Myths and misunderstandings

Cautionary note: some people may find reading these victim experiences distressing or traumatising.

These de-identified victim experiences summarise the content of interviews undertaken with people who have experienced domestic and family violence and legal system engagement. The interviewees’ names and some minor details of their narratives have been changed to protect their identities. In many cases the names have been selected by the interviewees.

The key words align with the contents covered in the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book.

  • Celia has been the victim of violence from Harry over a 20 year relationship. They have a child together.

    There is an incident at their home. Police are called. Harry claims that Celia scratched his face. Police observe scratch marks on Harry. Police charge Celia with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and intimidation. Police apply for a protection order against Celia. Celia is required to leave the home; and cannot see her child.

    Celia discloses to her lawyer that she has actually been the victim of serious physical and sexual violence by Harry for years. Harry has also been extremely controlling of her. Celia tells her lawyer that on the night in question, Harry had attempted to strangle her and tried to take her phone to stop her from calling police. Celia feared for her life and defended herself.

    With the assistance of a lawyer, Celia defends the criminal charges and the protection order. The medical evidence confirms injuries to Celia from attempted strangulation; and the Triple 000 calls confirm Celia’s version of events. The Court ultimately accepts Celia’s account of violence.

    The charges and the protection order against Celia are successfully dismissed.

  • Erin and Seth married and lived together for 12 years. Both are from rural farming backgrounds. They have three children who were quite young at separation. Erin has post-graduate qualifications and over some years has acquired recognised expertise. Seth did not finish high school, however has a diploma and farming-related experience. Erin had a troubled relationship with her own family through the marriage, which has continued after separation. She feels she was blamed for a poor choice in Seth and then for the marital breakdown. Erin has been excluded from the family farming business and assets but she places a strong value on family and has endeavoured to foster a relationship, especially so the children would know their grandparents, uncle, and cousins. There is also a history of antagonism by Seth’s family towards Erin with the exception of one family member who has remained supportive.

    Over the course of the marriage, Erin experienced negative, controlling interference from her own and Seth’s families including verbal and physical abuse in the presence of the children. It became problematic to involve family in the care of the children while Erin and Seth attended to work responsibilities; consequently, they stopped doing things together so that one would be available to stay home with the children.

    A significant rupture occurred in the family when Seth was involved in a serious accident making him lose confidence. Seth’s own family farming business—in which he worked, and he and Erin had a part interest—was then sold. Seth struggled to adjust, and financial security from the farm sale took away the urgency to work which was not a good combination. Erin says Seth had a career crisis and he insisted that she and the children travel around with him looking for other opportunities. It was during this time that Seth began denigrating Erin, blaming her for joint financial decisions they previously made, claiming she was inept and incapable of making basic decisions. Erin believed that Seth was jealous of her achievements and humiliating her was his way of dealing with his own deficits. She also believed that throughout the marriage Seth deliberately set about to isolate her from her professional and personal networks so as to limit her capacity to progress in her own work and life. Over time, the situation became intolerable to Erin. From time to time, she would drive away from wherever they were staying to get some brief respite. Erin was aware that Seth had an arsenal of guns (he and his father are hunters), and, as Seth’s behaviour became more irrational, she became increasingly worried about how he might use them.

    Eventually, Seth decided to move interstate to be closer to his family and to have time to find himself. He tried to deliver Erin and the children to Erin’s family, but they refused to house them on the family property. Erin and the children were forced to live with Seth in motels for a number of months before Erin organised a rental house, a quite expensive one that was the only one he would agree to. Within weeks of moving in, Seth was spending more time away than at home, and would take the family car. Erin ended up having to pay for the rental house and purchase another car. The couple separated and a year after reaching a property settlement, Erin felt she and the children were emotionally able to move to a house she bought in her own right. She hoped to give the children a sense of stability as Seth’s week about contact with them was erratic, and each changeover time was an opportunity for him to put her down in front of the children. In the time following separation Seth’s abusive behaviour towards Erin escalated considerably. He also took deliberate steps to recruit Erin’s and his own family as participants in the abuse. In one year after separation Seth again moved interstate and chose to see the children for only limited time on school holidays.

    The couple divorced and agreed on a parenting plan, through solicitors, for the care of the children: they would live with Erin and spend four nights each fortnight with Seth. Seth never followed the arrangement; he would take or leave the children as he wished, and refused to consult Erin or comply with any routine.

