“There is a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up!”
– Dr Tim O’Dowd, O & G Specialist and Niamh O’Dowd
Violence has permeated everyday life to such an extent that society’s desensitisation is alarming. It took a series of brutal public murders of innocent women in 2015 for the grave nature of family and domestic violence (DV) to be recognised in the Gold Coast community and local media. These murders are the extreme tip of the spectrum of DV.
Queensland legislation defines family and domestic violence as violent, threatening or other behaviour that coerces or controls a family member, or causes a family member to be fearful.
It is a criminal act when a person imposes psychological or violent control over another person, inside or outside the home. The Domestic and Family Violence Act 2012 (Qld) states that ‘Perpetrators of domestic violence are solely responsible for their use of violence and its impacts on other people.’ Managing DV involves bringing perpetrators to account while supporting and protecting the victims.
X DV IS BETWEEN:
• Intimate partners
• Parent to child (or vice versa)
X DV INCLUDES:
• Assault (sexual, striking, strangling, other physical)
• Denial of financial autonomy
• Denial/control of social connections
• Deprivation of liberty
• Abuse of technology as revenge
Life Free From Violence
To live a life free from violence is a recognised basic human right. It is a fundamental societal value. Historically, victims are not believed and are rarely understood. They are still questioned as to why they remain in the relationship. Victims feel anxious about separation due to lack of financial independence or fear for children. Threatening to leave a violent relationship often provokes an escalation in violence. Separation and pregnancy are two key catalysts for DV where it may not have previously existed.
Victims suffer shame and isolation. The terror of perpetrator retribution prevents many victims from reporting DV or from pressing charges when police are called out. Victims report frustration with the available options and support, largely because the criminality of DV has for so long been overlooked. This has resulted in an ineffective system.
Perpetrators have the physical, psychological or financial control within the relationship. This control, coupled with the ineffectiveness of the system, has facilitated a pattern of reoffending by DV perpetrators.
A New Hope: “Not Now, Not Ever”
Ms Quentin Bryce’s report on Queensland’s domestic violence crisis, ‘Not Now, Not Ever,’ was presented to the Queensland Premier in February 2015. It revealed the extent to which DV has permeated Queensland and the difficulties faced by victims. It highlighted gaps in management and support services. The 140 recommendations made to the Queensland Government were designed to improve and restore confidence in the management of DV.
THE REPORT IDENTIFIED2013/14 STATISTICS:
- Approximately 22 DV related homicides in Queensland every year
- 66,016 reports of DV to police – 180 reports every day
- Cost of DV to Queensland’s economy is $2.7billion to $3.2 billion per year
This implies that for every reported DV-related homicide, Queensland police responded to about 3,000 DV related calls. This does not count all of the unreported incidents. The problem is escalating. In 2015, there were 85,689 reports of domestic related incidents recorded. 24,842 were breaches of Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs).
While psychological control and physical violence are well understood, there are new reports indicating that technology like mobile phones, Facebook and GPS tracking apps, are being used to harass victims or to upload ‘revenge’ pornographic or offensive images. This recent form of DV has created a new concern for victims, police and prosecutors. ‘Revenge’ images published in social media are a burgeoning area for civil claims (suing) for defamation.
Queensland Government Response to ‘Not Now, Not Ever’.
In an unprecedented and heartening response, Queensland’s government displayed its commitment to eliminate DV by accepting or supporting all 140 recommendations.
The government response stated that DV is not simply an issue between victims and perpetrators. It is not only up to police and the courts to manage. They emphasised that DV is everyone’s business. They encourage the community to adopt a complete intolerance for DV.
The government introduced new protocols for police responses and court management. These initiatives are designed to restore effectiveness and confidence in the system. DV perpetrators are more likely now to be held accountable for their criminal behaviour through prosecution.
Gold Coast Police: Change in attitudes and procedures
In recognition of the criminal nature of DV, the Queensland Police Service (QPS) formed the Gold Coast District Domestic and Family Violence Task Force, based in Southport. The Task Force Team assists police in preparing the prosecution’s case for court. An overarching goal is to reform the policies regarding police response to DV call outs. When police are called, there are often other criminal charges that may and will be laid, include threatening behavior or willful damage of property. Other charges can include disturbance of the peace, or charges related to concern for the safety of victims and children. Breaches of DVOs are now criminal rather than civil wrongs.
The Gold Coast’s 870 police officers are being targeted with DV education. Each QPS station will have a DV liaison officer within their team. The taskforce team reviews each case of reported DV at Domestic Violence Integrated Response meetings held three times per week. Other stakeholders at those meetings include representatives from the Gold Coast DV Prevention Centre, Child Services, probation and parole officers and various housing, counseling and social services. Strategic plans are
created for each victim priortising their safety.
Change in the Court System
In interstate and overseas jurisdictions, specialised DV courts have been shown to give greater victim satisfaction, ensure offender accountability and reduce re-offending rates. The Queensland
Government provided $38 million dollars to commence a specialised ‘DV Court’ in Southport for a six-month trial. This has been extended for a further six months.
The DV court exclusively processes domestic and family violence related cases using DV specialist personnel. Two highly experienced DV Court Judges preside over the court. There are five full-time prosecution lawyers managing 40-50 DV matters each day. Duty lawyers are available to both applicants and respondents. There are volunteers available to assist with checking-in and directions.
There are secure rooms available for use. Legal aid and other specialised support teams have offices there. When sentencing perpetrators, the Penalties and Sentencing Act 1992 (Qld) is used. The Act recognises the need to protect Queensland citizens (including victims of DV) from criminal offenders. The likelihood of escalation of DV is also considered when sentencing.
Change in Pindara Private Hospital
Hospitals are often the first place that a victim can safely disclose DV incidents.
Pindara Private hospital intends to be a leading institution in the management of DV. Pindara is actively developing its protocols to recognise and respond to cases of suspected and known DV among its staff and patients. Key staff will be trained in all aspects of detection and safe management of DV.
Pindara Hospital provides a caring and supportive environment for victims to safely disclose DV. The hospital will have management plans available and these will be activated depending on the victim’s wishes.
New Domestic and Family Violence Protocols at Pindara will complement existing policies and procedures which assist staff in recognising and responding to cases of suspected child abuse. Pindara also has a Zero Tolerance Policy regarding violence in the workplace.
In response to community concerns, the Queensland Government implemented initiatives on the Gold Coast at police and judicial levels in an attempt to reduce the societal scourge of DV. These changes may encourage friends, families and victims of DV to seek help; hopefully freeing them from a life of violence.
Many Gold Coast residents have a relative or other contact who is living with domestic violence. The Gold Coast community must make it clear to offenders that abusing or controlling a partner is
unacceptable, intolerable, criminal and punishable. As a community, let us stretch out a caring hand to support victims.
Can we encourage Gold Coast schools to fall in line with Victoria and introduce ‘Respectful Relationships’ or other similar programmes to educate our younger generation about the basic human right to live a life without violence?
In the words of Malala Yousafzai, “There is a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up.” With respect to DV, for the residents of the Gold Coast that moment is now.
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