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.
Angelina was born overseas and English is her second language. She met Barry after coming to Australia on a student visa. She was working to support herself; and studying to improve her English skills and have her foreign professional qualifications recognised. Barry had a responsible job. Neither had been married or in a long-term relationship. They soon started living together as a couple, and Angelina applied for a partner visa with Barry as her sponsor. They registered their defacto relationship and separated after nearly twelve months. There are no children.
Early on in the relationship, Barry urged Angelina to get a different job that didn’t involve night and weekend shifts so that she could be home to take care of the cooking and house, and available to go on short breaks and holidays with Barry. Angelina however enjoyed her job and was happy to work hard for good pay. Barry kept insisting until one day when Angelina was leaving for work, he hid the car keys. Eventually, he gave her the keys, but told her it was ‘the last time’ he would allow it. Barry tried, and failed, to find Angelina a full-time weekday job for higher pay, so she was forced to give up her shift work and become a ‘housewife’ to Barry. While bored and frustrated at home, she applied for countless positions without success. Barry pushed her to apply for roles that she had not yet qualified for; she resisted.
Barry took more and more control of their daily lives. He scheduled weekends away according to a strict timetable that didn’t suit Angelina; he took her on long car trips that Angelina found unpleasant, and wouldn’t allow her to listen to the music she likes; and he chose destinations that she didn’t enjoy. Angelina would not tolerate being dictated to, and they argued frequently. Often, Barry reminded her that he controlled her visa, and threatened to write to the immigration authority withdrawing his sponsorship. Barry had all of Angelina’s immigration documents and details in his possession.
In time, Angelina got another shift job that she was reasonably content with. Barry was angry because she was earning less money and he complained that her English was getting worse. Barry demanded that Angelina transfer all of her wages to him, and he would then put an amount each week in a joint account that she could access to pay for groceries and household expenses. Again, Angelina questioned these demands asserting that she was happy to share, but was also entitled to her own money to buy, for example, gifts for him. Barry never deposited enough money in the joint account, and Angelina had to regularly ask for more, which she found humiliating. Meanwhile, Barry was free to spend his wage and the balance of Angelina’s wage as he pleased.
Angelina was made responsible for cooking and household duties while also working and studying. He criticised and belittled her efforts around the house. He bought her clothes that she felt were age inappropriate and uncomfortable. Sex occurred on Barry’s terms without any regard for Angelina’s wishes. He told her she was required to sleep with him as a condition of the visa, and if she didn’t, he would report her. He also told Angelina that Australian women manipulated men so they could have children, and acquire the majority share of income and assets before divorcing them. Angelina concluded that Barry had pursued her because he believed he could take advantage of her visa dependency.
When they first met, Barry spoke to Angelina of his many friends; however, the only person they ever saw was Barry’s mother. Barry refused invitations for them to spend time with some of Angelina’s close family members who lived nearby. He monitored her phone and internet activity. Barry objected to Angelina speaking her first language. On one occasion when she was on the phone to a family member in her home country, Barry wielded a knife demanding that she end the conversation and cook dinner. Angelina was aware that Barry also kept rifles at home.
Angelina was becoming increasingly isolated, demeaned and depressed by Barry’s abuse. She started working more to get away from him. Barry then set up a whiteboard in the kitchen recording her rosters; he would ring and text her repeatedly at work demanding to know her shift times. Angelina says she felt like a slave: working long hours, being constantly monitored, and relinquishing her wages.
The situation became intolerable for Angelina and she left to stay with a friend. A family member encouraged her to get some advice from the support service at the local Magistrates’ Court. She was referred to other services that helped her with her visa application and recommended she apply for a protection order. She also started seeing a psychologist as her emotional health and confidence had deteriorated markedly.
After separation, Barry went to Angelina’s workplace and spoke with her employer more than once, embarrassing Angelina. He followed her; and Angelina believes he broke into her relatives’ home and stole goods. Barry went to Angelina’s home and took photos of her and the car licence plate. It was at that point that she rang the police, and then proceeded to obtain a temporary protection order. Police advised her that Barry had tried to avoid service. On the hearing date she felt pressured to accept a two-year undertaking for Barry to be of good behaviour towards her. Barry’s lawyer told her it would be sufficient, and that a protection order wasn’t necessary. She therefore offered an undertaking and Barry’s lawyer agreed to it on behalf of Barry on the basis that she provide a reciprocal undertaking. Angelina felt humiliated by this tactic; she refused to provide the undertaking and insisted that the matter be heard. Barry gave the undertaking and the matter was dismissed. She felt the Magistrate was understanding of her circumstances and could see that Barry was an untruthful opportunist.
Barry has made no contact with Angelina since the court date. Angelina left the relationship with only her clothes and personal possessions. She is entitled to be reimbursed the wages she earned and to retrieve furniture she purchased, however she would rather forgo her rights than have any further involvement with Barry. Angelina is on medication to cope with the depression she has suffered as a consequence of Barry’s abuse. She is trying hard to re-establish her family and social networks, and to complete her studies.
Anna and Nathan met one another at high school, however neither completed year 12. During their five-year relationship, they lived together for periods, on and off, and had a child who was aged two when they separated. Anna has experienced physical and mental health problems since early adolescence, which, as an adult, have prevented her from gaining a qualification or employment. She is on a disability pension and, as the primary carer of the child, receives parenting and public housing support. When younger, Anna took party drugs to cope with her anxiety and depression, but feels now that she has grown out of the habit. Nathan’s drug taking and dealing and associated criminal activity have dominated his life for many years, and on one occasion resulted in a serious conviction for which he served a sentence of probation. Anna describes Nathan as extremely aggressive—and more so when taking drugs or alcohol—and possibly having a mental illness, though she believes undiagnosed. The child has been diagnosed with various behavioural disorders, which are now managed with medication and ongoing medical treatment. There are Family Court parenting orders in place granting Anna residence and allowing Nathan weekly contact, however Nathan rarely sees or telephones the child.
From early on in the relationship, Nathan would regularly (and wrongly) accuse Anna of cheating on him, he would often check on her whereabouts and who she was spending time with, and constantly monitored her money while refusing to make any contribution himself to rent and other joint expenses. On a few occasions when Nathan got drunk and felt that Anna was giving him attitude, he would put his hands around her throat strangling her in front of others. Anna became pregnant when Nathan was on probation, and child protection was alerted to Nathan’s physical and emotional violence towards her. On a visit during her pregnancy, a child protection officer told her the child would be taken away from her if she stayed with Nathan. Anna wasn’t overly concerned because she had good family support around her and, with the help of a local youth service, was attending parenting and ante-natal classes and getting set up at home.
Nathan’s physical violence did however escalate during and after the pregnancy. Nathan wielded a knife at Anna causing her to barricade herself in a locked room. While the baby slept, he strangled and beat her so badly that she blacked out and, with help from a family member, was taken by ambulance to the hospital and treated for multiple fractures, and facial and scalp wounds. Two months later, he yanked her arm forcefully, resulting in a serious elbow injury and lengthy recovery. Nathan was often drunk or stoned during these violent rampages, and would always flee the scene leaving Anna to fend for herself. On one occasion, Nathan assaulted Anna while they were walking with their child to the local shops. He took off with the child, leaving Anna on the street with severe cuts and bruising and torn clothes. Police were alerted and successfully applied to the court for a two-year protection order on Anna’s behalf, with the child named as a protected party.
On the expiration of the first order, police obtained a further identical order, which is due to expire in the coming months. Anna has spoken to a local domestic violence support worker who is encouraging her to seek a five-year order. Anna reports feeling both frustrated and terrified because, despite having these orders and being on the police high-alert list, Nathan has repeatedly and flagrantly breached the orders, and continues to do so regularly, by stalking Anna and the child, ringing and letting her know where she has been and with whom, and threatening physical harm and death. Nathan has ready access to guns and knives and, on one occasion when he was facing the possibility of a jail term for another offence, threatened to shoot Anna’s mother and Anna herself if Anna tried to disappear with the child. Anna has returned to police, repeatedly, to make statements attesting to Nathan’s breaches, and at times, has had to appear at the hearing, self-represented (due to no access to Legal Aid), accompanied by a local domestic violence support worker, and intimidated by the prospect of Nathan being in the courtroom. Nathan would frequently seek and obtain adjournments for the breach hearings; and whilst he was often found guilty of breach, he has never received other than a fine as penalty. Following each hearing, Anna expected that the police would contact her to advise the outcome, but she found that she had to constantly ring and ask. She was only ever told about the fines, and can’t say whether convictions were recorded, or whether Nathan has ever been charged with stalking, assault or any other offence related to his domestic and family violence towards her and the child.
Anna believes that Nathan continues to be involved with criminal activities and that he is known to police. Although Nathan doesn’t physically approach Anna, he continues to monitor her and the child through his family and friends. Anna feels constantly unsafe and under threat, and won’t venture out of the house without people who can protect her and the child. Anna regularly changes her appearance and telephone number, and has recently changed the locks on her house. The police have cautioned her to lock herself in. Still young, Anna is desperate to establish a normal and happy life; however she feels trapped and damaged by Nathan’s ongoing domestic and family violence, and by what she perceives to be the failure of the justice system to recognise the seriousness of Nathan’s crimes and to punish him appropriately, and to protect her and the child adequately.
Nathan has only ever paid a negligible amount of child support; ultimately, his violence resulted in Anna having to obtain an exemption from claiming. Despite having contact orders, Nathan has always flouted the conditions, or not bothered to see or speak with the child at all. Anna would like to have the orders varied to disallow contact on the basis of Nathan’s serious and ongoing violence, however she expects to be criticised by the court for seeking to prevent a relationship between Nathan and the child; and yet has had the experience of being told by child protection that if she remains with Nathan, the child will be removed from her.
Having tried and failed, time and again, over five years to secure proper protection from Nathan, at this stage, Anna can’t see what else she can do to improve her situation. She doesn’t have the financial resources to engage a private lawyer, and her health is so compromised that her prospects of future employment are limited. She is also very concerned about the daily and long-term impacts of the violence and fear on the child.
Ben and Alison were in a relationship for around 3 years. They have 1 child together, James. James is now 2 years old.
During the relationship, Ben experienced Alison to be very extreme in her emotions. There were times when Alison became very upset and angry in situations which seemed to be unprompted or arise out of relatively minor or unexpected disagreements. Alison often became very jealous and often, without reason, accused Ben of having affairs with other people.
Alison would often become angry and upset when Ben went out with any of his friends or family. If Ben was going out, Alison would often quiz Ben on whom he was going with and where he was going. Ben often did not spend time with his friends or family so that Alison did not become upset.
There were several occasions where Alison broke Ben’s belongings, sometimes throwing them around. Sometimes, Alison physically assaulted Ben.
On an occasion, when Ben was driving, Alison accused Ben of having affairs with his friend’s wife as well as a neighbour. Alison then punched Ben in the face with a closed fist while driving, causing Ben to bleed from his mouth and nose.
On another occasion, Ben’s family invited Ben, Alison and James over to their home for Christmas lunch. Alison was unhappy about Ben seeing his family. Alison refused to see Ben’s family and would not allow James to go. Ben went over to his family’s home alone. Upon his return, Ben brought back gifts for Alison and James from his family. Alison threw the bag of gifts at the wall breaking the items and pushed Ben in the chest and in the back as he tried to walk away from her.
Often unprompted or after a minor disagreement, Alison would demand that Ben leave their home. If Ben would not agree with something Alison wanted, she would threaten to call the Police on Ben or threaten to kill herself until he relented.
After Ben and Alison separated, Alison became increasingly threatening.
Alison told Ben to “watch his back” and talked about her friends in motorcycle gangs. Alison also sent text messages to Ben on many occasions with comments like “I dreamed you died. Let’s hope dreams come true”. Alison often threatened that Ben would never see James again.
Alison also became increasingly emotionally abusive towards Ben. Often, Alison made comments to Ben like “everyone thinks you are a disgusting and pathetic cunt”. Alison was particularly derogatory about Ben’s relationship with his son. She would tell Ben that James hates him; and make sexually explicit comments about Ben and James. Also, Alison often made taunting comments about Ben’s sister who had died.
Initially after separation, Alison would only allow James to spend time with Ben in very limited ways or not at all. Ben did not have any risk issues affecting his parenting.
On one occasion, Alison agreed to meet Ben at a shopping centre so that Ben could spend time with James. During the time, Alison became very agitated about how Ben was putting a jumper on James. Alison started to verbally abuse Ben, and then accused him of having affairs during their relationship. Alison slapped Ben in the face. After this incident, Alison made a private application for a protection order against Ben. Alison did not attend any of the Court dates and the application was dismissed.
On another occasion, Alison stalked Ben whilst he was spending time with James. There was an occasion when Ben was at his parent’s home with James at a time when Alison thought James should be having his nap. Alison sent Ben text messages demanding that he leave his parent’s home. Alison was very controlling around James’ time with Ben. Alison would demand that Ben send constant photos of James to her to prove that he was caring for James in accordance with her requirements. This included photos of James wearing the pyjamas she wanted him to wear, the right bed clothes in his cot and the right toys.
After Ben was unable to have any regular time with James, he invited Alison to dispute resolution to try and sort out some arrangements for Ben. Alison did not respond to the invitation.
In the meantime, Alison told Ben that she was taking James to Bali for a short holiday. At first, Ben was concerned about agreeing to a passport for James. But after Alison threatened to kill herself, Ben agreed to Alison taking James overseas. Alison went to Bali with James and refused to return for over a year. Indonesia is not a party to the Hague Convention. On two occasions, at Alison’s request, Ben sent Alison hundreds of dollars to pay for flights for Alison and James to return. Alison took the money but did not use it for their return.
Eventually, Alison returned to Australia with James. Ben initiated family law proceedings. Ultimately, the Family Law Court made final orders for James to spend regular but age appropriate time with Ben.
Ben did not particularly identify himself as a victim of domestic and family violence. Ben did recognise that the relationship with Alison had a damaging effect on his self esteem and sense of self; and engaged in counselling.
Cassy and Glen were in a relationship for five years and during that time had five children together aged between four and near newborn at separation. They are both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and neither has been in employment or received any post-secondary training or education. Their income during the relationship was in the form of various welfare benefits. Cassy used cannabis regularly from the age of 13, but has been clean since soon after the birth of their fifth child. Glen is a long-term speed and ice user; his drug taking increased during the relationship and made him more violent particularly when he was ‘coming down’ or when he couldn’t access the drugs readily. Cassy was abused during her childhood by a family friend who was imprisoned briefly as a result, and later, by a close family member. Growing up, Cassy was also significantly involved in the care of a disabled relative.