    Seth finally got a job and permanent accommodation on the farm where he worked. The couple’s sons were then involved in an accident while at the farm with Seth. The youngest suffered a head injury and Seth didn’t seek suitable medical support, driving him to town instead of calling an ambulance. It wasn’t as serious as feared, but the child experienced health issues and was absent from school as a result. It was clear to Erin that she hadn’t been given a truthful account of the accident. It became apparent to Erin that her family were concerned about Seth’s parenting, calling him irresponsible in front of the children on many occasions, and suggesting that he not have contact with them. Erin found herself having to stand up for the children’s right to have both parents in their lives, resulting on further conflict with her own parents. Seeming to take advantage of this rift, Seth encouraged Erin’s parents to call for a Justice Examination Order to be issued placing Erin under surveillance by police and psychologists for around a week. During his contact time, Seth began alienating the two older children from Erin. He would report to Erin that they were afraid of her and that she was violent and abusive towards them when in her care. What significantly damaged Erin’s relationship with the older two children and prolonged proceedings was Seth’s encouragement of the eldest child to make assault allegations against Erin. She was charged and released on bail, and the charges were subsequently dismissed. This was traumatic and humiliating for Erin.

    On one occasion, Seth assaulted Erin in the children’s presence and then drove off with all three children in the car. The police were called but no action was taken to return the children to Erin. As a consequence, Erin made an application to the Family Court for interim parenting orders. The first family report highlighted alienating and aligning behaviour by Seth in relation to the two older children and concluded that it was clear that Seth wanted Erin out of the children’s lives. The court ordered that the three children live with Erin and have contact with Seth three weekends in every four. Counselling was ordered for all three children; however Seth later withdrew the two older children from counselling accusing the counsellor of not doing what he expected of her.

    Seth subsequently breached the interim parenting orders. During this time, child safety initially removed the children from both parents and then, on application, delivered them to Seth’s family pending a further interim hearing in the Family Court. Further interim parenting orders were made requiring that the children live with Seth and allowing Erin to have weekly two-hour contact visits at a safe house and periodic phone calls. Erin found these visits totally humiliating as she felt she was watched and listened to. She believes this forced the older two children further away from her because, as teenagers, they hated the space.

    Erin was advised by her solicitor not to apply for a protection order as those proceedings may jeopardise or delay the proceedings in the Family court.

    It was another 12 months before the parenting matters came to a final hearing in the Family Court. The second family report confirmed the alienation tactics highlighted in the first report. The judge acknowledged this conclusion and indicated that it wasn’t appropriate for Seth to care for the youngest child for extended periods. There was however no broader recognition of Seth’s violence and abuse. The judge did not give any credit to the allegations regarding Erin’s mental ill health. Seth tried to accuse Erin of being an alcoholic.

    The family report writer was the only witness in the proceedings. The court ordered that the two older children live with Seth and be free to visit Erin as they wish, and that the youngest child return to live with Erin, with fortnightly weekend contact with Seth. Erin believes that the 12 month delay gave Seth the opportunity to cause a great deal of psychological harm to the two older children in continuing his alienating tactics. Whilst an Independent Children’s Lawyer was appointed, Erin observed that the ICL met with the children only once and otherwise performed no obviously useful function; she found that she had to insist that the ICL explain the orders to the two older children as she was very concerned that they believed the court had ordered that they not have contact with her.

    These parenting arrangements have continued now for 10 months. Child safety found that Seth’s allegations against Erin regarding her mental ill health and unfitness to care for the children were unsubstantiated. Still, Erin has no meaningful contact with her two older children. There are the occasional texts and phone calls, but they are commonly abusive towards Erin; periodically, they involve coaxing their younger sibling into disclosing information about or making demands of their mother. Changeover for the youngest child typically occurs at a service station midway between the parents’ houses. Seth uses these opportunities to put down Erin, and when the two older children accompany him, they remain in the car and turn their backs to her.

    Seth’s allegations against Erin were never substantiated and yet post separation and throughout the course of the Family Court proceedings, Seth was able to alienate their two older children from Erin and, consequently, the youngest child. Erin has felt frustrated by the lack of communication or connection between the various courts and agencies that govern her and her children’s circumstances. She remains very concerned about her relationship with her two older children, and their relationship with their younger sibling, and whether there is any prospect that they will get the help they need to positively rebuild these relationships. While the court ordered counselling, it has only occurred once for the oldest two. There is now almost no communication between the oldest two children and Erin. Erin is frustrated with the court order allowing the older children to see her as they choose, believing it denies any hope of her having a good relationship with them.

    Erin is now in financial trouble. While Erin was able to purchase her own home as a result of the early property settlement reached with Seth, since then she has had to borrow money on that security to fund her legal fees in the order of $100,000. Meanwhile, she has started a consultancy business, the returns from which are predictably modest through the building phase. She has received supplementary benefits from Centrelink; however she is currently facing (what she believes are unfounded) claims that she was overpaid. At no stage was Erin entitled to legal aid, whereas Seth received legal aid funding throughout despite having significant financial support from his family. She has recently missed her daughter’s birthday and is struggling to focus on her work. She feels like she needs a miracle. Financially, she lives day to day, trying to make sure she can provide well enough for her youngest child.

