for the Queensland Government to actually act on this. Why does it take events as horrific as this to promote action?

When I was a victim five years ago, also in Queensland, I had no support. The police listened to my Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) claim, as did the court, then proceeded to do nothing. I had the evidence. I had the character references. He had the reputation. But still, while I worked through the mountains of paperwork, I was alone. There were no community groups or help lines I could access, and in the end I had to let my claim slide because the people who knew about it were too afraid to speak out (small communities = small minds).

Yes, just like you I thought ‘it’ll never happen to me’. I was brought up well – I had a great education and a fantastic career. I prided myself on having high standards and being strong minded. But once it started happening to me, I was trapped.

This man had cut me off from all of my family and friends, both physically and mentally, and whittled me down to a shell of my former self. I literally thought I was worthless. In the end my only option was to leave, and it took all the strength I had to get up the courage to do that. I moved thousands of kilometres away and started my life from scratch, without a penny to my name.

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These changes to the laws in Queensland are a great step forward, but there is a gap that’s being overlooked. To actually make a domestic violence allegation stick, a woman is the one that must go through the ringer and that’s something that must change.

In my experience, someone actually needed to see the violence or the physical damage. But for many women, like myself, it happens behind closed doors and afterwards you are too ashamed, scared or physically stopped from going to the hospital or the police to make your claims. If you do get there, you need to wait in line to see a police officer (who, if you’re living in a small community, is most likely mates with your partner and the perpetrator). There’s a huge lack of independent counsellors, support groups, community legal support and help lines.

If the proposed changes to Queensland law get up, anyone who breaches a domestic violence order will face a longer jail terms and a special board will be set up to investigate domestic violence deaths. There have also been calls for more counsellors, the ability for DV victims to ‘jump the queue’ at the police station and for Queensland police to be wearing ‘body-worn’ cameras to assist in gathering evidence.

These are all great initiatives – however, what we need is an all-encompassing approach that includes grassroots support for victims no matter where they are, physical protection even when a claim is still being assessed (those weeks I lived in terror with no support after my partner had been ‘served’ were horrific) and, above all else, national action.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten apparently recently wrote to former Prime Minister Abbott to reiterate his call from earlier this year to hold a National Crisis Summit on family violence in October, attended by federal and state governments, law enforcement, judicial representatives, sector experts and survivors.

In his letter Mr Shorten said “Too often, the first public warning sign that a woman is in danger is the report of her death. We need urgent steps to prevent family violence and better protect and support those experiencing violence”.

To our new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, I’m begging you – please make this issue top of your to do list. Far too many victims have died and it’s time we put a holistic set of measures in place to put a stop to the violence for good.

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