BY SAMANTHA COOPER
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the reasons for ongoing abuse in the domestic and family violence system in Queensland and indeed across the country. Not the most eye-grabbing opening line, I’ll admit, but the reality is a catchy tagline to begin this story just isn't necessary, and quite frankly I’m sick and tired of people dressing this issue with alliteration and pretending we’re making a difference. We’re not.
On the 13th of May 2021 the Palaszczuk Government announced a $30M boost to domestic and family violence services across Queensland. Seems like a fair whack, and a much-needed, much-anticipated response to ongoing calls for an increase in front-line service delivery. Palaszczuk say as a society, we must do everything we can to stop domestic and family violence, and she’s not wrong.
My gripe today though, is not with front line practitioners, or the staff manning 24-hour-hotlines to try and keep our women and children safe. It is not with the lawyers manning duty lawyers services in courts across Queensland, or emergency intervention approaches by 1800RESPECT and DV Connect who receive thousands of calls a year from women begging for emergency help, fleeing in fear for their lives.
It’s after the dust settles. It’s a DVO with him named as the respondent, and criminal charges later. It’s years of healing later. It’s a wedding and a family later. It’s the moment he walks through the doors of his local magistrates' court and files a private application for a domestic violence order, and the system nods at him with warmth and says ‘revenge is ok’. It’s the application full of vexatious, spiteful lies and accusations of ongoing abuse placing himself in the shoes of a victim so he can have one more swing at her.
In Queensland, systems abuse is suspected to be increasing at an alarming rate. I spoke with 3 women in the last month alone who all had similar, gut-wrenching stories to tell. All having moved well past horrifically abusive relationships with police intervention and a domestic violence order with him named as a perp, all now married or happily partnered, some with families, some on the way, who are now, YEARS LATER, being dragged through the court process as alleged perpetrators of domestic violence.. All because he can.
Whilst I can appreciate the need for checks and balances in the court system, I would also stress the need for checks and balances. A woman does not get the chance to respond to a tormenting and abusive application until it gets to a trial- providing she has enough support to get it that far.. and as a private applicant, he gets access to a police prosecutor to pull a brief of evidence together.
This means she has to either fork out thousands in legal costs, access an on-the-day duty lawyer, or rely on the overburdened community legal services to provide one-off advice and fight this herself. At least 2 mention appearances, at least 1 review mention, and then a trial where she has to find evidence to prove that the lies painted about her are untrue- and all he has to do is prove they MIGHT be true and he is awarded an order against her for 5 years.
That’s 5 years' worth of opportunities to try to get her to approach him, to contact him, to breach her order. 5 years of looking over her shoulder wherever she goes, 5 years of hiding her life, protecting her family from his constant gaze.
In 2021 it is wild to me that we are not thinking in a more sophisticated way about the increasing sophistication of domestic and family violence. We need to see beyond the conservative theories of violence being purely physical, and realise that the system itself is a perpetrator!
Surely it is in the public interest to further educate the importance of ensuring any oath made as part of a private application needs to contain only truthful statements- so that if they are found to be profoundly untrue and it is clear he is using the court system to perpetuate further violence against her. Surely too, each state should be turning their minds to the National and Domestic Violence Benchbook relied upon by Magistrates and judicial officers across Australia, which states:
Perpetrators of domestic and family violence who seek to control the victim before, during or after separation may make multiple applications and complaints in multiple systems (for example, the courts, Child Support Agency, Centrelink) in relation to a protection order, breach, parenting, divorce, property, child and welfare support and other matters with the intention of interrupting, deferring, prolonging or dismissing judicial and administrative processes, which may result in depleting the victim’s financial resources and emotional wellbeing, and adversely impacting the victim’s capacity to maintain employment or to care for children’.
We have a great definition of systems abuse, so tell me why, in my small corner of the world, do we have 3 women in separate Brisbane courts bound and gagged by vexatious applications.
While all of the policy alliteration and ‘National frameworks on addressing violence’ continue to fail women around the country one-by-one, I’ll be here calling it out, yelling from the rooftops if we need to, until we start to see actual-on-the-ground- change.