  • Francis and Mark were together for 23 years. Francis has been significantly hearing impaired since birth and wears hearing aids. She grew up in a loving but strict family environment, and met Mark when she was still a teenager, having had little experience with intimate relationships or independent living. They both completed year 10. Francis has limited TAFE qualifications and has worked periodically throughout the relationship when her child rearing responsibilities permitted; Mark ran his own one-man business for a time. For a number of years their income was derived predominantly from social security benefits. Mark has a history of misuse of alcohol and drugs, however Francis observed that he had developed ways of minimising its influence. The couple has three children at separation.

    Mark began controlling and demeaning Francis early in the relationship. He became verbally abusive and aggressive when she was planning to go out with friends, he called her a “slut”, and would punch the walls or doors or damage household goods. Francis says she “would pay for [her outings] for a long, long time after”. While Francis had few friends and had moved away from her home city and family to be with Mark, over time she decided a night out wasn’t worth the humiliation and fear. And yet these things came to characterise her experience of the relationship over many years and were made worse by a pervading feeling of insecurity due to her poor hearing. She describes crying every day, despairing at her situation.

    Francis had thought often about leaving the relationship, and would at times tell Mark that she wanted it to end, however Mark would express remorse for his behaviour and plead with her to stay. Francis says her main reason for continuing in the relationship was a growing fear of what Mark may do if she were to take steps to get away. It was also the reason Francis denied the occurrence of domestic and family violence to family, friends and police for so long. Mark became more violent towards Francis once they began having children. His abuse would always build from a verbal rage to wanton household property damage that would sometimes result in physical injury to Francis. This was the repeating pattern, and for Francis the occasions were too numerous to fully recount. There were however some incidents that were so concerning to neighbours that they called the police, but Francis felt too frightened to disclose the details of the violence knowing that Mark was nearby and likely to retaliate. Instead, she made up an account to shield the reality of the violence. Francis recalls that one night she locked herself and the children in the bathroom, and Mark punched the door in and smeared blood across the wall, in a rage about having to cook dinner.

    Francis told police Mark had thrown a saucepan and didn’t show them the blood or damage to the bathroom; she had tried to ring Mark’s parents but couldn’t go ahead with the call because she was worried her voice may be too loud and Mark would hear her. Police offered Francis little or no opportunity to make a proper statement and blamed her for fighting with Mark in front of the children.

    On another occasion, when the couple was out with the children, Mark and his friends tried to pressure Francis into taking drugs, which she had never done or been prone to. Mark began calling her names, and on the way home he smashed the car interior while Francis drove. Once home, Mark damaged the guard at the front of the car and punched the laundry wall so violently he broke his hand. The following day Francis told him she would leave, but he pleaded with her not to and promised a special holiday, which never happened.

    Not long after, Mark was arrested on charges unrelated to violence at home, of which he was later convicted. Although he avoided imprisonment, Francis believes, to some extent this was due to a favourable reference she felt she was pressured by Mark and his lawyer to provide to the court. Due to the nature of the charges Francis changed to part-time work so she could be with the children outside school and daycare hours, and continued to put up with Mark’s violence and abuse. Later, Mark was charged with another serious offence. Pending his trial, a child protection order issued requiring that Mark move out of the family home and that he have no contact with the children for several months. Mark reacted angrily to these conditions, repeatedly demanding to see the children and continuing the violence.

    Following another violent incident that involved Mark hitting one of the children, Francis told Mark to leave the holiday house the family were renting and get counselling. Initially, Mark complied. Four months later, after he was acquitted, he returned to the family home at midnight without Francis’s consent, attacked Francis, and tried to throw her off the upper storey of the house when their young son physically intervened. Francis threatened to call the police but Mark pursued her around the house while the youngest child became more and more distressed. By this stage, Francis could see that the two older children were profoundly affected by their long exposure to the violence. Francis also discovered that Mark had access to a gun, and he began making threats to shoot her and a police officer.

    After confiding in a friend and her local doctor, Francis decided to apply for a protection order, and for Legal Aid to assist with the application. Appearing to give little weight to the long history of violence and abuse, the magistrate declined to include an exclusion order. However, after further submissions by her solicitor, Francis did manage to secure a temporary order with the minimum condition that Mark be of good behavior and not commit domestic and family violence. Francis believed this was of little or no protection to her and the children, and was terrified that service of the order would precipitate further violence by Mark.

    Following advice from police, and with the assistance of a local service, Francis and the children were immediately resettled at a shelter. Multiple adjournments (at Mark’s request) occurred before Francis obtained a two-year final protection order. Mark’s ongoing harassment of her parents about access to the children and car resulted in Francis having to reapply for Legal Aid to seek a variation of the order to include her parents as protected parties. This process took months longer because Mark evaded service.