Glen’s violence towards Cassy started several months after their first child was born. Glen punched Cassy in the nose causing severe pain and bleeding. A passerby called the police and an ambulance took her to the hospital. A police-initiated protection order was issued allowing Cassy and Glen to continue living together on the condition that Glen maintained good behaviour towards Cassy. At that stage, Cassy felt committed to the relationship and hoped that she could influence Glen to stop his violence and drug taking. At Cassy’s request, Glen was not charged with assault.
During Cassy’s second pregnancy, despite the protection order, Glen’s violence became more frequent and aggressive, though not as physically severe as previously. Cassy describes the violence as ‘blow outs’ now and then, rather than an exercise of ongoing control. This continued through to Cassy’s third pregnancy when, at six months, Glen beat Cassy badly one afternoon before travelling together on a train with their two children, and again at home the following morning. Cassy was taken by ambulance to the hospital and afterwards, with the children, went to stay with her sister for a week before returning to live with Glen. Again, police asked if Cassy wanted Glen charged with assault, and she declined and he was not charged. Cassy reasoned to herself that the violence was the price she was prepared to pay for having ‘beautiful children’ with someone who ‘had his good sides, and wasn’t always an arsehole’.
After their third child was born, when Glen’s ice-use was escalating, Cassy started using ice occasionally, hoping that it might bring them closer together. Cassy felt she loved Glen and wanted the relationship to work; she also believed he was a great father and, despite his violence towards her, he would never harm the children. However, the violence continued. When Cassy found out she was pregnant with their fourth child, Glen seriously bashed her nose after an angry verbal exchange between the two of them, and when Glen was ‘coming down’ from an ice hit. Once again, the police were called and Cassy went to hospital for treatment.
Despite not having been charged for any of his assaults on Cassy, Glen had by that stage been convicted of a breach of the protection order, and received a two-year probationary order with a good behaviour bond and no conviction recorded. He was then convicted of drug possession and received an extended probationary period before being charged with the assault and rape of a relative and a relative’s girlfriend respectively. Child protection was alerted and began visiting the home every week to check on the wellbeing of the children and how Cassy was coping. Cassy thought the situation was stable and manageable until child protection acted on a report from a third party claiming that Glen had harmed their son. Cassy does not believe that Glen would have done that, and observed that the child was happy and unharmed on the day in question. Child protection removed all the children from Cassy and Glen’s care and resettled them with some of Cassy’s relatives.
When Cassy was pregnant with their last child, Glen went into custody on remand awaiting trial of the assault and rape charges. Two days after the birth, child protection removed the child, again to one of Cassy’s relatives. Given that Glen was now in custody, Cassy couldn’t understand why the infant, or any of the other children, were deemed to be at ongoing risk. She accepted however that they needed to be protected from the violent relationship and believed that the children were being well cared for by her relatives. With the assistance of a lawyer, Cassy was able to ensure the child protection order was made for only 12 months rather than the longer period sought by the child protection department. She commenced supervised contact with all of the couple’s children each week, and attended counselling sessions and a parenting program in preparation for their return. She also stopped using illegal drugs.
While Cassy feels she had little support and understanding from police and child protection, she believes that she has benefited a great deal from the advice she received from her lawyers and counsellors. It is critically important to her that the children return to her care, happy and healthy, and she believes she understands the damaging effects of her violent relationship with Glen. When Glen is out of prison she is adamant that she does not want to continue the relationship, and that she will be careful to make proper, safe arrangements for him to have contact with the children.
Celina and David grew up in the same country of origin, however at the time they met through an online dating website, David had been living in Australia for 7 years, and Celina was still living in her home country with her mother. Celina also has a sister and family living in Australia. Both Celina and David have been married previously, are professionally qualified and aged in their thirties. David has a primary-school age child who lives with his former wife and spends regular weekend and holiday time with David. After Celina and David married overseas, David promptly returned to Australia and Celina applied to Australian Immigration for a joint visa for herself and her mother, with David as their sponsor. When the visa was granted, Celina resigned from her professional employment and travelled to Australia to live with David; Celina’s mother followed a few months later to allow them some time to settle in together.
Celina speaks fondly of her early days living with David. She described him as gentlemanly, respectful, loving and enthusiastic about showing her the sights of the exciting city she had moved to. Celina had experienced stigma in her own culture due to being a divorced woman, and felt that her marriage to David restored her dreams for a good life and a family. She was committed to supporting David in caring for his child, and believes she made a genuine effort to build a relationship. When the child was staying with Celina and David, Celina would take care of the child’s needs, prepare meals and do the housekeeping while David went to work. This was not a lifestyle Celina was accustomed to having been employed and independent for many years. Celina was unable to get employment while on a temporary visa and was therefore entirely financially dependent on David.
One evening, around a month after Celina arrived in Australia, David’s behaviour towards her changed abruptly. It was the child’s birthday and they had planned to collect the child from the mother’s house and go out for dinner. Celina had prepared and wrapped presents. David refused to allow Celina to travel in the car on the basis that it would upset the child’s mother. Instead, she was dropped somewhere close to a big junction on the way and was pushed out of the car by force. In the middle of an unfamiliar area, she walked down the street and stopped at a supermarket and decided to wait there as it was getting dark and she didn’t know where else to go being still new to Australia. She was left for several hours until David eventually collected her. Celina found herself highly distressed, at night in unfamiliar surrounds, and confused and hurt by David’s inconsiderate treatment. Not knowing what to do, she rang his parents and her own mother (all living overseas) seeking their advice and comfort. She pleaded with David’s father to contact David and ask him to collect her. David’s mother told her that David had a bad temper but he couldn’t afford to have another marriage fail. Celina’s mother advised that she must try hard to make the marriage work. When David collected Celina later that evening, he shouted abuse at her, claiming that she was trouble and had ruined the child’s birthday, and that he didn’t want a woman who wouldn’t obey him. Once home, David left Celina in the car crying for half an hour then returned and grabbed and shook her violently. Considerably smaller than David, Celina felt scared and weak and asked him to stop; he then dragged her out of the car and pushed her away. Celina fell and hit her head on the concrete driveway resulting in a painful bump to her head and wounded right foot. David dragged her into the house where she laid crying and shaking on the floor while he had a meal. Seemingly to revive her, David began slapping Celina repeatedly on both cheeks, and then tossed a bucket of water over her face. Some hours later, Celina managed to get to her feet and make her way to their bed; however, David had gone to sleep in the child’s bedroom, which Celina was shocked by so early in their time living together. In the days following, David apologised to Celina, but remained angry about her contacting the parents and sharing details of their marriage, which he believed should remain private.
Over time, David demanded that Celina take on more and more of the household duties and child caring responsibilities. David began scolding and verbally abusing Celina in the presence of the child who mimicked his father’s behaviour towards her. Celina was not allowed a phone of her own; instead, David would give her his personal mobile while he was at work and he would use his office mobile to call her incessantly through the day, principally to tell her what he wanted done and to get details of the meals and snacks she was preparing for the child. When David returned home, he would check the activity and search history on his personal mobile and inspect the food in the fridge and cupboards. So demeaned by this suspicious conduct, Celina decided to document meals and activities through the day by taking digital photographs and loading them on David’s Dropbox so he could inspect and verify them. David only ever gave Celina small amounts of cash to cover public transport costs to and from the child’s school; otherwise, she had no access to any funds. He also accused her of secreting spare coins for her own use. They argued daily about David’s demands and Celina’s resistance to comply. David would often skype his parents and complain to them about Celina being a bad wife, aware that Celina was listening.
Not long after the incident on the child’s birthday, David had an argument with the child’s mother at a changeover occasion and, in full view of the child, tried to strangle her. The child’s mother called the police who subsequently issued a protection order against David. Celina believed that he was also charged with assault and the matter would go to a hearing. At the same time Celina’s relationship with David was deteriorating, David was putting pressure on Celina to provide a character reference (character evidence) for the court. He told her it was her chance to do something for him and to save the marriage. His lawyer told her that a strong reference from her as David’s wife would be highly persuasive to the court. Celina made a number of attempts to write a favourable reference, but felt conflicted and wronged given David’s ongoing abuse. She kept the reference to herself, unsigned, knowing that the hearing date was still some months away.
As planned, Celina’s mother travelled to Australia with David after he had been on a brief visit to their home country. They were to live together in the same house, and Celina’s mother was to share the child’s bedroom. David however insisted that the child sleep between him and Celina while the mother stayed in the other room. Celina tried to talk with David about alternative and more comfortable sleeping arrangements, but he wasn’t amenable. One night, Celina was left with so little room in the bed that she fell out and injured herself. David handed her over to her mother and went back to sleep. Celina and her mother were forced to sleep together in a very small bed. Thereafter, they spent most nights on the couches in the living room. The marital relationship soured and sexual relations ceased, yet Celina continued to make an effort to look after David’s child and keep the household going despite suffering diarrhoea, headaches, muscle and back pain, and feelings of stress and depression.
Another evening (in the presence of Celina and her mother), David skyped his parents, again complaining about Celina. During the conversation, Celina tried to correct David’s claims and explain her experience of his behaviour. David called her (in their first language) a prostitute and accused her of having sex with her mother because they slept together. He then wielded a coffee cup as if to throw it at her when Celina’s mother physically intervened. Later, as he became increasingly intoxicated, he told them both to leave the house before he turned into an animal; he said he would refuse them food and drinks and get rid of them if they caused trouble with his child. He threatened to separate them and send Celina’s mother back to her home country. When David was asleep, Celina and her mother went to a neighbour who called the police. Celina believed the police were sympathetic to her situation and could see that David was volatile and dangerous. While Celina and her mother were at the police station, David arrived and began arguing with the officers in an aggressive manner. The police returned Celina and her mother to David’s home as they were unable to find emergency accommodation for them due to their not being permanent residents; again, David began arguing with the police, whereupon the police told Celina and her mother to pack their belongings and leave David’s home as soon as possible. Soon after the police left, David destroyed the wedding photographs hung on the wall by smashing them in front of Celina. Celina and her mother were left totally helpless. Using the neighbour’s mobile phone, Celina contacted her sister who was living interstate and sought her help. At that time, Celina destroyed the character reference she had written in relation to David’s assault proceedings.
The police initiated a protection order application on Celine’s behalf and, at the first mention date, secured a temporary protection order. Soon after, Celine and her mother relocated interstate to stay with the sister. A second mention date was set, however the police advised Celina that it wasn’t necessary for her to appear in person. When she contacted the police after the mention, she was told that the application had been withdrawn because she had moved interstate.
Celina and her mother began living with the sister, however it was soon apparent that the sister and her family didn’t have the financial resources to support them, and they were forced to leave and find alternative accommodation. Celina sought advice from a local domestic violence support organisation which she says provided them with advice and access to support when she and her mother were desperate and homeless. The service arranged refuge accommodation for them both, provided transport to the refuge and financial assistance to cover their ongoing needs, referred them to psychiatric counselling to cope with the stress and depression they were experiencing, and gave Celina advice and assistance in applying for a protection order on the basis of David’s abusive and threatening behaviour. Celina and her mother also applied for and were granted the Centrelink Special Benefit soon after they moved interstate. Celina obtained a temporary protection order, however service was delayed as David’s current address and whereabouts are not known. When eventually the matter was heard by the magistrate, Celina was unrepresented, whereas David had a solicitor and barrister acting for him. Feeling pressured, Celina accepted a written undertaking from David that he would not contact her, and would be of good behaviour and not commit any act of domestic violence towards her for one year. Celina and her mother sought advice from a community immigration lawyer, and have now been granted permanent residency status. They are now both housed, safe and supported, and Celina is studying. Celina is not sure of the outcome of David’s assault charge; however, she believes he pleaded guilty and was placed on a good behaviour bond.
Faith and Ryan were in a relationship for around 15 years, and have five children together ranging from early primary to high school age at separation. Faith also has an adult child from a previous relationship. Faith is tertiary educated and employed in a professional role. Ryan completed an apprenticeship following high school and has worked periodically during the relationship; however is currently unemployed and receiving Centrelink benefits. Ryan had a work accident some years ago and received a significant compensation payout. He continues to take medication to manage his pain. The five children live with Faith in the family home. Ryan has contact with the children about one day each week, supervised by his parents at their home.
Faith and Ryan met in a social setting and began dating. Ryan went with Faith on her first work posting away from their home town. At that stage, Faith noticed that Ryan could get angry and frustrated easily. It was when Faith was pregnant with their first child that Ryan became abusive towards her. The abuse started as name calling; he would call her a ‘fat ugly cunt’ and a ‘loser’ if he felt he wasn’t getting his own way or he objected to spending money. Initially, Faith would fire back her disapproval, but over time she became so diminished by the abuse that she said and did nothing, which would enrage Ryan even more.
Faith was employed through the relationship other than when the children were very young. She and Ryan had a joint bank account that her salary was paid into. Faith realised that if she didn’t pay the bills immediately, Ryan would clear out the account. She describes a constant juggle with money, making sure there was enough available for household expenses and the family’s needs. When Ryan was working, he would regularly spend his pay cheque at the pub on his way home, usually on alcohol and gambling. Despite mostly working full time, Faith looked after the children’s needs and took care of the house. Ryan was dismissive of the children.
As time went by Ryan’s abuse became physical. He frequently spat on Faith, pulled her hair, dragged her through the house, smashed her head into the wall, and threw drinks over her, on many occasions in front of the children. During another pregnancy, Ryan strangled Faith because she had discovered he had been cheating on her; she managed to kick him away from her, but miscarried afterwards.
Faith had tried previously to end the relationship. Ryan was staying with a friend because he didn’t want to be with the family; Faith was determined to stay in the house and keep the children together. At that stage, Faith’s adult child was still living with them and he was regularly the target of Ryan’s belittling and intimidating abuse. On one occasion, he kicked in the child’s bedroom door while the child was in the room and threatened to kill him. Faith rang the police who attended the house four hours later despite her distress over the phone and her expressed fear that Ryan was going to kill the child. By the time the police arrived, Ryan had long departed. Police were hostile to Faith and told her she should be protecting the children from the violence; they didn’t enter the house, inspect the damage, or advise her about protection orders.
