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.
Carol and Rod were both born overseas, sharing a country of origin where they met and lived together for some years before marrying and immigrating to Australia. English is their first language. They have two children who are now adults. Carol and Rod separated after twenty- five years; however they remain married to one another. Carol completed high school and obtained an industry qualification. She now works part-time. Rod is university educated, has a professional qualification and works in highly-remunerated employment. Throughout the relationship Rod worked overseas at remote locations for extended periods, returning home periodically. Rod continues to work in this manner, however Carol believes that he now returns only occasionally as he is concerned about being charged for multiple breaches of the protection order she has against him. Rod sends Carol his pay slips to show her how much money he is earning; he never paid child support. Carol believes that Rod has been mentally unwell for many years, though he’s never sought help or a diagnosis. Carol believes Rod has not accepted that the marriage is over even after 12 years of separation; he continues to wear his wedding ring, and tells her and others that they’re still together.
Carol describes their long relationship as turbulent and dysfunctional and recognises that Rod’s controlling behaviours began in the early years and escalated after they arrived in Australia with their infant first child. When the couple were still living overseas and Carol was pregnant, Rod sought to isolate Carol from her close family and support network by insisting on buying property some distance away from the town where her many family members resided. When Carol needed to buy business wear that was often expensive Rod would monitor her spending. On the advice of a friend, Carol carried a red texta pen so she could mark the tags as sale price before bringing them home for Rod to scrutinise. Carol opened a separate bank account of her own for her earnings and made sure the statements weren’t posted to their address; Rod insisted however that her earnings be exhausted first on groceries and household expenses before he made a contribution. Once in Australia, as well as his financially controlling and socially isolating behaviours, Rod became physically violent towards Carol, often punching and at times strangling her over many years. Rod would not allow the children to eat meals with him and Carol; he told them he wanted their mother to himself. Rod also often told the children Carol was mad, and when the children were adults he announced to them and other of Carol’s family members that she was dying. At one stage during a separation Rod tried to have Carol declared an unfit mother alleging alcoholism and mental illness; he subpoenaed her medical records, however was unable to substantiate his claims. Carol tried to leave the relationship on four occasions before their final separation. She returned each time because she found it too difficult to care for the children properly, she did not have adequate financial resources of her own, and Rod would regularly turn up at the homes of friends or family where she was staying and try to claim her back.
One evening Rod’s behaviour became so terrifying to Carol that she believed he would kill her. Rod had pinned their older child up against the wall; Carol retaliated telling him never to touch the children. For years, Carol had put up with Rod’s violence and abuse for fear that resistance would only exacerbate his behaviour; but she would not tolerate the children being harmed. Rod’s response was to force Carol into a chair, strangle her and hold two knives to her throat. The following day Carol’s neighbour told her that they thought an animal was being tortured in the garden. Somehow Carol managed to call the police; they attended quickly and, witnessing the marks on Carol’s neck and Rod’s state, took the matter seriously. As the police were arriving at the house, Rod took his shirt off and started drinking spirits from a bottle, though he’d not drunk previously that night. He tried to push past the police to get at Carol, and when stopped he smashed the glasses on the kitchen bench. The police handcuffed Rod and detained him elsewhere for the night while an officer remained and took a statement from Carol. She was extremely concerned that if the police took action against Rod, he would return the next day and kill her. The police persisted telling Carol that they must proceed and get a protection order on her behalf against Rod to ensure her safety. The matter was set down to be dealt with at the Magistrates Court the following afternoon, however Rod failed to appear and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The hearing proceeded and a final two-year protection order was made by the court prohibiting Rod from any form of contact with Carol and allowing Rod only supervised visits with the children. Carol found the court experience intimidating and unfamiliar: Rod was represented by a private lawyer; she was required to be in the courtroom with Rod at close proximity and no screens or other protections were offered. On a positive note the court’s domestic violence service arranged for her to sit in a separate waiting room before the hearing.
On the day the first protection order was granted, Rod withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars from various joint accounts and a line of credit never previously used, and sent the money to overseas bank accounts Carol had no knowledge of. Carol does not recall signing any documentation for the joint line of credit and was astonished and distraught that the bank would allow it to be drawn down without her authorisation. Rod had on many occasions promised to financially cripple Carol.
Following the protection order—which Carol says marked their final separation—the children lived with Carol, and saw their father occasionally under supervision by family members or friends. Rod did not seek parenting orders from the Family Court to secure this arrangement or to increase his contact time. Eventually, family and friends told Carol that they could no longer supervise Rod’s visits with the children because he did not spend the time with the children; rather he used it as an opportunity to question them about Carol.