    The current protection order prohibits Mark from having contact with the children until a Family Court order is in place stipulating the terms of any contact. At this stage, the children have told Francis they don’t want to see their father. Francis has begun talking with her Legal Aid solicitor about a Family Court application. Francis acknowledges that she did not disclose the domestic and family violence to police on a number of occasions, but feels her fears and perceptions of future risk of harm were justified. She believes police did not provide her with a safe and receptive opportunity to give her account of the violence. Francis also observed the difference in attitude of the magistrate who failed to recognise the nature of Mark’s violence, and the magistrate who demonstrated an understanding of her circumstances and its impacts.

  • Julia and Adam were in a relationship for three years, during which time they had a child who was just under 12 months old at separation. They both completed secondary education and apprenticeships in different fields. Julia was employed until the child was born and is now the primary carer and in receipt of a Centrelink sole parent pension. Julia and the child live with Julia’s mother. Adam is employed and required to travel often as part of his work. They have an informal arrangement where Adam has supervised contact in a public location with the child (and Julia present) for a couple of hours one day a week, or as his work permits; Julia has been happy to accommodate his changing schedule. However when Adam threatened to apply for residence of the child, Julia began investigating Family Law orders. Adam is a frequent user of cannabis, and suffers from memory loss, depression and mood disorders as a result of a brain injury he received several years ago in a car accident. While Julia doesn’t believe Adam would do anything intentionally to harm the child, she has observed that his attention span is limited, he forgets to watch the child, he smokes in the child’s presence and leaves dangerous items within reach. Julia is also concerned about the unhealthy influence of Adam’s family. Julia is consulting her doctor about the anxiety she is experiencing from her abusive relationship with Adam.

    Since Adam’s brain injury, his mother has held power of attorney over all of his affairs and otherwise dominated his recovery, rehabilitation and decision making. Julia believes that this loss of control over his life led Adam to assert control over Julia. She was also made to feel responsible for Adam’s emotional care, even though she felt that the brain injury was used as a ready excuse for Adam’s abusive and dysfunctional behaviour. He objected to her working in a male-dominated industry, she wasn’t allowed to continue dancing, and restricted her from spending time with her family and friends. He threatened to turn up at Julia’s workplace and make a scene so she would lose her job. During her pregnancy, they moved into and renovated a house Adam had inherited from his deceased father. Adam would dictate who could visit and when. At least every second week, and increasingly so through the pregnancy and after the child was born, Adam would rage out of control, and throw Julia’s belongings out the front of the house and tell her to leave. By this stage, Julia had discovered that Adam also had a serious drug problem, and became very concerned about the potential effects on a newborn. Once Julia stopped work to have the baby, Adam would regularly tell her that he was the only one working, and she needed to shut up and do as she was told. Julia would respond by saying that she was entitled to her own opinion regardless of whether agreed, but realised that there were times that this would produce an explosive reaction in Adam involving his screaming in her face and standing on her feet so she was unable to move. Adam gave Julia money only to buy groceries and nappies, and refused to pay for new clothes for Julia who had lost a considerable amount of weight due to stress. They had a joint account, but Adam would withdraw any available money denying Julia access to funds; he would mostly spend the money on cannabis. Julia’s mother would often pay for items Julia and the child needed. Adam also insisted that Julia not take contraception as he wanted another child; Julia was forced to comply, but did not want to subject another child to Adam’s violence.

    The control exercised by Adam’s mother extended to their relationship. They were unable to pay bills without her approval and, soon after the birth, Julia was forced to put the baby on formula milk so Adam’s mother could have the baby for overnight stays. Adam first hit Julia when she was holding their six-week-old baby. Yelling, dragging Julia through the house and throwing her out the front of the house became the norm in the relationship. Julia would regularly have bruising that she tried to conceal from friends, or she would simply not go out to avoid the embarrassment of having to explain her circumstances and justify staying with Adam so that the child had the care of both parents. Julia believes Adam was oblivious to the consequences to her and the baby; he would become so blind with anger that there were no boundaries to his violence. Adam’s mother often witnessed Adam’s violence and made no attempt to stop him. Julia regularly felt her own life was in danger, however always left the house to stay with her own mother if she believed the child was at risk. Julia has noticed that the child is now fearful around men, and cries at the sound of a deep voice.

    Julia attempted to leave Adam on a number of occasions, however Adam threatened that the court would punish her for taking the child away from him. Julia’s greatest fear is losing the child. As he’d done previously, when Julia indicated that she would like to return to work, Adam threatened to sabotage her chances. While Adam didn’t harm Julia’s two cats, he did threaten not to allow her to take them if she left. Julia felt she could no longer deal with Adam’s manipulation so, for her own preservation, acquiesced to his behaviour and didn’t bother pursuing any of her own interests. Julia’s mother was concerned for her wellbeing and tried to talk to Adam, which resulted in a terrifying road rage incident. Adam repeatedly tried to exclude Julia’s mother from their lives.