Though Ryan wasn’t living with the family, he would visit and stay from time to time. Faith put up with this in the interests of preserving the family as Ryan had threatened to get a court order to take the children if they separated. Ryan had convinced Faith that she was the cause of his behaviour and the court would see it that way too. Ryan’s behaviour went through cycles: friendly and engaged followed by angry and violent. He claimed he had depression. He would kick Faith hard in the legs, or push her to the ground and kick her; she suffered extensive and painful bruising. Faith tried not to respond for fear that the violence would escalate. Ryan tried to isolate Faith from her family and friends, but they persisted in their support for her as they were extremely concerned for her wellbeing, knowing that she was struggling to make a break from the relationship. Despite their concerns Faith wouldn’t and couldn’t listen to their criticism of Ryan.
When Faith felt Ryan’s violence and abuse had become extreme, on her sister’s advice, she sought a protection order. The domestic violence support service at the court helped her prepare the application and explained the court process to her. Faith obtained a temporary protection order, but after pressure from Ryan, she failed to appear at the final hearing, and the magistrate dismissed the application.
Ryan told Faith he wanted a happy family life, and wanted them to try again to make the relationship work. Faith found Ryan beguiling when he was in this mood, and agreed to get back together. However, the physical and emotional violence started again immediately, as well as socially isolating behaviours separating Faith from her family and friends, and controlling the family finances. He also told her over the phone of his five-step plan to destroy her. The plan involved: reporting Faith to her employer and ensuring that she lost her job; taking the children away from her; causing her to lose title to the house; reporting her to police for offences she hadn’t committed; and destroying her name. Faith kept going, putting up with the abuse and focusing on the children’s needs. On one occasion, Faith’s sister rang her and could hear Ryan’s verbal abuse in the background; she was so horrified that she called the police and asked them to check on the house. When the police arrived, Ryan ranted at them blaming Faith, and then he left the house. The police questioned Faith; she told them she hadn’t called them, and that this was normal behaviour for Ryan. The police explained that it was domestic violence and suggested to Faith that she get a protection order. At that stage, Faith felt so controlled by Ryan that she was incapable of recognising his behaviour as domestic violence, and says perhaps it would have been better for her if the police had taken the matter over and applied for an order on her behalf.
It wasn’t until after their fifth child was born that Faith took steps to seek protection. Ryan’s violence and abuse had continued during periods of separation when Faith, having suffered a black eye, reached a point where she told him to leave and put his belongings in the front yard. Faith received legal aid funding and applied for a protection order, and Ryan responded with a cross application. The matters did not go to a hearing, and were settled by an exchange of mutual undertakings to be of good behaviour towards one another for two years. The legal aid lawyer had explained that if she breached an order, her job may be jeopardised. Faith believes she accepted this result because she wasn’t ready to cut off contact with Ryan, but also felt that she was given very little advice about her legal options or their ramifications.
Following the undertakings, Faith and Ryan got back together, but soon separated for several months. Ryan would continue to drop by the house to see the children, and occasionally have sexual relations with Faith who was starting to work on getting him out of her life as she believed he was going to kill her. She described Ryan then as her ‘heroin’; she couldn’t stop wanting him, yet she knew he would kill her. After telling Ryan that she couldn’t go on in the relationship, he convinced her to give him another chance promising her that he had changed, that he loved her and wanted to be together as a family.
It was only a matter of weeks before Ryan flared up. When they were separated and Ryan had begun a relationship with another woman, Faith booked a trip for herself, the children and her sister. When Ryan found out he became angry and verbally abusive. Faith locked herself and the children in a room and rang the police who took two or three hours to attend the house, by which time the children were asleep. Ryan had tried to get in and snapped the key in the lock; he then went to sleep downstairs. Though the police were friendly towards Faith, they did not try to speak to Ryan; rather they stood at the front door and told her to get a protection order. Ryan soon left again, however it took Faith a couple more weeks to realise that she must do something to protect herself. She describes the moment that both defined her resolve and caused her to break down: she had rung Ryan for a reason she can’t recall, and he put his new girlfriend on the phone who told her that she and Ryan had had sex in Faith’s bed. Not long after, Ryan rang and described to Faith how he was going to kill her: ‘I’m going to smash your head through the back door—it’s glass—until you’re all cut up. Then I’ll drag you by the hair down the stairs, put you in the ute, drive up to the Gateway Bridge, and push you onto oncoming traffic, and then I’m going to jump off the bridge.’ Faith notified the police and while they flagged her number so that she would in future receive a priority response, they didn’t make any attempt to charge Ryan.
Faith was so emotionally depleted and distraught that she had to take time off work to get some help while she continued caring for the children. She was able to access counselling and began learning about the cycle of violence she had endured for nearly 15 years. She realised that Ryan had manipulated her thoughts and her sense of self, and she had to retrain how to think and rebuild herself as a person.
Ryan was calling the children three times a week, and Faith was keen to get a parenting plan in place. She was referred to a solicitor through her union. She proposed supervised contact on the basis of the suicide texts she’d been receiving from Ryan and was able to show the solicitor. While a plan was agreed to it never became a consent order because the solicitor failed to have it signed and filed. Ryan never complied with contact arrangements, and his abuse towards Faith continued. One night he called Faith’s parents and said, ‘tell Faith she’s not going to make it to Christmas’, and then hung up. This was the prompt for Faith to obtain a temporary protection order; and pursue the matter through to a final hearing. Faith, self-represented, had a number of witnesses at the court ready to give evidence, however Ryan appeared without having prepared any material. The magistrate issued a final protection order against Ryan on the basis of his consent without admissions. Faith was devastated as she wanted Ryan’s domestic violence exposed and proven. The order is for two years with Faith and the children named as protected parties; Ryan is prohibited from coming near the house or school.
At the time the final protection order was made, Ryan applied to the Family Court for 50/50 shared care of the children and 75% of the value of the house property. He alleged in his material that Faith was using parental alienation tactics. At the interim hearing, with a great deal of help from a friend in preparing her material, Faith was granted residence, and Ryan was allowed weekly contact one day each week supervised by his parents between specified hours. The judge prohibited Ryan from making phone contact. Ryan and Faith were then required to attend mediation in relation to property matters despite Faith providing the details of the protection order in her material. Faith also tried to explain that Ryan had failed to disclose his financial circumstances as ordered, which would include the injury compensation payment he received and did not put in their joint account. Faith had applied for sole ownership of the house arguing that she’d paid for it and all related expenses, while Ryan had made no contributions. The mediator was initially hostile and uncooperative, but as the session proceeded, attempted to identify options. Faith and Ryan returned to the court, before the judge they’d had previously, however the judge didn’t appear to recall any of the details of the case, and urged them to talk and sort out their differences. The judge had also failed to read the family report, which he proceeded to read while they waited. Faith was shocked and despairing.
Faith noted that she, Ryan and the children were required to attend the court to be interviewed for the family report; they had to sit in the same waiting room as Ryan and his family before being relocated to a private area. There was no need to be present at the same time given that Ryan was interviewed first. The report recommended that Ryan complete an anger management program, undergo psychiatric assessment, not drink alcohol within 24 hours of seeing the children, and be supervised at all times with the children at his parent’s house, or a contact centre. Faith explained to the judge that Ryan’s parents had not adequately supervised in the past, and requested a contact centre. The judge declined stating that the family needed to be given a chance.
Faith tried to limit even email communication with Ryan. Her good friend assists with the children and contact logistics. Ryan has breached the protection order by turning up at the children’s school and sending abusive emails. Faith reported the breaches to the police, but Ryan was not charged. At no time have the police indicated to Faith that criminal charges would be appropriate in relation to Ryan’s repeated violence and threats. Faith believes however that the protection order has saved her life as Ryan is afraid of the police. She is beginning to feel stronger and more equipped to face the future now that she is receiving counselling support. She wants nothing to do with Ryan, and would prefer no changes to the current contact arrangements. If there is any contact with Ryan, Faith records it on her phone so she has evidence for the police and the court. The Family Court property matters have been finalised and she has been granted sole ownership of her house. Faith feels very fortunate that her workplace has been supportive throughout her long and traumatic ordeal. She is also grateful for the domestic violence court support service assistance she received, however believes that a greater effort needs to be made to keep victims and perpetrators separate in the court house. She has found the court processes frustrating and lengthy, not helped by Ryan’s deliberate attempts to delay proceedings. Sometimes Ryan pays around $40 a fortnight towards support for their five children.
Fiona and Tony were married and lived together for 25 years. Fiona was an early teenager when they met; Tony a number of years older. Fiona had not finished high school when she became pregnant with their first child. They now have two adult children: both of whom are employed and live independently; for some time after the separation one of the children lived with Tony and was estranged from Fiona. Tony has a criminal history relating to property crime. Tony was previously employed in a trade, and operated a related business using equipment jointly owned with Fiona. The business ceased operation some years ago, and Tony hasn’t worked since. Tony has been a regular illicit drug user since a teenager. On leaving school, and when the children were young, Fiona acquired vocational qualifications and was employed in a well-respected, though modestly remunerated position, which she held throughout the relationship and continues in now.
From the start of the relationship, Tony was violent and abusive towards Fiona. He would accuse Fiona of showing interest in other boys, and struck and verbally abused her as punishment. Fiona recalls over many years being routinely smacked across the nose and face, punched in the stomach, and pushed into walls; and having her hair pulled and fingers bent back. Today, Fiona has a crooked nose and fingers. Tony would repeatedly tell Fiona that: she was a “fat, ugly, dumb slut”; she should cover herself up because fat people should never be seen in public; she was no good and would never do any better than him; and he needed to take drugs to cope with her. If she didn’t rub his back in bed, she was forced to sleep elsewhere. Sex occurred when Tony demanded it, and would often follow time spent in the outdoor shed where Tony watched pornography and bestiality videos alone. Fiona describes their sexual relations as non-consensual; she complied with Tony’s demands to avoid the prospect of anything worse. For a long time, Fiona never alerted family, friends, or police to the habitual violence she was subjected to during the relationship. She dressed so as to cover her bruises (and because she had been made to feel so ashamed of her body); and when that wasn’t possible, she gave another explanation for her injuries. She made sure that her outward demeanour did not betray her suffering; however she believes that a couple of people close to her probably knew or suspected.
Fiona says that, while the violence and abuse were a constant, it was Tony’s relentless control of her—and attempts to control her—that characterised his behaviour towards her throughout the relationship, and during and after separation, to the present. If his clothes weren’t folded or his lunch wasn’t made, he would refuse to go to work, and Fiona would be made to call his workplace and explain his absence. If he was driving the car and had an accident or got a speeding ticket, it was Fiona’s fault. If Fiona went out with friends, he would ring her repeatedly demanding to know where she was and when she’d be home. At times, he would make her come home and do a job around the house that he refused to do. At night, he would turn up the volume on the stereo so she couldn’t sleep. Tony made no effort to help with child rearing, cooking, washing, cleaning, or mowing, and took no interest in the children’s sporting or other activities. Fiona took care of all of these things while being employed full time. Tony was jealous of Fiona’s good relationship with her work colleagues, and installed equipment in her car to record her conversations with a colleague she drove to and from work. He threatened to come to Fiona’s workplace and tell people what she was ‘really like’; he never did. On her birthday once, Tony deflated her car tyres.
In the early years, Tony would contribute a weekly amount to the mortgage repayments and household expenses, however over time he stopped these payments, and Fiona took on all joint financial responsibilities funding them from her wage. She never went on a holiday. When Tony stopped working, Fiona never knew what he did or where he went. She would come home from work and often find him in bed, and then he would leave the house late at night, refusing to tell her where he was going, saying he needed to get money, notwithstanding that she regularly gave him money. When their business ceased operation, Tony sold the equipment and other assets and took the money without accounting to Fiona; she believes that her share was in the order of tens of thousands of dollars. Their marital property was damaged and they received an insurance payout. Tony spent the funds without reference to Fiona, and the damage was never repaired.
While they were together, Fiona believed she had no choice other than to acquiesce to Tony’s behaviour and demands, or risk further and more serious violence and abuse. She felt it was better to ‘cop it’ and get on with things than have situations deteriorate. The children were frequently exposed to Tony’s treatment of Fiona; she feels it became somewhat normal for them, especially for her older child who often shielded the younger one.
One evening Fiona found she could no longer tolerate the violence and abuse. Tony had locked her out of the house, and she was forced to sleep at the neighbour’s house. Neighbours were supportive of her, but knew little of her circumstances because she had not disclosed. One of the neighbour’s family members, who she considers a friend, told her that she had to do something to address the situation. Fiona felt this was a turning point for her, giving her the strength and resolve to act. Fiona applied for a protection order, however after assurances from Tony that he had changed, she agreed to withdraw it. His behaviour immediately escalated; they separated, and continued living under the one roof. During this time, Tony would not allow her to lock her bedroom door, and she discovered that he’d set up hidden cameras in the bedroom that he monitored via equipment secretly installed underneath the house. Fiona successfully reapplied for an order, including a condition excluding him from the home. Her lawyer advised her to start keeping a record of Tony’s behaviour, which she has diligently maintained since.
Initially Fiona obtained a temporary protection order (including the exclusion condition) against Tony, which was served on him, and he was aware of the conditions. In response both Tony and their adult child who lived with him at that stage brought applications for protection orders against Fiona based on, what Fiona describes as, gross, disgusting and untruthful claims; both applications were dismissed by the court.
Tony was charged and bailed on charges relating to breaking and entering the marital property, and stealing items. Fiona believes that the adult child was complicit. These charges did not go ahead.
Police advised Fiona that the final hearing of her protection order application had to be deferred so that other criminal allegations against Tony could be finalised. Those allegations related to Tony stalking Fiona based on his parking and waiting in the car near her workplace and home (neighbours and work colleagues are witnesses); following her on the roads; sending her repeated offensive texts; and tracking her on a dating website using false personas.
In the interim Fiona reported to police multiple breaches by Tony of the temporary protection order, some of which involved the behaviour already described, others involved Tony coming onto the marital property and stealing further items, and humiliating and denigrating Fiona on Facebook.
The police ultimately charged Tony with stalking. He pleaded guilty and in sentencing him the court ordered that Tony be placed on a five year restraining order. A final protection order was also made for two years.