Since separation Rod’s abuse of Carol has been constant and menacing, and continues after 12 years. Being out of the country is no bar to Rod’s capacity to abuse Carol. When overseas Rod rings or texts or emails Carol at least twice daily, and often more frequently. These communications are chaotic, disturbing and intimidating: they include taunts and insults; appeals to Carol to return to the marriage with pledges such as I love you, I’m worried about you, and I miss you; and goading with questions such as: Have I tipped you over the edge yet? Why are you making me having to kill you? He has sent pictures of dead children. He also sends Carol postcards, flowers, gifts and grocery deliveries. When in Australia, Rod has slept in the garden of the property where Carol lives (and owns jointly with Rod); he has broken into the property, stalked Carol and her friends in the local area, and twice followed her on overseas trips. On one occasion, knowing he was following her, Carol drove home quickly and locked herself in the house. Rod tried every door and window to gain access. While she sat behind the front door so that Rod couldn’t see her, Carol called the police in whispered tones, again so as not to alert him to her presence; the police later told Carol that they did not give the call priority because they expected that if she were genuinely fearful she would be screaming.
Carol has been forced to seek multiple protection orders over the years, and still requires an order even though she questions how effective they are given Rod’s serial and flagrant breaches. Due to Rod’s regular periods overseas and generally elusive behaviour, service of orders has been recurrently problematic, sometimes taking weeks for service to be effected. Carol has had to apply for substituted service. Rod has also prolonged and thwarted court proceedings by having his lawyer regularly seek adjournments on work grounds. Carol has been vigilant in recording Rod’s breaches and regularly reporting them to the police; however she feels that she may be regarded as an annoyance by some police officers. Rod has nevertheless been charged and convicted on five occasions for breaches of protection orders. Each time he has received a fine, which Carol believes has no deterrent effect due to Rod’s significant income, and the fine amount has reduced over time despite Rod’s reoffending. At no stage has Rod ever been charged with stalking or strangulation offences nor have police ever discussed these possibilities with Carol, though they have mentioned to her that they believe a term of imprisonment is appropriate for a future breach conviction. Carol believes that imprisonment would make a difference to Rod’s behaviour especially if he was also required to undertake a perpetrator intervention program as she feels that this is the best opportunity for his mental ill health to be addressed.
Carol has done her best to stay healthy and positive despite the history of abuse she continues to experience. She believes Rod is becoming more dangerous and the fear that Rod will one day kill her remains real and front of her mind. She avoids social media because she’s very concerned that it would be another means by which Rod could track her. She has also given up on developing any intimate relationship as she knows that Rod would attempt to follow and intimidate her and any partner.
Carol’s financial resources are limited, she earns a modest income, and has no assets of significant value other than the house property she resides in and owns jointly with Rod. Carol has for decades serviced the original debt on the property; she feels she can manage this with her earnings. Rod further mortgaged the property some years ago, and continues to service that liability. Carol’s preference is to divorce Rod but this would require a property settlement. Carol knows this process will precipitate the sale of the house property and the equity will largely be exhausted in paying debts accrued by Rod and yet held in their joint names.
Carol has had a long engagement with court processes mostly as a self-represented party attempting to seek protection against Rod’s violence and abuse. Her confidence has grown over the years, but she remains concerned that she is unable to secure the legal protection from Rod’s abuse that she needs. On one occasion she received advice from legal aid for a breach hearing against Rod; but she has always appeared in protection order matters on her own. She believes that police have mostly taken her complaints seriously, though at times she has felt that she’s an annoyance due to her frequent reporting of breaches, or that she’s been disbelieved, for example looking to exploit the process to achieve a favourable financial outcome for herself. Carol also feels that the Magistrates she has appeared before have rarely read or fully understood the material setting out the history of the violence and abuse, and that the penalties for breaches of protection orders are inconsistent, inadequate and Magistrate specific. Carol’s concerns and fears continue unabated.
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.
Felicity and Jason were in a relationship for two years, during which time they married and began living together. They separated soon after the birth of their only child who was diagnosed with Autism at a young age. Both are university educated and professionally qualified. Felicity now works part time and is studying to gain further qualifications. Jason is in highly-paid employment and is also retraining in another discipline. Their child, and Felicity’s two children from a previous marriage, live with Felicity in a house she owns. Jason has one child from a previous marriage; there are shared living and care arrangements in place with the mother, Jason’s first wife.