    On one occasion following Adam’s violence, Julia rang the police from her mother’s house. She was very reluctant to send the police to interview Adam as he had always told her that if she involved the police, he would say that she was the perpetrator, and would make sure she lost care of the child. Julia reports that the police were reasonably supportive; they gave her information about available counselling, and suggested she move in with her mum and keep away from Adam. They did not however encourage her to seek a protection order as they indicated that it may jeopardise her relationship with the child. At the time, Julia was confused by this approach and, in hindsight is dismayed, as she believes that a protection order would likely have prevented more violence and suffering.

    Julia did leave the relationship and took the child to live with her mother. While Adam’s physical violence stopped, his abuse continued in the form of threats in text and voice messages including that he would send people to get her, that he would take the child, and that she deserved to be put in the gutter and kicked in the back of the head. Julia found these threats particularly frightening as she was often at home alone at night with the child while her mother worked night shifts. Again, she contacted police with the detail of Adam’s behaviour and they urged her to attend the station and have a protection order taken out. When she arrived, with the text and voice messages on her phone, she was told Adam’s threats weren’t sufficient to justify an order or to charge him with any offence such as stalking, and she would have to make an application for a protection order on her own behalf at the court. Julia felt embarrassed and distressed when she left the station, believing they thought she was simply trying to get attention. Julia then rang a police information line as she needed advice on the application process, and remarkably they told her to try another police station. When she did this, the police were more interested in Adam’s involvement with illicit drugs than the immediate threat of Adam’s violence and referred her to the court to obtain a protection order.

    Julia downloaded the relevant forms and sought assistance from the court’s domestic violence support service. She appeared before a magistrate and obtained a temporary protection order against Adam. Julia felt that the magistrate had read her file carefully, took her circumstances seriously, and reassured her that she was doing the right thing for the right reasons. It was explained to Julia that she would be notified of a return date once Adam had been served; she was also aware that service may be delayed given Adam’s frequent absences for work.

    Julia is also preparing a Family Court consent order application proposing that she have residence of the child and Adam have contact on similar terms to the current informal arrangements.

    Adam has Julia’s mobile number so he can make contact in relation to arrangements for the child; however he is not aware of where Julia and the child live. Adam’s abusive behaviour continues in texts and phone calls when he unreasonably demands to see the child at short notice and Julia doesn’t comply. His anger escalates quickly, his language is profane and threats of violence continue. Julia has blocked Adam on Facebook, but believes that he posts on his own Facebook page long tirades accusing Julia of preventing him from seeing the child, and as a consequence she has been verbally attacked online by his followers.

    Julia feels her life is starting to get back to normal now that she is dealing with the domestic violence and parenting matters, and she and the child are living away from Adam and in a safe and supportive environment with her mother. She is seeing friends again who she was cut off from when she was with Adam; Adam would either disallow visits or make them feel uncomfortable when they did visit. Many of Julia’s belongings including furniture were damaged from Adam throwing them into the yard, so when it came time for her to move to her mother’s house, she was left with very little. While Julia’s experience of the court support service is very positive, she remains concerned that the police disbelieve her, and she is therefore unlikely to seek their help in the future. Julia is keeping copies/recordings of all text and voicemail messages from Adam, and she has applied for legal aid to fund legal representation for the protection order hearing. Adam has transferred his accounts and assets to his mother and told Julia that she won’t get a cent. Julia has applied for a child support assessment.

  • Lisa and Sean were in a relationship for four years, and had a child together who was aged around two years at separation. Also living with them was Lisa’s primary school aged child from a previous relationship. Both of these children have disabilities and special needs. Lisa has adult children too; they have families of their own and live independently. Sean was still married to someone else when he and Lisa met through work. Lisa did not complete high school; however she has spent some years studying to gain qualifications that will enhance her employment prospects. Sean qualified in a trade and has held a well-remunerated position for at least as long as Lisa has known him. Sean has an illicit drug habit and misuses alcohol.

    When Lisa and Sean moved in together, Sean wanted Lisa to stop work and be a stay-at-home mum. This was unfamiliar to Lisa as she had always worked to support herself and her children through years of mostly single parenting. Initially, she was thrilled by Sean’s generosity and the prospect that they could establish a happy, stable family life together without the pressure of her having to earn money. Over time however, Lisa realised that this was Sean’s way of asserting his control over her. Details also emerged about Sean that she hadn’t previously been aware of, in particular his history of serious drug use and ongoing use. In the first year of their relationship, Sean expected Lisa to support him through the difficulties he was experiencing in divorcing his wife and then with the illness of a close family member. Despite also having to study and care for a child with disabilities, Sean insisted that Lisa’s focus be on him. This was an intense time for Lisa; she miscarried, and then later successfully conceived.