The marital property was sold, subject to Family Court orders. Fiona moved out of the property some time ago as she was too terrified to continue living there; it is in an isolated location. Fiona has a new partner with whom she now lives. They have installed a security system on their property, and whenever she is alone, she stays inside and locks the doors. She doesn’t believe Tony is aware of the property’s location. She is constantly vigilant about changing the routes she takes to work and the shops, and she avoids going to places she knows Tony frequents. She knows that Tony watches her and the new partner when they are in town together. In the past, Tony threatened to cut the brake lines on her car, burn the house down, kill her and leave her body in a barrel. She suspects that Tony had previously accessed her car and installed a GPS; she is having it investigated. Fiona believes that her fears are well justified; she is also scared for her new partner’s safety.
Fiona engaged a lawyer for the protection order and property matters. The legal fees have been very costly, and continue to accrue while these matters remain unresolved. Tony’s vexatious cross applications and deliberate delays in agreeing to property arrangements significantly increased Fiona’s legal fees. Despite Fiona’s disproportionate contributions and the violence and abuse she has experienced, Fiona and Tony were each entitled to 50% of the proceeds of sale of the marital property. Fiona’s share was almost entirely consumed by legal fees. Following the property orders, the Federal Circuit Court Magistrate had allowed Tony to enter the property and remove the items he was entitled to; he took the opportunity to steal other items as well. When Fiona lodged a complaint with police, they told her it was a civil matter, and they couldn’t assist. While Fiona believes that her lawyer is a good person and supportive of her case, she feels that he could have fought harder in seeking the legal redress and protection she needed as a result of Tony’s prolonged violence and abuse.
Fiona has often felt frustrated by her involvement with police. She describes their responses as variable: at times, alert, supportive and effective; other times, uninterested, even irritated by her repeated complaints. On one occasion when Fiona had reported a breach, they told her it would be 24 hours before officers could attend the property. She suspects that she doesn’t fit the usual victim stereotype of feeble, frightened, and crying, and that police and magistrates may have regarded her differently as a consequence. Fiona has dealt with multiple police officers at a number of different police stations. She feels that with complicated matters like hers, victims/complainants should be assigned a single responsible officer who coordinates the police responses, rather than having to recount the facts and circumstances over and again. On one occasion a well-intentioned officer told Fiona she should move interstate and start a new life. Fiona feels adamant that she should not have to be the one who disrupts her life, work and relationships and is further punished for Tony’s violence and abuse.
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.
Gillian and Kyle were in a defacto relationship for around six years. They have two children together, both very young at separation. Gillian has a certificate qualification and has been consistently employed in her specialised area of work. Kyle has a trade qualification, however was unemployed for most of the relationship due to a chronic pain condition. Kyle is a heavy drinker and prescription drug user; and Gillian suspects he has a form of anxiety and depression, however is not aware of any diagnosis. Kyle also has a police record including offences relating to unlicensed firearms, drink driving and assaulting police. Gillian has an older child from a previous relationship who lived periodically with the father and with Gillian and Kyle. Gillian has a good relationship with the child’s father.
Gillian and Kyle met through Gillian’s previous partner and father of her eldest child. The relationship was on again-off again at the start. Looking back, Gillian recalls feeling a little insecure as a single mother with a young child, and confused and hurt by Kyle frequently putting her down and then apologising afterwards. Gillian made allowances for Kyle’s behaviour knowing that he was finding it difficult to cope with his mother’s death and had to undergo surgery. Kyle’s health deteriorated and Gillian spent some weeks caring for him. He developed longer term chronic pain, and started relying on a range of prescription medications while resuming a heavy drinking habit. Gillian describes Kyle’s reaction to his misuse of alcohol and medication as psychotic and terrifying. He is considerably bigger and stronger than Gillian and would, when in that state, throw heavy objects at Gillian and smash up the house.
Gillian had decided to leave Kyle when she discovered that she was pregnant with their first child. Given the pregnancy, she felt she needed to try and make the relationship work. However, Kyle’s verbal and emotional abuse of Gillian worsened during the pregnancy, and after the birth, his drunken rages and throwing episodes became a regular occurrence, even when Gillian was holding the baby. Not long before Gillian gave birth to their second child, Kyle gave Gillian a solid shove in her stomach. When they were away on a holiday, Kyle became aggressive and violent when Gillian refused to give him her account access card. She had often given him money, which he’d recklessly spent; this time she wasn’t prepared to lose the only money she had for family and household expenses. Kyle grabbed and held Gillian forcefully until she was screaming and a friend had to pull him off her. She was severely bruised on her arms and neck as a result.
Over time, Gillian learned to anticipate his behaviour and take preventative action to avoid being harmed. She says she got good at devising escape plans for herself and the children. Sometimes, she would sleep in the car overnight; other times, they would seek refuge at her mother’s house.
Gillian lost contact with friends during her relationship with Kyle as they didn’t want to be around him when he was drunk and abusive. Gillian has a close relationship with her mother who had re-partnered, however she tried to shield her mother from a lot of the trauma she was experiencing. Kyle’s behaviour was revealed to some extent however at Gillian’s mother’s wedding where he was extremely intoxicated and became aggressive towards the groom. Gillian wanted the relationship with Kyle to be over, but didn’t know how to make it happen.
In the year that Gillian gave birth to their second child, and for the first time in their relationship, Kyle found work interstate. Gillian was keen for him to earn some money and was grateful for some time apart despite having to look after three children by herself. Kyle didn’t help with the children in any event, and Gillian realised when he left that life and the household were so much more functional and stable. It was when he returned home for brief visits that everything seemed to fall apart. Gillian decided during this time that she must end the relationship; she had also discovered that Kyle had started seeing a former girlfriend. Gillian packed up her gear, put it into storage and moved with the children to her mother’s place. She felt she couldn’t stay at the house because she knew that Kyle would return and wreck it and possibly harm her and the children.
Kyle moved elsewhere with his former girlfriend. He would harass Gillian with phone calls and text messages at all hours, up to forty each day, tormenting her with the details of his new relationship. Towards Christmas in the year of separation, Kyle told a friend he’d bought a handgun and was heading to Gillian with it; he told his sister (who passed on to Gillian) that “the bitch needs a bullet”. Gillian immediately packed up her gear again and, with the children, relocated interstate for two months as she believed Kyle was extremely dangerous.
On returning, she went to apply for a protection order, but was told by the court support workers that too much time had elapsed since the threat and she would need to wait for Kyle’s abuse to resume. Before long Kyle began driving past Gillian’s mother’s place, texting Gillian’s eldest child, and repeatedly texting and screaming down the phone at Gillian, threatening to kill them all and telling her it was a shame she hadn’t died during a recent operation. This time, Gillian proceeded with a protection order application. She was represented, with legal aid funding. Initially, she obtained a temporary order for 12 months, however it was another year before the matter could go to a hearing as Kyle sought multiple adjournments, which Gillian believed was a deliberate tactic to frustrate her and the process. On the hearing date, Kyle arrived late, by which time the Magistrate had issued a two-year protection order on the basis that he didn’t deserve to be heard if he couldn’t be bothered to arrive on time. Kyle had also cross applied for an order against Gillian; however his application was dismissed as his allegations were unsubstantiated. Kyle tried to intimidate Gillian in the courthouse and precinct on mention dates.
Gillian found the first few years post separation particularly harrowing. She had a new baby, as well the two older children, and was feeling emotionally rattled, fearful and unsafe. She reported breaches of the protection order by Kyle to the police; however she feels they never took her seriously and no charges resulted. Gillian received counselling that helped her to restore her confidence and capacity.
During the period leading up to the final protection order, Gillian tried to find ways of giving Kyle contact time with the children without compromising her safety. She was advised to arrange it away from home in a busy, public space. She would take the children to the park where they could play with Kyle. This worked for a time until Kyle’s constant verbal abuse towards her became intolerable. Gillian’s mother and new partner then took over the supervision for a while, but they too were subjected to Kyle’s abuse and threats.
With a view to applying to the Federal Circuit Court for parenting orders, Gillian arranged supervised contact through a private contact centre. Kyle didn’t respond to the proposal and went without seeing the children for many months. The parenting order application was also unduly prolonged over a two year period due to Kyle’s repeated delays and failure to comply with judicial directions (eg that he have liver function testing). There was a three-day trial. An independent children’s lawyer (ICL) was appointed. Gillian was represented, but this time without legal aid funding. She sought orders allowing supervised contact on the basis that Kyle was a chronic alcoholic and prescription drug misuser and the children were not safe in his sole care. Gillian had kept (and produced as evidence) numerous photographs of Kyle using drugs, notes written and signed by Kyle attesting to his own behaviour, and hundreds of text messages verifying her allegations. The judge issued self-executing orders requiring that if Kyle failed to complete a certain drug and alcohol course and deliver the necessary material to the ICL by a certain date, contact would be disallowed. The ICL signed off on Kyle having complied with the order and the judge accepted this, despite, in Gillian’s view, Kyle not completing all the requirements originally imposed by the judge. On a further court date, Kyle was granted unsupervised contact for five hours every second weekend.
Fairly certain that a 12 hour course was unlikely to have remedied a 30 year drinking habit, Gillian took steps to ensure that the children were supervised by one of Kyle’s family members whom she trusted. This is working well. Changeover now occurs at a large service station, which Gillian finds unnerving so she makes sure she has a friend to accompany her.
Gillian has sole parental responsibility for the children, and must only give Kyle notice of medical issues or a major relocation. Kyle had been paying negligible child support, and then stopped. Gillian got approval to relinquish child support on family violence grounds, while maintaining her full entitlement to the family tax benefit.
Around this time, Kyle posted a message on Facebook directed at Gillian: “I hope you die excruciatingly”. She immediately went to the police and applied for a new protection order. This time the police were supportive. Gillian was not eligible for legal aid funding so appeared at the hearing self-represented, having prepared the necessary affidavit material. On this occasion, Kyle didn’t appear at all, and the Magistrate issued a two-year protection order in his absence. The order includes no contact conditions together with a prohibition on emailing, social media and any other form of harassment.
Kyle previously owned the house he and Gillian lived in. Unknown to Gillian, he mortgaged the property and squandered the loan funds. Just prior to the birth of their first child, the loan was recalled and Kyle was unable to repay. Gillian’s mother and new partner bought the property for the amount Kyle owed. Gillian and Kyle and the children stayed on as tenants. They were entitled to whatever equity there was upon the sale of the property. In due course the property was sold leaving only a few thousand dollars after expenses. Kyle applied to the Federal Circuit Court for a property settlement seeking a share of the equity. Gillian expended more than $10,000 in legal fees responding to Kyle’s claim, and in the end the court dismissed the application on the basis that there was no property to divide.
Gillian has made sure that Kyle is unaware of her mobile and landline numbers and her address. She has told the children that they must never disclose their address to Kyle; that they are free to see him at his home, but he is never to visit theirs.
Gillian believes that it has been important for her safety to have protection orders in place against Kyle. She has become familiar with how the system works and confident to act when she needs to. She is grateful to her solicitor who was prepared to believe her story and take whatever steps necessary to ensure her protection and the wellbeing of her children. Gillian found her engagement with court processes frustrating as Kyle was permitted to repeatedly delay proceedings on spurious grounds. She found it mostly helpful to have the same judge presiding over their various matters in the Federal Circuit Court, although the time delay in the parenting proceedings meant that the judge lost touch with the facts and, in Gillian’s view, made a questionable final ruling. This was in contrast to the Magistrates Court where there was a different Magistrate at every mention and facts had to be revisited each time. Gillian questions the value of the ICL in her case; very little weight was given to Kyle’s violence and abuse in the context of determining the children’s best interests. The judge however was focused on ensuring safety at changeover.
Gillian has spent more than six years post separation accessing the legal system to secure parenting arrangements and her own safety. It has come at great cost to her emotionally and financially. She is however getting on with rebuilding her life. She is distrustful of people, wary of any signs of violence and abuse, and finds it very difficult to contemplate an intimate relationship.
Hilary and Bruce were in a relationship for 17 years; they married and had three children who were primary and pre-school age, and two years of age on separation. Hilary has an adult child from a previous relationship who was pre-school age when Hilary and Bruce got together and lived with them until late teens. Hilary is tertiary qualified and has worked in a specialist professional role throughout the relationship other than during periods of maternity leave. Bruce has a trade qualification and held a well-remunerated position with a company for many years before resigning and starting his own business.
Hilary’s early observation of Bruce was that he was a perfectionist regarding how work was done on their house and cars, he wanted to make the decisions about these matters and got extremely stressed when things didn’t go as planned, he was eager to fix other people’s problems and enjoyed their praise and gratitude. Hilary felt she understood and accommodated these traits in Bruce, along with his need for his own space and to spend regular time away with friends. When they met, both Hilary and Bruce had their own homes. In time, the properties were sold and together they bought a house on a big block with a work shed for Bruce. As a result, they were in a comfortable financial position with a small mortgage, good incomes pooled in a joint account, and relatively low outgoings.
Bruce’s behaviour became concerning to Hilary when she discovered she was pregnant with their first child. Bruce was angered by the news: Hilary had conceived quickly, however Bruce had wanted it to be later, and expected to be able to control the timing. He even contacted Hilary’s family members to express his displeasure. Witnessed by Hilary’s child who was excited and happy about the news, Bruce came into the bedroom where Hilary was sitting on the bed, wielded two knives and threatened to hurt himself, tipped Hilary onto the floor by lifting the mattress, and punched his fist into the wall. Hilary’s child was distressed and screaming and calling out to her mother that she was going to ring the police. Hilary tried to reassure the child that she would sort it out and everything would be okay. Hilary believes that this incident and many others since have been a source of trauma for the child into adulthood.
Bruce’s behaviour settled down once he got used to the idea of having a child. Hilary says he was an attentive and doting father to the first child, especially when very young and Hilary returned to part-time work at Bruce’s insistence. Hilary felt they had no financial pressure for her to resume working so soon, and had been looking forward to the break and spending quality time with the baby and her older child. Bruce however told Hilary that if she didn’t work, he wouldn’t either, and he would leave her.
When Hilary was on maternity leave following the birth of their third child, Bruce was forced to resign from his long-held position due to unresolvable clashes with work colleagues. Hilary says he became depressed and took casual jobs he didn’t enjoy. He then announced to Hilary that he was going to start his own business. Their comfortable financial position had suddenly deteriorated and Hilary became stressed about earning only a part-time wage and having to find additional money to fund the business setup.