Felicity recalls when she first met Jason that he wasn’t a charmer, but intelligent and engaging, quite persistent, and even somewhat deceitful in his interactions with her. She found him interesting, and welcomed a male role model/father figure for her two children who she was pleased readily clicked with his child. While her children would have alternate weekends with their father, Felicity had been mostly sole parenting for some years while working in a demanding full-time job, and she felt they needed more adult support.
Felicity and Jason clashed from the start about parenting styles; Felicity put it down to the challenges associated with blending two families. Jason would often belittle his own child in front of her children, and early in the relationship he hit Felicity’s four-year old to the ground in the presence of his parents. Felicity told Jason never to touch the child again. Jason’s mother, who appeared to Felicity to be overly dominant in Jason’s life and their relationship, told her that she must leave Jason to discipline the children as he decided. The mother would ring Felicity daily.
Both Felicity and Jason come from strong religious backgrounds, however Jason insisted that Felicity and her children convert to his faith in preparation for the marriage. Felicity stopped going to the church she and her close extended family attended, and was required to attend Jason’s church where she felt uncomfortable and yet Jason and his family put pressure on her to participate. In his early interactions with Felicity’s family, Jason was so aggressive and confrontational in his views and behaviour that he alienated Felicity from them. Soon Felicity was no longer seeing or speaking to her family despite living only houses away and the cousins being close in age and friendship. They didn’t attend Felicity and Jason’s wedding.
Jason’s behaviour towards Felicity became more hostile and controlling. On an outing with the children, Felicity fell over in public and hurt herself; Jason laughed while others went to help her. When Jason travelled for work, as he often did, Felicity would ask Jason why he never called to talk with her and the children while he was away; Jason angrily accused her of checking up on him, and dictating when he must report to her. Jason’s mother told Felicity not to put demands on him. On their wedding night, Jason complained to Felicity about every aspect of the day, he threw a drink at her, tore a necklace from her neck, and pushed her up against the wall. A wedding guest witnessed the incident and went to seek help from other guests believing that Jason was about to hit Felicity; they intervened and took Jason away and he didn’t return to Felicity for a couple of days.
Further conflict arose around Jason’s demands for a child; he argued that Felicity had given another man children, and he was therefore similarly entitled. Despite her hectic work schedule and both being away regularly, Felicity was pregnant within a month of marrying.
When Felicity reprimanded his child for inappropriate comments, Jason held a knife to Felicity’s face. She withdrew to another room to diffuse the situation, and refused to comply when he demanded that she eat a meal with them. Jason told her she was “a piece of shit” and to “get the fuck out of my house” by the time he was back from church. At the time, Felicity’s children were holidaying with their father. Felicity packed some belongings and left to stay with a girlfriend, then travelled interstate for work; she made no contact with Jason until days later she told him she needed to come home and collect more belongings. Jason lectured her about sabotaging the family by causing trouble and leaving.
Felicity had leased her own house out so it wasn’t available to move back into. She tried to talk to Jason’s mother about getting Jason to agree to Felicity taking over the lease on their current shared property so that when her children returned from holidays, they would be in familiar, settled surrounds; his mother refused, and told her she had to live with the situation she had caused. Jason told Felicity the relationship didn’t need to end; she should have tried to reconcile and now she needed “to fix her act up”. Jason then left for interstate to see friends. Felicity stayed on at the house as her children were coming home, she was pregnant, and she felt she had no other choices.
Felicity and her sister began having contact again. The sister commented to Felicity that every six weeks Jason would explode, then disappear for a week, then return in good and generous spirits, then the cycle would start over.
Around half way through Felicity’s pregnancy, Jason became angry and insistent about wanting a boy. He disappeared for a few days and arrived unexpectedly at the hospital where Felicity was having a scan. When told by the radiographer they were having a boy, he said “good” and left the hospital. Another argument soon followed about the baby’s name and christening arrangements. Felicity left to stay with her sister and, when she returned home, Jason threatened to shoot her (he had an unlicensed firearm), he threw her makeup and clothes out the window onto the concrete driveway, and again told her to get out of the house. Felicity managed to get to the car and drive away, then called the police, explaining the circumstances and that she was a government employee. When the police came to the house half an hour later, Jason had gone and Felicity’s sister had arrived. The police did not ask for any details about Jason or the incident, they gave Felicity no information about available protections, and, before leaving, simply asked her if she’d be “right”. With assistance from friends, Felicity moved all of her own and children’s belongings out of the house while Jason was absent, sent boxes to friends’ houses, and went to stay with her sister. This threw the family into chaos as they didn’t have access to what they needed, including the children’s school uniforms. Jason sent her abusive texts accusing her of ruining her children’s lives, and questioning her faith and who she worships.