    During Lisa’s pregnancy, Sean’s behaviour towards Lisa became violent and abusive, and his drug use increased. He objected to Lisa making contact with her former work colleagues (especially males), and monitored her Facebook activity. The reception on Lisa’s phone network was so poor that Lisa was mostly unable to call friends. Sean, on the other hand, was in regular phone and Facebook contact with female friends, one of whom sent him provocative photos of herself. When Lisa suggested this was inappropriate, Sean got angry and told her she was jealous and paranoid. When Sean was coming down from a drug bender, he would anger easily, and shout at and belittle Lisa’s other child. This infuriated Lisa and she tried to stand her ground with him; Sean told her she wasn’t allowed to shout. On one occasion, Sean returned home, smashed his phone in front of Lisa, and then flung a heavy jacket and zipper across her pregnant stomach resulting in bleeding and long-term injury to the child. She spent over a week in hospital and was distressed knowing that her other child was in Sean’s care while he and friends had long sessions of alcohol and drug taking.

    After their child was born, they moved to an isolated regional town so that Sean could take up a higher-paid position. Lisa only had access to the Centrelink family allowance payments to buy groceries, clothes and other household expenses. Sean made the mortgage repayments on the house and spent the balance of his wage as he wished. When Lisa asked him to supplement the family benefit payments, which were insufficient to cover the family’s needs, he would become aggressive and argumentative. Lisa was blamed for living costs and anything else that Sean refused to take responsibility for, including falling asleep at the wheel while driving, with Lisa and the children as passengers. Lisa has an ‘inside’ dog that she and her other child remain very close to. Sean made the dog live outside with his own dog, which inevitably resulted in fights. Sean told Lisa she needed to put her dog down; she resisted and kept the dog.

    Sean made no effort to help with the care of the children, the dogs or the home. Lisa attended to all of these things even when their child was an infant and awake through the night with feeding and teething troubles. Early one morning, Lisa asked for help with the baby; Sean told her she was lazy, and went back to Facebooking his friends. Again, Lisa was exasperated by his response and kicked a large, empty water bottle along the floor towards him. Sean grabbed and threw her against the wall, dislocating and disfiguring her shoulder. While Tina screamed in pain, Sean yelled abuse at her for an hour before driving her to the hospital. He then apologised profusely, begging that Lisa not pursue charges. The hospital gave Lisa the name of a local domestic and family violence service, and referred them both to joint counselling, which they attended briefly. Sean refused a recommendation to attend all male counselling.

    It was six months before Lisa was given an appointment for surgery to correct her serious shoulder injury. Meanwhile, she endured significant pain, and Sean subjected her to further violence. A particularly frightening incident involved Sean lifting Lisa up and throwing her through a door frame. She managed to head butt him and knock out two of his front teeth. She later suffered another miscarriage and prolonged bleeding. When it came time for Lisa’s surgery, a family member came to help out. This angered Sean too. When they left, Lisa was exhausted, managing her post-operative pain with medication, looking after the baby and older child, and sleeping on the couch to avoid confrontation with Sean. One evening, he demanded that Lisa have sex with him—as he always had—and, for the first time, she refused. He followed her around the house obsessively, and when in the baby’s room, punched his fist through the wall beside her head. The next morning, Sean left for work as if nothing had happened. Lisa packed up the children and her belongings, contacted the local domestic and family violence service and organised a Centrelink support payment, and drove to another state. Lisa arranged for her other child to stay with the child’s father with whom she has a healthy and constructive relationship; and Lisa and the baby went into temporary crisis accommodation until she could get set up in a rental house. She asked Sean to send money to assist as she knew he had extra cash.

    Lisa had settled the children into their new home when Sean arrived wanting to see them, and seeking a reconciliation. Lisa agreed on the basis that they live in a city location. They moved into Sean’s former marital home (of which he was now the sole owner under Family Court orders) and resumed an intimate relationship. Lisa insisted on a lease in the event that things did not work out with Sean. She paid the rent and utilities bills, and Sean made the mortgage repayments. Before long, Lisa experienced further serious health problems, and required extended hospital treatment. Sean refused to take leave from work to care for the children, so she was forced to take them with her to the hospital. At this point, Lisa told Sean to leave the home as she’d had enough. She asserted her rights as lessee of the property. Periods of making up and breaking up followed, however they continued sexual relations.

    Sean’s lawyers served an eviction notice on Lisa claiming that the property was to be sold. She vacated, and Sean moved back in; he had no intention of selling the property. Sean would often stay over at Lisa’s new address, and she agreed to informal and regular overnight contact arrangements. When she refused further sexual relations, and soon after her hospital treatment, Sean made an application for 50/50 shared residence of their child, notwithstanding the child’s very young age and special needs. Lisa applied for a protection order against Sean, but he persuaded her to withdraw it before service claiming that he would otherwise lose his job.