Bruce was disappointed that their second child was a girl and appeared upset and angry on the few occasions he visited the hospital. On the day Hilary was discharged from hospital, he insisted that Hilary host lunch with friends at home. Hilary was exhausted, and refused. Bruce stormed out of the house and retreated to the shed. Bruce’s childish, tantrum-like behaviour escalated over time to physical violence towards Hilary. At the close of a demanding year in her job, Hilary finished work one evening hoping to get some help from Bruce around the house and with the children. Instead, he went to bed and let the children run amok. Hilary questioned him on his lack of support, and he tussled with her and kicked her hard, resulting in pain and extensive bruising to her arms and hip. The day care mother who looked after the younger children noticed the bruising and tried to counsel Hilary to see someone, however Hilary felt she wasn’t ready to get help, or to even recognise the reality of Bruce’s violence. On a subsequent occasion, Hilary tried to discuss with Bruce her concerns about the amount of equipment and vehicles that was accumulating in their yard. He reacted angrily and struck her on the hip with an extension cord while she was holding their youngest child.
At this stage, Hilary realised there was something seriously wrong in the relationship and let her family know. One family member identified Bruce’s behaviour as domestic and family violence and urged her to take decisive action. Hilary however couldn’t afford to leave the home and rent elsewhere, and she knew that Bruce would dig his heels in. Hilary moved into a family member’s house with the children temporarily to seek safety and to organise counselling. She tried repeatedly to get an appointment but was unable to. Eventually she found help; her focus then was to try and understand what had gone wrong in the relationship and whether it was retrievable. She and the children then moved back into the family home and Bruce agreed to attend joint counselling. On a rare occasion when Bruce was open to discussing the relationship, when asked by Hilary why he was violent towards her, he told her that it was to discipline her. After three counselling sessions Bruce refused to continue, saying there was no point. Hilary continued, knowing that the relationship was over, but needing guidance with the separation process.
By now Bruce was no longer contributing to the joint account. He agreed to pay only the house utility bills. The mortgage repayments, direct debits and children expenses were all paid from Hilary’s modest wage. Hilary was forced to ask Bruce for grocery money, which he gave out in meagre amounts after much complaint and verbal abuse, further humiliating Hilary each time. Hilary was aware that Bruce was making money from the business having seen him receive considerable amounts of cash from the sale of stock. Bruce told Hilary not to expect any more money from him, and that she needed to work more.
One evening, while they were still living together, Hilary again expressed her frustration to Bruce at his failure to help with the children. An argument ensued and Bruce punched his fist through the door. Bruce then rang the police alleging that Hilary had verbally abused him. The police arrived at the house and interviewed them separately. Hilary had not planned to get the police involved as she felt ashamed by what was going on and didn’t want Bruce in any trouble, but after some probing by the police, Hilary detailed the violence and abuse she had been experiencing. They urged Hilary to apply for a protection order, and to seek a condition preventing Bruce from entering the property. Hilary obtained a temporary protection order, which only required Bruce to be of good behaviour towards her and the children. Hilary says she wanted Bruce off the property but knew that if he weren’t allowed access to the shed, his behaviour would only worsen. The Magistrate commented that these matters could be dealt with at the final hearing when Bruce had an opportunity to put his case. When the temporary protection order was served on Bruce, he became extremely angry and verbally abusive towards Hilary, and told her she was mentally ill.
Due to financial constraints, Hilary attempted to put in place separation-under-the-one-roof arrangements. She notified Centrelink, relocated Bruce’s belongings to a spare room in the house, and told him she would no longer be cooking, washing or providing other benefits to him. Again, he reacted angrily. On a number of occasions he rang the police complaining that the dinner leftovers had been fed to the dog. Hilary could tell that the police believed Bruce’s complaints were exaggerated, yet she always felt they were supportive of her own situation.
Just prior to the final hearing of the protection order application, Hilary was served with Bruce’s cross order application. The matter was adjourned to allow Hilary the opportunity to seek legal advice and representation. Hilary returned to the family home that day to find what she describes as a ‘romantic note’ from Bruce, which she interpreted as disingenuous and, once again, temporarily relocated with the children to a family member’s house. Bruce resumed living at the family home, and verbally abused Hilary’s adult child causing Hilary to alert police. Hilary and the children returned to the home, the family still governed by the temporary protection order requiring Bruce to be of good behaviour towards them. One of the children developed a fever and became quite unwell, and Bruce refused to help, choosing instead to watch television and send text messages on his phone. Hilary took the television remote control and phone away from Bruce hoping that this would prompt a better response; it didn’t, and the following morning when Hilary was preparing to leave for work and drop the children off to day care and school she discovered that Bruce had taken her car keys. Hilary tried to look for the keys; Bruce became angry and told her to get out of his room, then grabbed and pushed her forcefully into a chair while the children were present and becoming increasingly distressed. Hilary told Bruce to stop because he was hurting her. He then rang the police and waited at the front of the property for their arrival. Hilary also called the police to report a breach of the temporary protection order. It took some hours for the police to arrive, by which time Bruce had left and Hilary gave her statement regarding the breach. Bruce was charged with the breach, and the matter was heard, but Hilary hasn’t ever been advised of the outcome.
At the final hearing of the protection order application (which included Bruce’s cross application), Hilary sought a variation to include an ouster order as she could no longer tolerate Bruce being on the property. Both Hilary and Bruce had legal representation. Hilary’s lawyer told her beforehand that the particular Magistrate listed to hear the matter would require that Bruce be given access to the shed, so there was no point in pushing for an ouster order. Hilary reported that the Magistrate was irritated by having to deal with the matter, telling them both that while separation can be difficult they needed to sort the issues out like adults. Bruce’s cross application was dismissed; and based on the Magistrate’s comments in the court room, Hilary believed that Bruce was granted access to the shed between certain hours on certain days, however when the paper order issued there was no such specification.
Consequently, Bruce continued to come and go from the property as he pleased, including into the house. Hilary knew the latter behaviour was a breach of the order but felt uncomfortable about bothering the police with repeated breach complaints. When Hilary applied for a renewal of the order, she requested a variation denying Bruce access to the house. She felt admonished by the Magistrate for not reporting the breaches, and for being so petty as to not allow Bruce to use the toilet in the house. Bruce made another cross application against Hilary, and at the same time applied for the matter to be heard at a different courthouse, claiming a potential conflict of interest as a result of Hilary’s family connections. The matters were adjourned and Hilary and Bruce appeared for a mention before a different Magistrate who Hilary felt acted fairly and reasonably, in contrast to her previous experiences. The Magistrate expressed the view that Hilary and the children should stay in the house and made a further temporary order against Bruce in accordance with Hilary’s application; he also made a temporary order against Hilary requiring that she be of good behaviour towards Bruce. The final hearing of both applications is pending.
When Hilary is at home with the children she tries to stay indoors and keep them distracted and settled, however when Bruce sees her, he often verbally abuses her. She has changed the locks on the house. Hilary feels intimidated by Bruce’s presence on the property, and her greatest concern is that he will attempt to take the children away so as to reassert his control over her. There are currently no parenting orders in place, though they have an informal arrangement where Bruce cares for the children one day each weekend. Hilary had been loath to involve the Family Court in matters relating to the children as she feared the process would be damaging to them, however she believes now that securing orders would be in their best interests. She is also aware of the need to make an application for property orders to clarify her financial situation. Based on Bruce’s business returns, a child support assessment has issued requiring Bruce to pay an annual total of $500 for the three children. Hilary otherwise wholly supports the children from her wage.
Ingrid and Scott met overseas in Ingrid’s home city. Scott was taking a break from a job that he said had caused him post-traumatic stress disorder and a persistent back injury, for which he received benefits and self-medicated using marijuana and medicinal painkillers. Ingrid has post-graduate qualifications and was working in a well-paid position at the time. The relationship developed quickly and Ingrid was soon pregnant.
During the pregnancy Scott resigned from his job while Ingrid continued to work. Ingrid found that she often had to ask Scott and his friends not to smoke marijuana near her. After the birth, they lived with Ingrid’s mother who helped with the baby. Ingrid received part-paid maternity leave, which she used to support the family. Scott refused to make any contribution to rent or other living expenses and, when asked, would angrily yell and throw things, including a computer on one occasion. Ingrid felt fearful of these early behaviours, but didn’t react, trying not to hurt Scott’s pride or add to the damaging effects of his job.
Scott persuaded Ingrid to move to Australia where he grew up. He went ahead alone to prepare for the family’s arrival, and Ingrid and the baby were to follow when Ingrid’s visa issued, and the baby was around nine months old. Scott did very little in that time: he lived off friends, failed to look for a job and eventually sought help from his father to find accommodation. Scott then insisted on returning overseas to collect Ingrid and the baby.
Once back in Australia, Scott pressured Ingrid into paying off his credit card debt, which she was not liable for. Ingrid’s maternity leave money soon ran out. Ingrid also understood that Scott had or was due to receive a significant lump-sum compensation payment from his employer for his post-traumatic stress disorder but he kept the detail from Ingrid. One day Scott fell in the kitchen, further injuring himself, resulting in his increased use of marijuana and painkillers, which Ingrid observed made him angry and depressed.
Increasingly, Scott would verbally and emotionally abuse Ingrid and damage household property. Ingrid felt isolated with a very young child, no family or friends nearby, and no car licence. Scott made frequent sexual demands of her that she found distressing and painful.
In time, Ingrid was employed again, Scott enrolled in a university course, and the child went to day care. Scott also began rehabilitation for his injury and psychologist appointments for his post-traumatic stress disorder. Ingrid felt that life had become more normal and bearable until one day Scott threw a piece of furniture around the kitchen in a rage about medical expenses that had to be paid to treat a condition Ingrid had developed. Ingrid took the child into the bedroom and locked the door. Scott never struck Ingrid or the child, but would raise his hand menacingly in anger. Scott was well over double Ingrid’s weight.
When not at university, Scott spent more and more time during the day and night drinking and taking drugs with his friends while Ingrid worked and cared for the child. Without asking Ingrid, Scott invited a female friend to stay because she needed somewhere to live. Scott’s drug taking made his behaviour more abusive and irrational. He would accuse Ingrid of lying about her whereabouts, and, despite her resistance, his sexual violence towards her escalated. He wrote her a letter complaining that the child was taking up too much time and that she was not paying him enough money.
Ingrid reached emotional breaking point and sought psychological help through her employer. She moved into another bedroom and they began living separately under the one roof. Scott discovered from reading Ingrid’s emails that she had made a male acquaintance. He became very aggressive, repeatedly texting her (and the male friend), demanding that she leave without the child, reminding her of his weapons licence, and threatening suicide. Ingrid could not afford other accommodation and refused to leave the child in Scott’s care. While she had no intention of leaving her job and uprooting the child from day care – and in any event had no funds – to return overseas, Scott had hidden her passport, which she managed to retrieve before finally leaving.
With the help of support services, Ingrid and the child were housed temporarily in a motel then moved to a shelter. Inevitably this caused upheaval with work and day care, but Ingrid was grateful for the assistance she received with visa matters and an application for a protection order. Initially acting for herself (while Scott had a lawyer), Ingrid was unable to obtain a temporary order and the matter went to trial, for which she was granted Legal Aid. Ingrid describes an intimidating courtroom experience where: during cross-examination, she was yelled at by Scott’s barrister, and the Magistrate was unable to respond effectively; she was not allowed to give evidence of the sexual violence because she was told it could no longer occur due to separation; and she was told that because there was no physical violence or harm, the texting, suicide threats and reference to a weapons licence were minimised and not considered sufficiently abusive to establish domestic and family violence. The court dismissed Ingrid’s application and she was denied a protection order.
Despite strict security controls, Scott was able to locate the shelter where Ingrid and the child were living. Concerned about the risk to the shelter and its other residents, and the complications associated with moving to another shelter, Ingrid decided to stay with friends. Again, Scott revealed to Ingrid an address in the vicinity. Distraught, Ingrid searched for an explanation, and then discovered Scott had sewn a GPS tracking device in the back of a doll that he’d insisted Ingrid take for the child. Ingrid went immediately to the police and gave a statement. Initially police told her she couldn’t get a protection order because there was no physical violence, but she persisted and the court granted a temporary protection order. At the final hearing, Ingrid was unrepresented and Scott’s lawyer offered a protection order without any admission of facts. Ingrid resisted because she knew that Scott’s behaviour was abusive and he should be held responsible. The Magistrate declined to make a final decision on the basis that Family Court matters were pending; and instead extended the temporary order. While an interim parenting order was put in place for shared care, there are multiple problems regarding changeover and other arrangements and Scott flouting the order. The matter was referred to mediation, however precluded from proceeding due to risk of domestic and family violence.
Scott soon sought a cross order against Ingrid fabricating evidence of her beating and raping him, which at the final hearing she was able to resist using audio and social media records she had diligently gathered, and ultimately was granted a final protection order, however the child and others are not listed as protected parties. Before the hearing, Scott had also tried to run Ingrid over in his car. Scott continues to breach the good behaviour provision of the protection order and the terms of the parenting order. Scott has never been charged with breach, or with any criminal offences relating to the stalking and monitoring, attempting to run over Ingrid, or the false affidavit evidence.
Ingrid agreed to settle final parenting orders with Scott, avoiding a trial. Ingrid finds changeovers distressing and demeaning: Scott yells commands at her. She is concerned about how they will jointly manage ongoing parenting decisions and arrangements in the best interests of the child while she endures ongoing abuse. Scott is still unemployed and demands that Ingrid pay him child support. Ingrid would like to visit her home city with the child, but expects that Scott will take any steps to prevent them from going. They were together for only three years, and yet Ingrid feels she and the child will live with Scott’s abuse and its harmful consequences for many years yet.
Jennifer and Frank are in their sixties and were in a relationship for five years. They have both been married previously and have adult children. Jennifer has always worked in various skilled positions, and entered retirement well self-funded, with superannuation savings and an unencumbered house property. Frank did not complete high school, however Jennifer believes he is highly intelligent with good commercial sense, and runs a seemingly successful business. Their relationship progressed quickly, and before long Frank had moved into Jennifer’s house. Frank had told Jennifer that he was divorced, but she learned much later, after having contact with his first wife with whom she became friends, that Frank had lied about this. Frank ran his business in a rural town a few hours’ drive from where Jennifer had been living for many years. Given the uncertain economic climate, Frank convinced Jennifer that it would be prudent to move to the town and keep a better eye on the business. Jennifer believed Frank was envisaging a 12-month plan, which she embraced as a welcome change from city life. With Frank’s strong encouragement, Jennifer bought an acreage property on the outskirts of the town, funded by a mortgage using the equity in her house, with Jennifer and Frank as joint borrowers.