Felicity and Jason kept their finances separate: he provided the house, and she paid for all other expenses, unaware of his earnings or assets. Some months prior, Jason had pressured Felicity into buying a block of land together that they could develop. When it came time to settle, he claimed he had no money. Felicity solely funded the purchase despite the land being registered in joint names. At that stage, one month from giving birth, Felicity was committed to the mortgage on the land, she had tenants in her own home, and she was facing the prospect of having to pay rent on another house for herself and 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.
Jane and Richard met at university and later married. They had two children together, and finally separated after 25 years. Both are tertiary educated, however Richard assumed the primary earner role early in the relationship and priority was given to his professional advancement. Jane supported Richard’s career pursuits—which involved a number of relocations, here and overseas—and became the primary carer of their children who are in their mid to late teenage years. The children live with Jane and have limited contact with Richard who continues to live and work overseas and returns periodically. There are no Family Court parenting orders, however there are consent orders dealing with the settlement of marital property between Jane and Richard and access to children during school holidays. Jane had completed a Graduate Diploma whilst raising the children, and had been in unrelated paid employment for brief periods when the family was based in Australia. However she had not attained any significant experience or career progression as caring for the children was her main priority. Just prior to separation Jane accepted a full-time job that for the first time utilized her degree. She supports herself and the children from her modest income; and under the terms of the consent orders, Richard is discharged from any responsibility to pay child support. The property settlement entitles Jane to funds from the sale of a house property, which she intends to use to purchase a home for her and the children.
Marrying so young, Jane had little experience of relationships or what to expect. Richard always earned a high salary and from the outset took charge of their finances and purchases. As a couple they bought a number of real estate properties, which he referred to as his own, despite their being registered in Jane’s name and clearly shared assets. Without the qualification and experience she’d hoped to obtain, Jane could only work in low-paid positions; and, after having children and living as expats overseas, was unable to work at all. Richard belittled Jane for her lack of financial contribution, and regularly monitored her weekly spending against the allowance he had allocated that was often insufficient for essentials. She was required to show Richard receipts for all of her expenditure. Richard could become enraged when he believed Jane had overspent or acted without his approval, and would often throw and break items precious to Jane to show his displeasure with her and to intimidate her. Early in the relationship when Jane freely expressed her opinions with Richard, he threw a coffee cup toward her head which flew out an open window and travelled 5 metres before smashing on the neighbour’s brick wall. On another occasion he ripped up certificates of her achievement in music. If she went out he would call her regularly to check on her movements and who she was with. Over time Jane tried to follow his instructions so as to avoid his angry outbursts; however she found herself becoming increasingly isolated, anxious and depressed, diminished by Richard’s abuse, and lacking in self-esteem. Meanwhile, she was caring for two children, for the most part by herself, and coping with the additional challenges of establishing a home and friendships, and raising a family in various overseas locations. Despite Jane’s ‘anything-for-peace’ approach, Richard repeatedly criticised her mothering and homemaking abilities; and the children would often express concern for how she was feeling after Richard had finished his abusive rants.
Jane became distressed about how one of the children was coping and behaving and managed to get Richard’s approval to spend money on therapy on the basis that it was about the child. It was during this time that Jane realised that she needed help herself, and began attending therapy sessions in secret, knowing that Richard would be outraged and refuse to pay if he found out.
Jane describes an emotionally traumatic separation that was prolonged over five years as she struggled to find ways to persuade Richard to address the problems in their relationship together. Jane felt she had to try hard to do what she could to save the marriage, but at the same time was learning to understand and deal with the fact that Richard had controlled her behavior for so many years. She decided that it was best to return to Australia, settle the children into their final years of high school, retrain, get a job and try to rebuild herself while Richard remained in his overseas position. When he visited from time to time, Jane tried to arrange couple counselling, but Richard would either get angry or disengage.
Eventually Jane felt the marriage was over and she engaged solicitors to take the necessary steps to deal with issues relating to the children and property. In the years that followed Jane spent $100,000 of her own and family funds on legal fees, an outlay that has significantly eroded her financial resources. She reports having competent and supportive advisers, however believes that they were unable to effectively deal with Richard’s evasive, manipulative and dishonest conduct in relation to disclosure of income and assets, preservation of assets, child support, mediation, and settlement of consent orders. She reports that Richard would send numerous emails to her solicitors based on the assumption that her solicitors would read them and then charge her. She feels that it perhaps would have been preferable to take the matter to trial where Richard’s conduct and credibility could have been assessed by a court, but concedes the merits of her legal advice that the financial and emotional cost of this option would have been prohibitive. Richard continued to humiliate Jane through this process by cutting off services and insurance, cancelling the children’s school enrolments, and reneging on agreements. In particular he reneged on a signed Mediation agreement for settlement. Richard also systematically used the Child Support system to continue the emotional and financial abuse. For instance, despite several international flights and maintaining business interests and assets overseas, Richard was able to convince Child Support that he had no income. Richard has also driven onto the property Jane is renting after she asked him not to. She finds him intimidating and at one stage considered applying for a protection order against him. Jane reflects that at no point has Richard ever been held accountable or borne any consequences for his abusive behaviour.
