Domestic Violence-A Crisis We Can't Ignore

In conjunction with White Ribbon Day, an awareness campaign to fight violence by men against women, this week the ABC aired a two-part documentary called Hitting Home.

ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson presents an extremely confronting two-part documentary on domestic violence in Australia. For research, she spent six months talking to forensic doctors and specialised police officers, and even moved into a domestic violence refuge.

The stories of controlling partners, the damage they inflict in violent outbursts, and the consequent fear and dread that many women and children live under are difficult to watch.

Particularly affecting is the story of Wendy, who jumped out of a moving car to escape her ex-partner, incurring a skull fracture in the process. In one scene, Wendy looks into a mirror and explains she doesn’t look or feel like the same person after the injury, and hardly wears makeup any more.

Another gruelling case is Isabella, who takes the stand to testify against her husband, who is charged with assaulting her. He sits through her testimony, clearly agitated and shaking his head. Isabella bravely tells her story, then is cross-examined, with the lawyer repeatedly saying: “I submit to you that didn’t happen.”

Australian governments have started to pay increased attention to domestic and family violence and victims’ needs. Queensland has made a strong commitment to an extensive reform agenda.

One of the most recent legislative changes in Queensland is the “special witness status” now given to domestic violence victims. This allows victims to provide evidence in court hearings via video link to, for example, avoid exposure to an abuser’s intimidating tactics in the courtroom. This will avoid harrowing court hearing experiences like the ones illustrated in the program.

Queensland has also promised a roll-out of its version of the Staying Home, Leaving Violence scheme. As the program illustrates, this scheme can offer a significant increase in perceived and actual safety for victims and their children. A Queensland-wide roll-out will be welcome news for many victims living in locations where this scheme is not available.

Ferguson interviewing a policeman attending a domestic violence incident.

Ferguson interviewing a policeman attending a domestic violence incident.

Journalist Sarah Ferguson says the documentary should be compulsory viewing. Because knowing what an abusive relationship looks like, getting deep into how this all builds up to the point of danger, will prevent others from ending up in the same position.

“You know all of the women said, next time they would go the first time someone shouted at them and made them feel worthless. They would go then, never accept that,” Ferguson says. “The first time someone tries to interfere with your phone, your Facebook, try to stop you seeing your friends, stop you seeing your family — that should be a big alarm bell.”

A new way in which domestic violence is increasingly being perpetrated is through the use of technology.

Using tools such as the Internet, social media, text messaging, email, mobile devices and surveillance devices, domestic violence perpetrators can now stalk, harass and abuse their victims at any time of the day or night. Victims in turn feel as if they can never escape their abuser.

A new survey by the Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria (DVRCV) found that 98% of domestic violence victims had suffered technology-facilitated abuse. Many victims had GPS tracking or Facebook used as a way to stalk them.

Senior researcher at DVRCV Dr. Delanie Woodlock said: “What makes [cyber abuse] unique, and why we think it’s increasing, is because it’s easy. Men can do this at a distance. It’s also harder to prove … and it means [the woman] is very vulnerable and exposed.”

Technological abuse is more common among younger members of the community but its incidence is rising quickly. Forms of technological abuse include:

  • Hacking into someone’s personal email account, computer or phone
  • Using tracking devices to monitor someone’s location, phone calls and messages
  • Monitoring interactions on social media
  • Demanding to know passwords
  • Distributing humiliating, false or intimate videos or photos without consent
  • Sending messages, emails or texts that are abusive, intimidating or threatening
  • Stealing a person’s identity or impersonating them

The police recommend that a victim keep records of the technological abuse.

  • Keep any messages sent
  • Keep any physical evidence
  • Keep a log of behaviour that is threatening or intimidating

If you need immediate assistance with an issue of violence or abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline – 1800 811 811.

We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation during which we can advise you on your next steps. Contact us today.