While Jennifer very much enjoys the rural setting and lifestyle, she describes signing the contract on the property as ‘signing her death warrant’. Having moved in—along with Jennifer’s two much-loved, blind and aging dogs—Frank became immediately violent. Jennifer is a confident and capable person, and thought Frank respected her for this; and yet if Frank didn’t get his own way, he began damaging the flooring and woodwork, breaking things, and throwing objects across the house, including coffee cups past Jennifer’s head, into the wall. One winter evening, having urged Jennifer to have a shower upstairs, Frank propped the pool gate open allowing one of her dogs to wander in and fall into the pool, leaving it to drown. At Jennifer’s inconsolable distress, Frank said aggressively ‘he’s dead, fucking get over it’. Jennifer believes that Frank resented her self-confidence, and relished trying to ‘bring her to her knees’. When they bought identical smartphones, their accounts were synchronised inadvertently, and Jennifer became aware that Frank was having relationships with other women, as she was able to read the incoming and outgoing text messages. Frank quickly arranged for the accounts to be desynchronised. The situation was intolerable to Jennifer, and she felt she had to bring an end to the relationship; with the help of her family, she managed to get Frank to move out of the house.
Frank’s intimidation and abuse of Jennifer escalated on separation. Jennifer was forced to make the total monthly mortgage repayments on the property as Frank refused to contribute. Her retirement income could not sustain this substantial outlay; and soon she had no choice but to sell her city property, and apply the funds to discharge the mortgage, taxes and other outstanding expenses. Jennifer is unable to sell the acreage property due to a depressed real estate market, and even if she could, she would not have sufficient funds to buy where she had lived previously. She feels trapped and vulnerable in a small town where Frank also lives and runs his business. And yet she felt that in order to function in that environment she must adopt a cordial attitude to Frank, or life would be unbearable. Frank is a tall, extremely heavy man, with an aggressive demeanour. Initially after separating, Frank would come around to the house and offer to help with the pool and other jobs; however the situation would often deteriorate quickly and, if Jennifer didn’t accede to his various demands, Frank would yell profanities at her, and take the pool equipment or the car, returning them only when he decided Jennifer was behaving properly. Frank then began stalking Jennifer by coming to the house at night, peering into and rapping on windows, and going through the garbage bins and letterbox. Jennifer became increasingly fearful of Frank’s behaviour, and called the police on a number of occasions.
For the most part, Jennifer feels the police were approachable enough, but ineffective in advising her of her rights or available protections; one officer referred to an incident as ‘just a domestic’. This was the case until one day Frank arrived at the house demanding that he and Jennifer resume living together; he threw a coffee cup over the balcony, and when Jennifer tried to close the automated swing door as he was storming out of the garage, he stopped the door in its tracks, buckled and broke it, and told her, ‘I’ll get you, you fucking bitch’. That night, once police were alerted, they took charge of the matter, and obtained a temporary protection order on Jennifer’s behalf and charged Frank with intimidation and criminal damage to property. Jennifer recalls feeling dumbfounded by their heavy-handed turnaround, and terrified of how Frank would react, most particularly towards her, given the comprehensive and damning statement she had provided the police. She also didn’t realise she would end up in court.
Jennifer felt frustrated and diminished by the court process. She was cross examined by Frank’s lawyer for a lengthy period, and subjected to attacks on her character and behaviour. The prosecutor did not interview Jennifer prior to the hearing, and therefore had little or no understanding of the facts and context of the matter, most importantly the history of Frank’s domestic and family violence towards Jennifer. Frank behaved inappropriately in the courtroom, and the (visiting) Magistrate threatened his removal from the court room. He also gave inconsistent evidence, which on the criminal damage charge wasn’t believed, and ultimately he was fined, and a conviction recorded. He was acquitted of the intimidation charge as the Magistrate found there was a lack of evidence. Jennifer believes that had she been given an opportunity to provide a full account of the facts and context to the prosecutor, this would have been conveyed to the Magistrate. When she walked out of the courthouse, Frank yelled abuse at Jennifer and told her he was going to get her. Frank has recently successfully appealed the conviction, and successfully contested the issue of a final protection order.
Frank has never paid for the damage to the garage door, and while the Magistrate said the civil matter could be dealt with at a courthouse located in another town, the legal, travel and associated costs would have been prohibitive to Jennifer. She was also unable to claim on insurance without bearing a disproportionate penalty. There is some prospect of Jennifer claiming victim compensation; however she has not felt strong enough to begin this process.
Jennifer believes that she has done all she can to secure her home with cameras, lights and locks, and yet she feels profoundly unsafe. He has continued to intimidate her from the neighbours’ fence line and from the street and elsewhere in the small town. Frank has also ingratiated himself to some of her children and their partners undermining her own relationship with them in his efforts to hurt and distress her emotionally. Despite having obtained the order on her behalf in the first instance, the police have now told her there is nothing more they can do for her. At this stage, Jennifer fears for her life and future, and can see no legal recourse for her protection. She has also discovered that Frank has had similarly violent relationships with other women in the past and also that Frank has told neighbours that Jennifer is mad and unbalanced.
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.
Melissa and Ben were in a relationship for 17 years and had five children together, aged from toddler to early teens at separation. Melissa identifies as Indigenous. She has post-secondary qualifications and has been employed in a professional role for many years, apart from when the children were very young. Ben has always earned a high income from his trade job when not serving jail sentences for various convictions. Their combined income enabled, for the most part, comfortable material living circumstances. Melissa describes Ben as having been both generous and irresponsible with money. Their relationship was characterised by Ben’s regular absences for work; and a number of periods of separation due to Ben’s violence towards Melissa or his imprisonment as a consequence.
Early in the relationship, when they were living together, Ben began calling Melissa offensive and demeaning names, hitting and spitting on her, and forcing her to have unwanted sex; during some of these occasions, he would also be using illicit drugs. After three months, Melissa moved out and lived with family, returning briefly one evening with a (non-intimate) male friend who Ben assaulted. Ben was charged with and convicted of assault, and the police obtained a protection order on Melissa’s behalf. Over many years Melissa had a number of protection orders.
Having spent a considerable period away from Ben, Melissa reinitiated contact as she wanted to have a child. Ben’s violence towards Melissa escalated during her first pregnancy, as did his drug use. He would hit Melissa in the head, try to strangle her, and threaten her with knives. While Melissa knew these were breaches of the protection order, she was too afraid to contact police as Ben would smash the phone and hold his hand over her mouth when she screamed.
Melissa left Ben again after the birth of their first child. When the child was three weeks old, Ben came to Melissa’s residence, took the child out of her arms, and bashed her badly. A witness alerted police and Ben was charged with and convicted of assault. On another occasion, when Melissa and the child were not home, Ben broke into the residence and viciously damaged and wrecked her furniture and appliances, and sliced her mattress. He also kicked in the door of her friend’s house and smashed household items. Ben went to jail for these offences, and Melissa moved elsewhere with the child.
Melissa was a single mother, working part-time and studying, and didn’t see Ben for two years. During his jail term, Ben wrote to Melissa threatening to ‘get her’ on his release. Melissa took the letter to police, and believes that Ben’s jail term was extended as a result, however she is not sure whether it was treated as a breach or parole matter; the police didn’t advise her.
When Ben was out of jail, Melissa contacted him to ask if he wanted to see the child; she also wanted a second child. She says she’d felt lonely and longing for love, and Ben responded positively and warmly. However, soon after they resumed living together, and Melissa became pregnant, Ben’s sexual violence started again. There were times when Melissa ran up the street naked and hid at a neighbour’s house to escape Ben’s force. He also continued the abusive name-calling, and told Melissa he hoped she got cancer and her body was maimed.
After the birth of their second child, the child safety services were briefly interested in the family’s welfare. Melissa believes it was likely the police who alerted them to Ben’s violence. Aware of the risk of the children being removed by child safety, Melissa stopped reporting the violence and abuse, notwithstanding its increasing severity and danger. Ben had once pushed her down the stairs while still pregnant and she’d sustained extensive blood loss from her injuries. On another occasion, he raped her while menstruating; and police arrived after being alerted by a neighbour. Police took a statement from Melissa and questioned her as to why she was still living with Ben. They expressed irritation that they’d been through this multiple times before with her, yet offered her no referral to support services. Melissa was shocked and distressed when she learned that child safety had visited the school and daycare to question her children without first speaking with her.
This pattern of violent and abusive behaviour—and police and child safety responses—continued for years. When Melissa was pregnant with their fifth child, Ben came home in the early hours of one morning, in the aftermath of an intense drug bender, and began sexually assaulting Melissa. She physically attacked him, terrified of how he would react, fled the house carrying her own injuries. A family member returned to take care of the children and call the police. Melissa made a statement to police, and advised child safety of the incident. She and the children went to stay temporarily with a family member before returning to the home where Ben had stayed on. Child safety visited on a number of occasions, but never suggested the children would be removed. Melissa felt that they were more interested in hygiene than safety, and because she kept an immaculately clean and tidy house, they didn’t appear concerned. The police did not charge Ben with breach of the protection order.
After the birth of their fifth child, Melissa left hospital early so that Ben could depart for his regular work stint away. On her return home, Ben spat in her face. Melissa says this was the point at which she snapped. She decided she would no longer tolerate Ben’s behaviour, and rang the police. Ben left the house for an extended period, during which Melissa understands he got into trouble with his job and the law.
Ben continued working and contributing to the mortgage and family living expenses. Melissa was on leave from work following the birth of their fifth child. Given their combined incomes, she had never been on welfare benefits; however she became increasingly concerned about the violence and volatility in the family and applied for Centrelink assistance to protect herself and the children. She was also worried about how the children had been affected by their long-term exposure to Ben’s violence and abuse, and sought counselling from a local service, which she found very supportive and helpful.
Ben returned after nearly twelve months. Melissa believed it was an attempt to reconcile, which she briefly and regrettably allowed. She was also aware that Ben was due to go to jail again, and could appreciate that he wanted to see the children. Melissa has Family Court residence orders for the first child, and no orders in relation to the remaining children. They have never lived with Ben other than when he and Melissa were residing together, and Ben never sought contact during his many absences from the family. Melissa is now considering the merits of seeking orders for her other four children.
Melissa believes the periods of separation imposed by Ben’s terms of imprisonment and working away from home probably gave her the time she needed to recover from the acute impacts of Ben’s violence and abuse, and to get on and work and care for the children. However, these circumstances also prolonged the violence and abuse over 17 years. Melissa says it is unlikely that Ben would reform if required to undertake behaviour change courses as part of his sentencing.
Reflecting on her involvement with the court system, Melissa believes that domestic and family violence isn’t treated with the seriousness it deserves, that perpetrators can avoid service or attendance and matters have to be constantly adjourned, and that penalties are often fines or ‘a slap on wrist’. Ben would taunt her that ‘DV was just a piece of paper’, and recklessly breached his protection orders on countless occasions. As to police and child safety, Melissa feels she received very little constructive support, and at times felt that she and the children were treated as a burden and frustration to these systems.
Mira and Thomas met overseas through their work. Mira was born overseas, with English as her second language; and Thomas is an Australian citizen. They married and had their two children overseas. From Mira’s perspective they were together for approximately fifteen years, however Mira says that Thomas is likely to believe that they are still together. Mira now lives in Australia with the children who are in high school. Mira arrived in Australia on a spousal visa and is now on a bridging visa, awaiting the issue of a spousal visa. Early in the relationship Mira stopped working to enable Thomas to pursue his career, which then required significant relocations to other countries so he could upgrade his qualifications; and has always involved Thomas travelling regularly and being away from home for lengthy periods.
Thomas’s controlling and obsessive behaviours were apparent to Mira from the outset. He repeatedly pressured her to go out with him; and despite her telling him that she needed time following the end of a previous serious relationship, he persisted. Thomas would regularly send Mira gifts and deposit money into her account. She told him she did not want these inducements and he must stop. Undeterred, and knowing how important Mira’s faith and traditions are to her and her family, Thomas announced to Mira that he had converted to her religion. Mira was shocked by Thomas’s preoccupation with her, and urged him to back off. He told her he would kill himself if she didn’t marry him and sat in the cemetery for hours brooding. Mira felt worn down by Thomas’s fanatical efforts to win her over and yet was impressed by his religious conversion. Eventually she felt obliged to marry him, and hoped that over time she may grow to love him.
Mira committed to helping Thomas advance in his career and to raising their two children, however their relationship was constantly fraught. Starting with their wedding, Thomas insisted on organising their shared life as he wanted it, and demanded Mira’s support for his obsession with extreme sports training and competitions. Events and holidays were meticulously planned without consultation with Mira. She and the children were expected to comply and if Mira expressed an objection she was bullied and intimidated, and on one occasion Thomas strangled her in front of his friend who was staying in their home. Thomas controlled the couple’s finances and required Mira to account for her spending and produce receipts. Thomas would then be away from the family for weeks at a time, with no contact, and Mira was left to parent alone. It was during these extended breaks that Mira felt she must tell Thomas that she was unable to continue in the relationship and that it was best they divorce. Whenever she tried to raise the issue with Thomas, he became angry and morose, and would lock himself in a room threatening to kill himself and accusing Mira of bringing harm to the family. On two separate occasions, Thomas wielded a knife at Mira, again threatening to kill himself. Mira was terrified of what he may do, including harming her and the children. The first time, acting on the advice of Thomas’s family, Mira rang the local domestic violence support service, and they arranged accommodation for her and the children until Mira knew Thomas had left the country. The second time, they relocated to a friend’s house.
After living in various overseas locations for a number of years, Mira decided that it was in the children’s best interests to settle in Australia. They have been here for a few years, and in Mira’s mind, the relationship with Thomas is over, though she believes that he does not want it to formally end so as to avoid any adverse financial consequences to himself. Thomas stalked Mira and the children whenever he returned to Australia. She has told him not to come near the house, but he now harasses Mira’s family by telephone. They jointly own two house properties, in Australia and overseas. Mira knows that if she were to apply for a protection order or to seek property orders in the Family Court, Thomas would be enraged and she could not predict what he might do. She fears he would become uncontrollable and be arrested. Thomas currently pays for the children’s education and living expenses; she would rather defer addressing her own legal issues than risk losing his financial support, though she remains fearful of him. Mira does what she can to encourage the children’s relationship with Thomas despite his minimal genuine interest or involvement in their lives. Mira is aware that for as long as these matters are unresolved, she and the children will continue to experience Thomas’s obsessive control over them.