    Over the following twelve months, the windows in Lisa’s house and car were repeatedly smashed, and her house was broken into on multiple occasions. She is certain that Sean and his friends were the offenders. Sean also parked out the front of the house from time to time in different vehicles, and publicly abused and demeaned her on Facebook. On police advice, Lisa obtained a temporary protection order against Sean. Sean also made a cross application falsely alleging that Lisa misused alcohol during her pregnancy causing long-term harm to their child. Both applications were heard together: Lisa was granted a 12 month protection order; and Sean’s application was dismissed. Lisa reported a breach of the temporary order involving Sean and others throwing rocks through her car windscreen and into her house near sleeping children. Police told her they were busy, and a photographer would attend in 24 hours. The current order allows Sean to ring the children at certain hours over the weekend. He is often stoned or drunk when he calls, and Lisa can never predict whether he’ll be cooperative or aggressive.

    Family Court parenting and property proceedings resulted in Sean having fortnightly access; there were two family reports prepared but the findings were not followed by the court. Lisa suspects that the protection order hearing was deferred pending the outcome of the Family Court matters, which were scheduled for a later time. Sean was told by the judge at the interim hearing that he would not succeed on his shared residence application; he persisted regardless.

    Sean was legally represented, Lisa was not. She has been unable to access Legal Aid, and continues to do her best to manage these legal matters herself, with considerable difficulty. Lisa is however appreciative of the understanding and practical help she has received from local community legal services, domestic and family violence services, and court support. Lisa is still concerned for her own safety and the safety of her younger child. She believes that Sean is incapable of taking proper care of the child who often returns home after contact visits with cuts, bruises and rashes. Lisa felt frustrated and intimidated by the delays in the resolution of the protection order and parenting and property matters, and Sean’s contribution to that delay.

  • Sally and Carl were in a relationship for around fifteen months, though they never lived together. They both have children from other relationships. Sally has an intellectual disability that affects her comprehension, communication and general coping skills, and she takes medication to help her manage anxiety and stress. She never received a diagnosis for her disability but has difficulty reading and writing, concentrating and remembering things. Sally has however completed secondary schooling and was employed prior to having children. Sally and the father of her children have a good and workable relationship as parents, and have Family Court consent orders that accommodate their circumstances and capabilities, and ensure that their children’s best interests are served. Sally says that the children more often live with their father than with her, and she feels that this is best for them. Carl has, over the years, experienced problems with his mental health, misuse of alcohol, anger and self harming. He has been employed in unskilled jobs briefly, from time to time.

    From early in the relationship, Sally recalls Carl wanting to control when and how often they saw one another. While Sally was pleased to have found companionship in Carl, she also values her privacy and being able to live in her own home. Carl would insist that she travel at night to see him, which she found frightening as she would have to use public transport. When she refused, Carl would become angry and repeatedly call and text her (often tens to hundreds of times in a single day), or arrive at her home unannounced. Carl would press Sally to take and send to him (via smart phone) highly personal photos of herself, which, sometimes, she did, and Carl would then threaten to share the photos publicly with others if Sally didn’t comply with his demands. Carl also appeared jealous of Sally’s relationship with her former partner and father of her children, complaining to Sally whenever he was present at her home caring for the children.

    Carl’s behaviour worsened and became more violent and intimidating to Sally when he was drinking alcohol. There were two occasions a couple of months apart where Carl injured Sally badly around her head, face and chest by pulling her hair and throwing her against walls and cupboards, resulting in her admission to hospital. On the first occasion, a social worker spoke to Sally at the hospital about her options, and the police were alerted. At that stage, Sally was not prepared to apply for a protection order as she felt she could cope with the situation, and she still wanted to make her relationship with Carl work. On the second occasion, as well as severely bashing Sally, Carl stole money from her purse, and demanded that she participate in sexual acts, which she refused. Sally telephoned the police who, on the strength of her complaint and her injuries as evidenced by the hospital records, initiated a protection order application on her behalf.

    A temporary order was granted by the court, however Carl made service difficult and contested the order, resulting in Sally having to obtain Legal Aid assistance and return to the court on three occasions before a final order was granted requiring Carl to be of good behaviour towards Sally for a period of six months. Carl was at all times unrepresented. Sally’s lawyer had initially tried to pressure her into an exchange of mutual undertakings with Carl where they would both agree not to be violent towards the other, however Sally was not satisfied with this option, and the final order (as granted) was offered by way of compromise. Sally felt that six months wasn’t long enough, and that she needed protection for two years. She was however happy with the “good behaviour” condition as she still wanted ongoing contact with Carl.

    Following the protection order, Carl did at times, though less often, text and ring Sally repeatedly, however he no longer made physical contact. Sally changed her phone number more than once, but would forget and would call or text Carl using her new number resulting in Carl learning of her new contact details. While the protection order has expired, Sally feels very safe and settled now, having received financial help from Victim Assist to change the locks on her home and attend regular counselling. She no longer has any contact with Carl.

    Through this process, Sally has had a positive experience with police and support services; however she feels that the Legal Aid lawyer could have better represented her needs. Sally is often confused about the nature, effect and origin of the various orders that have affected, or continue to affect, her and her children, and she will need ongoing support to ensure that she understands and her interests are protected.