Rosa and Ken were both born overseas, and have completed tertiary education. English is Rosa’s second language and she requires the assistance of an interpreter for other than basic communications. Ken is in highly-paid professional employment. They first made contact through an internet dating website, and then met in Europe for a holiday. The relationship developed quickly: Rosa arranged a tourist visa for Ken to stay for a few months with Rosa in her home country where they married and Rosa became pregnant. Ken’s work then took them to another country where they settled briefly—together with Rosa’s high-school aged child from a previous marriage—and their baby was born. Less than a year later, they all moved to Australia, again for Ken’s work. Ken came on a temporary work visa with Rosa (as his wife) and the children as dependents. They separated only two months after arriving in Australia, when the infant was aged six months. Rosa advised Australian Immigration of the separation and related circumstances, and was granted a visa extension. While Rosa was in full-time work in her home country, she has not been employed since her departure.
Rosa explains that she noticed problems with Ken’s behaviour during his first work posting (prior to coming to Australia). Ken began getting angry and upset, they argued often, and on one occasion he smashed a computer. He told Rosa that if she didn’t trust him, the relationship was over. Once a week he would tell her she had to go back to her home country. After their arguments, Ken would tell Rosa he cared for and looked out for her. Yet during her pregnancy, Ken forced Rosa to do various activities that were not comfortable for her. Rosa was reluctant to disrupt her older child’s schooling and opposed the move; it proceeded nonetheless, and the child experienced considerable educational difficulties as a result. Meanwhile, Rosa was having great difficulty learning English as the course Ken made her attend was at too high a level. Once the baby was born, Rosa believes that Ken misled her about citizenship matters so that the child could be granted citizenship of Ken’s home country.
When the family relocated to Australia, Ken began calling Rosa demeaning names, he told her she was stupid, and insisted that she learn and speak English rather than her native language. Again, he regularly told her she had to go back to her home country, but that she must leave the baby in Australia. He said he didn’t want Rosa, only their child. Ken often used the child’s citizenship as a threat to Rosa, asserting that there was no point in her seeking help from police because she had no legal rights in relation to the child. Their first month in Australia was spent in a motel while they waited for their belongings to be shipped. They then moved into an apartment, and Ken soon departed interstate for work. Unexpectedly one evening he arrived home, giving Rosa a fright. He told Rosa he was missing the baby. Rosa says, without thinking, she handed Ken the baby and they went out into the garden while she continued cooking. When dinner was served, Rosa and her older child realised that Ken had left the apartment with the baby. Rosa contacted Ken on his mobile; he told her he wanted a divorce, he was posting her a document, he had paid a year’s rent on the apartment, he would pay her a minimal amount per week, and he was taking the child. Rosa called the police immediately. The police attended and stayed for approximately 20 minutes and tried to reassure Rosa as she was very nervous, upset and concerned because she was still breastfeeding the baby. They told her the child would be okay and could have a bottle. She did not find them helpful and later called the police again. Different officers attended and told Rosa the father had not stolen the child, and the child would be okay with him. Rosa became increasingly distressed, and rang the police a third time, and throughout the following day and night, pleading with them to find the child. She also tried to track Ken down without success.
Eventually, three days later, a police officer advised Rosa to go the Family Court and seek an order authorising that a PACE alert be put on the child’s passport, which meant the child was placed on the airport watch list. A duty lawyer assisted Rosa; it was discovered that Ken had already filed an application for divorce and residence of the child. He alleged in his affidavit material that Rosa wasn’t feeding the child and she tied the child down. Later, when the child was returned to Rosa, both child safety and a psychologist interviewed her and provided reports that found Ken’s allegations were unsubstantiated.
Rosa was granted legal aid to fund legal representation in the child proceedings. Rosa was seeking residence. Rosa saw the child for the first time one and a half months after Ken had taken the child from the apartment; initially she had supervised contact, which had been delayed due to problems locating an interpreter. After a number of Family Court appearances, the child was returned to Rosa’s full-time care and Ken was granted weekly unsupervised contact. Both parents were prohibited from taking the child out of the country and Ken was prohibited from entering the apartment.
With the assistance of a local support service, Rosa obtained a one year protection order; Ken is required to be of good behaviour. Rosa represented herself as she was not entitled to legal aid on that application. She is entirely financially dependent on Ken as she is unable to receive Centrelink benefits and cannot find appropriate work given her limited English and childcare responsibilities. Rosa would have to text Ken weekly to ask for money to cover her living expenses. In response, Ken would repeatedly taunt Rosa by threatening to cancel her visa and take the child. Rosa also discovered that Ken had hired a private detective to follow and watch her.
Australian Immigration contacted Rosa after receiving notice of the divorce querying her intentions. She has sought advice from a community legal service about her visa status, and the implications of her older child turning 18. A student visa for the older child is an option; however a course of study would require funds that Rosa does not have access to.
Ken regularly breaches the contact orders, returning the child to Rosa late. Rosa attempted to photograph his arrival on her phone and he became verbally abusive. Further, in breach of the protection order, Ken bangs noisily on the door to Rosa’s apartment demanding that she open the door and give him the child. On one occasion, the child was sleeping, and Rosa told him to wait until the child was awake. Ken persisted and Rosa rang the police. During his angry outbursts, Ken often slaps himself in the face and pushes himself against railings; he also asks Rosa to hit him. Rosa believes he may have a mental illness. Rosa feels frightened by Ken’s behaviour, and continues to feel highly vulnerable given her financial dependence on him. She is not sure if Ken’s work visa will be renewed. If his visa is not renewed the family will have to leave Australia, most likely to different countries. This is very distressing for Rosa as she fears she may be separated from her youngest child.
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.
Susan and Neil were in a relationship for three years and had a child born in the year they separated. Susan is university educated, professionally qualified and has always been in well-remunerated employment apart from during leave following the birth of the child. Neil did not complete high school, however trained in a trade and earns a modest salary. Neil has a history of intermittent drug and alcohol misuse, and when younger attempted suicide on a couple of occasions during periods of depression. After separation, Susan consulted a psychiatrist to deal with the anxiety she experienced as a result of the abusive relationship, and took medication for a time until she felt it was affecting her capacity to function properly; she was also concerned that she may be prejudiced in the Family Court if her Medicare records revealed that she was taking a medication that was indicated for bipolar disorder (but prescribed to Susan for anxiety).
Susan and Neil casually dated for a brief time some years before living together when Neil was going through a difficult divorce. Neil became resentful and obsessive about Susan dating other men after the brief relationship ended. They eventually got back together and Neil quickly moved in with Susan at a property she owned. While the first six months of their relationship were happy and without incident, in the remaining two and a half years tension and conflict grew between Susan and Neil, there were periods of separation and reconciliation, and Neil’s behaviour became abusive. Susan’s income was considerably higher than Neil’s and, while she did not highlight the point and was happy to make a greater contribution to joint expenses, Neil would accuse Susan of belittling and humiliating him for his limited earning capacity. Increasingly he became frustrated and angry, and would lash out at Susan. Neil is more than a foot taller than Susan; and is athletic and strong. On one occasion, when loading a large and heavy metal crate in the car, he threw it so as to hit Susan who was standing nearby. She was knocked off her feet, her thick-lens glasses cracked and the impact caused a black eye and bruised lip. On another occasion, Neil grabbed Susan around the neck and held her down on the bed.
When Susan became pregnant, she found intercourse painful and preferred to avoid it. Neil began seeking sexual satisfaction elsewhere. While Neil was away visiting his parents, Susan discovered videos of Neil’s sexual encounters with multiple other women (as well as herself) on his computer. When Susan confronted Neil on the phone, he was enraged that she’d invaded his privacy. Susan then discovered that Neil was having an affair with one of these women. Neil returned to try to salvage the relationship and Susan allowed him back as she didn’t want to raise the child alone. Soon after, Susan discovered on Neil’s phone that he was contacting a former girlfriend on Facebook. Susan left Neil a week before the baby was born and went to stay with her parents; however they told her she must return and try and make the relationship work. Neil made her apologise and taunted her about having no interest in her welfare.
For three months following the birth, Neil’s behaviour settled down and they both focussed on adjusting to being new parents though Neil had little to do with the day-to-day care of the infant. Neil came up with a business idea that involved selling internet-based camera systems to away-from-home workers. Susan funded the establishment costs as Neil didn’t have the resources himself, however the enterprise did not succeed and ended in financial loss. Neil set up a remotely-controlled camera system in the home, and monitored Susan’s movements in every room, including when she was showering and breastfeeding. She repeatedly asked him to disable the system, and at one stage feared it had been hacked. She recalls one occasion, as she walked out of the bathroom, the camera moved to follow her.
Six months after the birth of their child, Neil told Susan that he would marry her only if she agreed to go to a swingers club with him; she refused and told him the relationship was over. Susan left and returned to her parent’s house for a couple of days when Neil’s parents became involved. Eventually he told Susan that he ‘could live with it’ if she did not wish to go to a swingers club and the relationship continued for one more month.
Neil was known for his outbursts of road rage. He would throw heavy objects out of his van while driving, with reckless disregard for the consequences. He was required to attend a police interview about an incident where he allegedly smashed another car with a crow bar. When Susan told his parents, again he was enraged that she breached his privacy. This came shortly after yet another fight about Neil’s infidelity; it was the tipping point for Susan and she decided to leave Neil for good. Their child was seven months old at the time.
Susan went home with the intention of retrieving some of her personal possessions. Neil should have been at work but she found him in the backyard shed drinking and playing computer games. Susan packed a bag and gathered her personal documents and, with the baby, went to stay with her parents. Susan never returned to Neil. He stayed on in the property for a time and changed all the locks even though the property belonged to Susan’s family and he had not sought permission to do so.
Susan engaged a lawyer immediately and put in place contact arrangements. The child lived with Susan, and Neil had contact for certain hours three times each week under Susan’s supervision. Neil would at times run away with the child in the pram, which made Susan feel anxious and concerned about the child’s safety. Susan was also keen to get the joint financial matters settled with Neil. She had contributed significantly by way of income, property and parenting, and proposed a cash payment that she felt reflected Neil’s contribution. Neil, acting for himself, approached her one day (when Susan attended the home they had shared to supervise contact) and made an irrational counter offer seeking far in excess of his share. He also demanded that she sell all her properties, leave her job and live with him at a place of his choosing. Susan described Neil’s behaviour as menacing and intimidating, and she was concerned about what he may do next. In the following days, Neil badgered Susan repeatedly by text about his proposal. When Susan rejected his offer, Neil verbally and offensively abused her and threatened blackmail with sex videos. She told him she would go to the police if he continued; he took no notice, and his texts became more threatening. In time, Neil accepted the cash sum originally offered by Susan.
Susan kept copies of all of Neil’s texts and applied for a protection order against Neil. She was granted a temporary order; however the magistrate refused to name the child on the order. The police delayed in serving the order on Neil and, as a result, Susan was unable to have him charged with an almost immediate breach. This was the first of numerous encounters with police over an extended period where Susan felt her circumstances were not taken seriously nor responded to appropriately. Once served, Neil made a cross application and obtained a reciprocal temporary order against Susan. The final order hearing was conducted over two days; Susan was represented by a solicitor and barrister, Neil was self represented. Susan found the experience of being cross-examined by Neil harrowing and upsetting, and she became quite emotional in the process. She accepts that the magistrate had a duty to ensure Neil was given full opportunity to put his case. While Neil’s application was dismissed and a final order granted in Susan’s favour, it took some months for the magistrate to hand down the judgment; the matter had apparently been overlooked. Susan was not awarded costs even though the magistrate recognised that Neil’s application had no substance and was a case of ‘tit-for-tat’. The delay resulted in interim Family Court parenting orders being made before the final protection order issued. Contact was ordered to continue three times each week as previously, however Susan would be required to come into contact with Neil at handovers contrary to the conditions of the protection order.
Following the hearing, Neil actively and regularly flouted the protection order. A neighbour witnessed Neil entering the property which he had once lived in with Susan and where she still had many belongings stored. He was subsequently charged with breaching her Temporary Protection Order. Neil would leave notes and photos for her in the child’s bag after contact visits; they were principally designed to rattle Susan, occasionally under the false guise of concern for the child’s welfare. On one occasion, Susan made an audio recording of Neil urging her to read a letter he’d written her while acknowledging that he wasn’t legally able to. When she refused, he told her things would end badly. On another occasion, Neil left his go-pro camera in the child’s bag with footage of him telling the child that Susan had tried to kill Neil. Susan made multiple breach complaints to the police notifying them that she was fearful Neil would kill her; however she was ignored.
A significant breach of the protection order occurred at handover one evening. Handover took place at a public venue frequented by families and most of what ensued was captured on CCTV footage and Neil’s own go-pro footage. Neil alleged that Susan’s car wasn’t safe to drive and refused to hand over the child, slapping Susan’s hands away as she reached out for the child. Susan called the police for assistance; they suggested she sign a one-off waiver of the protection order to allow Neil to drive the child to her home, and took the matter no further. Susan was unable to get legal advice at that hour of night, so remained in the car park unable to reverse and leave as Neil was standing behind her car. Neil then sat on the bonnet of the car while Susan was locked inside breastfeeding the child; he filmed her, called out insults and accused her of being unsafe with the child. Susan rang a family member and arranged for them to collect the child; she then tried a different police station. The police arrived, however refused to take a statement claiming it was a Family Court matter. Later, when police viewed the CCTV footage, they said Neil had simply deflected not assaulted her, and his actions didn’t constitute a breach of the order. Susan felt aggrieved by the police treatment of her, and with the assistance of a domestic violence support service, lodged a formal complaint, which was never addressed.
In preparation for a further interim hearing in the Family Court, a family report was prepared. Susan had obtained the CCTV footage of the incidents already described and past medical records evidencing Neil’s mental instability and suicide attempts. Recommendations were made regarding contact in Susan’s favour. On the day prior to the hearing, handover occurred. Neil had read the report. He approached Susan and told her he would get her. Susan went immediately to the police station to make a breach complaint. They took a statement after initially resisting, but said her claims were unsubstantiated as she had no recording of the interaction. Susan’s lawyer, on the other hand, had cautioned her against using recording devices as the Family Court did not regard the practice favourably. Susan tried to submit this fresh evidence at the hearing, however it was not accepted by the Court and the matter was adjourned for some months. Neil continued to refuse any order which excused Susan from being present at handover stating he did not have the financial means to pay for an independent third party.