  • Sandra and Gary lived in a defacto relationship for some six years, though not continuously due to Gary’s violence towards Sandra. They have two children together, both boys, aged approximately three and one on separation; the younger boy has a serious genetic disability with limited life expectancy. Sandra had previously been in an abusive relationship, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a physical assault by a stranger. She completed secondary education and is employed in a sales position. Gary is on a disability support pension, earns little or no additional income, and has an alcohol and drug dependency. Gary has had protection orders made against him in two different states as a result of his perpetration of domestic and family violence in two separate prior relationships.

    Gary’s violence towards Sandra began around six months into their relationship. He would strike out at her physically, splitting her lip; emotionally abuse her, diminishing her self-esteem; and be forceful in his sexual demands, which Sandra would strongly resist rather than acquiesce to. Sandra has a horse she has cared for and been emotionally attached to for many years. Gary would threaten to shoot the horse, or slit the horse’s throat; he also threatened to kill Sandra’s parents. The violence continued after their first child was born when, for example, Gary karate kicked Sandra in the leg while she was holding the young child. Both Sandra and the child were hospitalised, and Child Safety formally intervened and arranged for their temporary safe accommodation. Sandra has not ever fully recovered from her leg injury, which requires expensive surgery.

    Sandra confided in close friends about the violence she was experiencing and her concerns about bringing up children in that environment. Whilst she was alert to their advice to leave the relationship, she also believed that doing so was likely to escalate Gary’s violence. Sandra sought counselling during the relationship, intentionally without Gary’s knowledge, to develop strategies to cope with the violence. Sandra had attempted on numerous occasions over the years to leave the relationship and relocate to areas a considerable distance away from Gary to ensure her own and her children’s safety. On the birth of the second child, Sandra and the first child moved into a refuge while the newborn was being treated in intensive care at a nearby hospital for his disability related problems and before relocating the three of them to another city. On each occasion, Gary would track down Sandra and the children and seek to re-enter their lives. Focused on acting in the best interests of the children, Sandra would allow Gary to return provided he could be a responsible father towards the boys, not get into trouble with alcohol or drugs, not be violent, and not attempt an intimate relationship with Sandra.

    However Gary’s violence and dysfunctional behaviour continued. Sandra reported the violence to police in a range of locations, and obtained protection orders either on her own behalf or police-initiated. Following instances of attempted strangulation, stalking and telephone harassment Gary was convicted of breaches of these protection orders, resulting in brief periods of incarceration in the local watch house and suspended sentences. Gary was never charged with criminal assault or stalking.

    When Sandra and the children finally left, she obtained a temporary protection order against Gary stipulating email contact only between them, as well as Family Court parenting orders stipulating that Sandra have residence of the children and Gary have contact with the first child every second weekend, and the second child for 8 hours of every second weekend. Gary paid Sandra negligible child support; Sandra was supporting the children almost entirely from her own resources. Sandra had been concerned about Gary’s veiled threats not to return the older child to her, when this in fact transpired and the child remained with Gary for 28 days without attending school for eight of those days. Sandra qualified for Legal Aid and, after some delay, succeeded in child recovery proceedings against Gary. Whilst Sandra believed that Child Safety was diligent in its conduct of their part of the proceedings, she expressed frustration that police did not intervene immediately due to a belief that they have no powers in Family Court matters.

    Subsequently, Gary sought a variation of the Family Court parenting orders to alter changeover from a supervised contact centre to parent-managed arrangements. In time, Sandra agreed, hoping that this would help the children feel more normal and relaxed about moving between parents; she also acknowledged that the contact centre was expensive and involved lengthy car trips, which weren’t good for the children. During these negotiations, Gary succeeded in securing repeated adjournments of the final protection order hearing on the basis that the Family Court orders ought be finalised first. Once finalised, on an occasion when she felt too intimidated by Gary to be present for the changeover, Sandra asked a male friend to be there on her behalf; he was intoxicated and an altercation ensued with Gary and his new partner. Soon after, the final protection order hearing took place, and while Sandra obtained a two-year order against Gary, with the children named as protected parties, Gary applied for and obtained an identical order (commonly referred to as a cross order or mirror order) against Sandra.

    Sandra reported that on the many occasions she’d had contact with police, she experienced understanding and supportive officers who were focused on ensuring that she and her children remained safe. There was only one occasion she recalled when an officer doubted the veracity of her account that Gary had arrived angry and intoxicated at her home at midnight while she and the children were asleep then escaped without trace; and queried why she hadn’t taken photographs of Gary trying to enter the house. Sandra also believed that her experiences of the legal and court processes were generally positive, and despite not having perpetrated violence against Gary, she felt safer overall for having the final protection order, and confident that she would never be in breach of the order against her.