Susan (with representation) applied for a variation of the protection order to secure better protection at handover. Neil, for the first time, was represented. Susan’s barrister was concerned that if the matter proceeded to a hearing, Susan may say something in cross-examination that may prejudice the parenting proceedings. Consequently, Susan accepted an undertaking from Neil that he wouldn’t communicate with her during handover or otherwise except in an emergency. Susan agreed to communicate in writing with Neil via a website specifically designed for separated parents. Neil continues to send abusive text messages and emails to Susan. At another handover occasion, he opened the car door while Susan was driving out of the carpark; she had to stop suddenly while he retrieved a piece of paper from the child’s bag. Again, she reported the incident to the police and requested fingerprinting; they wouldn’t take a statement and told her to come back later, they also told her that fingerprinting would be of no value.
Susan travelled overseas with her son (with Neil’s consent and the Family Court’s knowledge) to visit her sister. Knowing Susan was overseas with the child and unable to attend the mention, Neil made an application for the protection order to be dismissed. He later withdrew the application.
Further interim parenting orders issued allowing a transition to overnight contact for one night during the week, and daytime contact on the weekend. Susan made an urgent application to the Family Court for further changes after another incident where Neil, with a female friend, approached Susan in a supermarket and told her he was ‘gonna get her’ while she was holding their child. Neil’s contact time changed to three nights every second weekend, with collection and drop-off at day care. At considerable relief to Susan, handover involving contact with Neil was no longer necessary.
The final Family Court hearing is pending. Susan is assisting her lawyer in gathering records to evidence Neil’s parenting deficits and mental ill health. Susan is seeking sole parental responsibility and would be prepared to accept 4-5 nights contact each fortnight. Susan is concerned that Neil not having representation will adversely affect the outcome; however her lawyer is confident that his motives and behaviours will be exposed in cross-examination.
Susan estimates having spent more than $200,000 on legal costs; she has had to sell one of her properties to finance the litigation, and will need to mortgage her other property to fund the final Family Court proceedings. Susan believes that it has been very important for her to be legally advised and represented throughout, though she attends mention dates in the Magistrates Court personally to avoid additional costs. Susan and the child continue to live with her parents for protection and to recover financially. Susan has re-partnered but continues to be fearful of Neil and believes he is capable of killing her. She dreads having to reapply for a protection order on the expiration of the current order given the lack of support she has received from the police. Susan believes the police have failed in their duty to respond to Neil’s multiple breaches, despite Susan’s concerted and consistent efforts to provide comprehensive statements and supporting evidence where possible. Neil’s abusive behaviour and Susan’s need for protection continue three years after separation.
Trisha was born overseas and English is not her first language. Initially, Trisha required an interpreter for other than basic conversational English, however over time her skills and understanding have improved somewhat. Trisha and Jarrod met over the internet, made contact with each other a number of times overseas, and subsequently married in Australia. Trisha came to Australia on a prospective marriage visa and, when married, was issued a temporary spousal visa. Trisha completed high school and was previously in unskilled employment. Jarrod was born in Australia and completed a trade following high school. Jarrod has two children from a previous marriage: an adult who lives independently, and a younger teenager who came to live with Trisha and Jarrod, together with Jarrod’s mother. Trisha and Jarrod have a young child who was aged two at the time the four-year relationship broke down.
Jarrod was in employment and told Trisha that he was happy to support her while she studied English and looked after the household. Trisha noticed early in the relationship that Jarrod’s behaviour was secretive and suspicious. He told her not to disclose their living circumstances to Centrelink, and often asked Trisha what her plans were. He also helped her apply for permanent residency, but insisted when completing the forms that they not fully disclose their financial position. Jarrod held a joint bank account with his mother and household and living expenses were also incurred jointly. Trisha was excluded from these arrangements and felt unable to open Jarrod’s mail because it was also addressed to his mother. Over time, this became more concerning to Trisha and caused arguments between the couple.
Jarrod became increasingly abusive towards Trisha through the relationship, yelling and swearing at her, refusing to give her money, not allowing her to make phone calls, demanding that he know her whereabouts.
Jarrod’s children and mother made Trisha feel unwelcome in the family. Trisha recalls reading a text from the teenaged child on Jarrod’s phone making insulting personal comments about Trisha and her culture. On discovering that Trisha was pregnant the teenaged child became angry towards Trisha, damaged her personal belongings, burned her clothes and pushed her down the stairs. Jarrod and Trisha lived in the car for five days, all the while Jarrod repeatedly urging her to go back to her home country because he couldn’t manage the teenager’s reactions. Trisha agreed to go, but felt resentful, questioning why she was being made to leave.
Trisha returned to Australia after six weeks in her home country. Jarrod told her he was lonely, so she resumed living with the family and the child was born. Jarrod’s abuse continued. Having not allowed Trisha a phone, Jarrod was aware that Trisha’s laptop was her only means of communicating with her own family. On one occasion, Jarrod grabbed the laptop from Trisha and she ran after him to retrieve it. Jarrod held Trisha’s throat hard in one hand and grabbed her shirt with his other hand and pushed her backwards. Trisha fell and hit her head on the floor; she felt dizzy, and when trying to get up from the floor, Jarrod spat on her face and pointed with his finger at her chest calling her a “fucking Asian” and accusing her of coming to Australia to get money from the government.
Trisha decided that she could not live with Jarrod’s domestic and family violence any longer. She contacted her friend who called the police for her. Concerned for Trisha’s safety, the police told her to go to her friend’s house so they could interview her. Trisha was extremely distressed; she showed the police the broken laptop and marks on her neck, and gave a statement. Trisha can’t explain what happened next, but became aware that the police obtained a protection order on her behalf against Jarrod. She has the paper order in her possession, but isn’t certain of the conditions as it was not translated in her first language. She believes the duration of the order is two years.
While Trisha was not required to attend court for the protection order hearing, to make arrangements regarding parental care and responsibility for their child, she and Jarrod had to attend phone mediation and then, failing agreement, the court. The Family Court made an order, effective until the child reaches pre-school age, that (among a number of other conditions) the child would reside each week with Trisha for four nights and with Jarrod for three nights. Trisha received legal aid representation and interpreter support for part of this process, however given her limited understanding of English and the legal system, Trisha feels that she didn’t have enough time to consider the family report, and was pressured into consenting to the orders without being satisfied they were in the child’s best interests and not knowing what her rights would be as the child gets older.
Trisha believes the protection order has been important in reducing her fear of Jarrod, and her concerns about him harming the child. She says however that Jarrod does not respect her as a mother; and she continues to worry about the child being in the presence of Jarrod’s children both of whom are drug users and have police records. She also believes that Jarrod does not share her expectations for high standards of education for the child, and is worried about having to return to the court before the child reaches pre-school age to make fresh arrangements for the child’s care and responsibility. Trisha and Jarrod have been unable to reach a property settlement; Jarrod asserts without grounds that Trisha should pay off all his debts. Trisha receives a Centrelink single-parent benefit, which she is doing her best to spend carefully so she can save for the child’s future. She is concerned however that, despite her phoning Centrelink to advise of the care arrangements (as set out in the Family Court order), she is receiving too much money and may be forced to repay. At times, Trisha has felt so overwhelmed by these anxieties that she has had suicidal thoughts. Counselling offered through a local domestic and family violence service has helped and supported her through these very difficult times.
Trisha is now a permanent resident; she has a driver’s licence, and has purchased a car with her modest savings. Her English has improved considerably, and she has commenced studies so that in time she can secure stable and rewarding employment. While Jarrod is no longer a direct physical threat to Trisha and contact changeovers occur without problems, he continues to send her abusive texts, and his mother and children stalk her periodically.
Yvonne and Emir were in a relationship for around 13 years, and had four children together. Emir was born overseas; he did not complete high school, he is multi-lingual, English being a language acquired later in life, and he has periodically run small businesses. Yvonne was born in Australia, is university educated and runs her own business. They met in Emir’s home country when Yvonne was in the early years of her professional training. Within a year, they married and had their first child, and decided to resettle in Australia, Emir on a spousal visa. The children now live with Yvonne and her new partner in a home they own. The youngest child has contact with Emir pursuant to Family Court orders. The three older children have declined any contact.
When Yvonne first knew Emir he was gentle and quiet, but also strongly committed to his faith and spiritual beliefs. He followed a rigorous daily worship practice, and over the years required that the children strictly comply. In the early years Yvonne found Emir’s faith and dedication captivating, and was happy to participate even though she never felt like she really belonged. When they moved to Australia, Emir was drawn to a philosophy that aligned with his beliefs, and began attending places of worship. Soon he became very involved in his new-found faith community, following their ascetic lifestyle regimes, and volunteering. Meanwhile, Yvonne had three more children over six years; and worked full-time when she wasn’t caring for young children. Emir was opposed to contraception as he believed it was unnatural, and he refused to have a vasectomy as he felt it would diminish his masculinity. Rather ironically, it was the women from the faith community who urged Yvonne to consider contraception; she did so and never disclosed to Emir because she knew he would vehemently object.
Yvonne describes feeling a great deal of tension around multiple issues that Emir had strong views about and that Yvonne was unable to discuss with him without heightening the risk of conflict and his expression of hatred towards her. Emir exercised a high level of control over the daily lives of Yvonne and the children. The children were made to do hours of prayers in the mornings and evenings, which made them late for school and behind with their homework. Emir would dictate how prayers should be performed, and then often change the rules without explanation. If the children did it incorrectly, Emir would hit them across the face, or swing them around on one arm. While Yvonne experienced some physical violence, she says the children were frequent victims and subjected to the constant threat of more severe harm.
When Yvonne was heavily pregnant with their second child, Emir had insisted that she attend worship with him. They had to travel by train; Yvonne was tired and asked him whether it was necessary for her go. Emir became angry and pushed her towards the train line. Yvonne was terrified and walked kilometres to a family member’s house and stayed overnight. On another occasion, soon after Yvonne was home following the birth of their youngest child, a friend called to offer to look after the other children to give Yvonne and Emir a break. Emir declined, and Yvonne questioned him. He slapped her across the face twice while she was holding the baby, and told her never to question his authority especially in front of the children.
Increasingly, she felt unable to communicate with Emir about any difficult issue, so she shut down completely. Yvonne became even more isolated as a result of Emir excluding Yvonne’s family from the home as they didn’t adhere to the rules of his faith. Emir did not allow the children to attend an important family wedding despite Yvonne being a bridesmaid. Yvonne says she felt constantly strained and under pressure; she didn’t have any friends other than a small number in the faith community, nor did she believe she should.
Yvonne and Emir had separate bank accounts, but shared resources, although Emir would accumulate cash amounts from Centrelink payments or odd jobs and hide them from Yvonne. Finances were always tight for the family; Emir reprimanded Yvonne for even modest spending despite the fact that he earned little or no money and Yvonne was the consistent wage earner. Yet, Emir insisted on family trips overseas which were related to faith, these were expensive and required many months of saving to afford. Yvonne found these trips distressing with young children, and especially when pregnant, as the living standards were poor and public spaces generally unsafe. An incident that was particularly disturbing to Yvonne and the children occurred while they were on one of these trips. Emir believed that his younger relative had infringed a sacred ritual, and punished the child by burning an imprint deep in his hand. Family looked on, horrified. Since then, when Emir believed his own children to be disobedient, he would threaten similar punishment. The level of fear experienced by Yvonne and the children grew in increments over time; eventually Yvonne believed she would be killed. Her sister had expressed the feeling to her that she would arrive one day and they would all be dead.
Yvonne had tried to leave the relationship twice before final separation when she arranged for a family member to call a friend in the faith community and pass on a message to Emir that she and the children were leaving. Shelter accommodation was organised through a local domestic violence support service. From there, Yvonne worked with a lawyer to obtain a protection order and with a psychologist to try to identify and understand her experiences over the past many years. Yvonne received critical support from the shelter and these professionals. On the first mention date, Emir appeared with his lawyer and supporters from the faith community. He denied any domestic violence but consented to a two-year protection order without admissions. Yvonne’s lawyer guided her through the process and ensured that she felt safe in the court and protected from any direct approaches from Emir or his lawyer. Yvonne felt the order was important to have because she was fearful of how Emir would react to her taking the children away.
Again, with the assistance of her lawyer, Yvonne participated in mediation with Emir over the telephone in an effort to make arrangements for the children. This process failed as Emir denied all of the circumstances surrounding the breakdown of the relationship. Ultimately, Yvonne made an application to the Family Court. A separate representative was appointed for the children, and a psychologist was consulted to ascertain the children’s wishes. The three older children, who were then aged in their early to mid-teens, made it clear that they did not want to see their father. Orders were made by the court granting Yvonne residence; and Emir, contact only with the youngest child once a fortnight at a supervised contact centre, gradually moving to overnight contact. Yvonne was required to email Emir to keep him generally updated about the children, and to facilitate email contact between the children and him. There was to be no phone contact. Yvonne believes that the psychologist could identify serious risks in Emir’s behaviour, particularly towards the children, justifying a highly protective approach to contact conditions.
Three years elapsed between separation and the Family Court orders. After the shelter, Yvonne and the children stayed in various forms of accommodation, and sought the help of multiple services for financial, legal and emotional support. Once the orders were settled, Yvonne and the children moved further away, necessitating a change in handover arrangements for the youngest child who, by that stage, was having overnight contact with Emir. On one occasion, Emir’s relative contacted Yvonne telling her that Emir and the youngest child had been crying together for hours. Yvonne knew this was out of character for the youngest child and became very concerned when the handover time passed at the agreed location. Emir returned the child late to a different location very close to their new home resulting in one of the children becoming extremely anxious about what Emir might do and needing significant counselling help in the aftermath. Yvonne observes how profoundly affected the three older children are by Emir’s prolonged abuse.
Yvonne is seeking further assistance from her lawyer to have the original contact orders reinstated as she believes the overnight contact is potentially detrimental to the youngest child. Meanwhile, the child is not having contact with Emir. Yvonne believes they have a good relationship, and Emir considers the child to be his favourite.
Property matters remain unresolved. The couple have land and money in Emir’s home country, but Yvonne has insufficient resources to take the necessary legal steps to facilitate a settlement of joint assets. She has received legal aid funding for past applications, but no longer qualifies, and has limited capacity to personally fund further actions. Yvonne is in a new relationship now, which she feels is going well, however she is cautious and on alert for any signs of the abuse she was subjected to for many years. She and her partner are building a business together, and caring for Yvonne’s four children. Yvonne feels she and the children are through the worst of their ordeal, though she believes there is always a risk that Emir will snap.