When the consent orders were finally put before the court for approval, the judge acknowledged they were unjust and inequitable to Jane, but the reality of her situation dictated that she would be unable to afford the cost of having the multiple contested matters adjudicated on by the court. While Jane knows that she did not receive the share of the marital assets that she was entitled to, she feels fortunate that her settlement funds will be sufficient to be financially comfortable provided she continues working and spends prudently. She is finally able to work toward full registration in her chosen career, which she was unable to pursue previously.
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.
Leah and Ethan were both born overseas, share a country of origin, and speak English as a second language. They are both tertiary educated. While they didn’t know one another, their respective families decided they were a good match and so they married. In a sense, it was an arranged marriage; Leah says she proceeded with it out of respect for her parents, and was too young to have any idea of what marriage involved. Sometime before the marriage, Ethan had come to Australia on a student visa and was later granted permanent residency. Once married, Leah travelled to Australia on a tourist visa and was later also granted permanent residency. Leah and Ethan were in a relationship for five years, however continued to live, separated under the one roof, for a further five years. They have two children, the older born overseas, the younger born in Australia.
Leah and Ethan married overseas according to certain traditions and customs. These influences had not been strong in Leah’s upbringing, so she found the experience strange and unfamiliar. She recalls being derided publicly by Ethan’s family about dowry and other issues. Following the wedding there were numerous events and ceremonies over many days. Ethan made no contact with Leah during that time until he approached Leah’s father to advise that he couldn’t look after Leah for a while as he needed to sort out visa problems.
Eventually Leah and Ethan travelled to Australia. They lived in a motel until they found a house to rent. Leah felt insecure, nervous and isolated. Ethan left for work each morning, and told Leah to lock the house and not go out. Ethan did not give Leah any money; rather, he would take her to the shops to buy the groceries and he would pay. Leah had no experience of cooking or cleaning or running a household; if she were in her home country, she would have received a great deal of help and support from her family. Leah tried to learn about housekeeping on the internet. Ethan monitored her internet usage, and kept the passwords. Ethan wouldn’t buy a vacuum cleaner and made Leah pick up dirt with her hands. He was angry often, complaining that the house wasn’t clean and Leah was a burden. Leah was rarely allowed to call her parents, and when she did, the call had to be on speaker. Ethan bullied Leah about being a vegetarian, and told her they couldn’t have a relationship if she didn’t eat meat. As a result Leah began to eat meat, but when she ate meat Ethan would call her a ‘pig’ and ridicule the way she ate.
On one occasion, Ethan went on a work trip which was meant to be for two days, but he didn’t return for ten days. He left Leah with no money or phone access. Leah had only enough packet noodles to eat once a day. She was terrified of being alone for that period; she stayed up all night in front of the television and tried to sleep during the day.
Leah and Ethan travelled overseas for a month when Leah was in the early stages of her first pregnancy; it was a work trip for Ethan. Leah was unwell with morning sickness and unable to leave the hotel room. Ethan would not allow her to order food claiming it was too expensive. She went for days without food, was exhausted, and lost a significant amount of weight. Leah then went back to her home country to stay with her parents for the balance of the pregnancy and the birth. They were extremely worried about her health, but were unaware at that stage of how Ethan was treating her.
After the birth, Leah and the baby returned to Australia to live with Ethan in a house he had purchased. Leah describes herself as a slave throughout the relationship. Ethan called her from work multiple times a day to check she had showered, cleaned the house and done the other chores he required. He stipulated who Leah could and could not have contact with, and what she was able to wear, insisting that Australian dress was not appropriate. Leah did however become more assertive regarding matters affecting the child’s wellbeing. Ethan refused to spend money on a pram, car seat and other usual baby items, and resisted when Leah asked for money to buy baby food and other essentials. Ethan would verbally abuse Leah in the shopping centre and, when home, would push her, pull her hair and grab her around the throat. Ethan would also rape Leah regularly despite her cries for him to stop. On one occasion he dragged her by the hair and violently raped her while the youngest child was sleeping alongside the bed. Leah never wanted Ethan to come near her; she had no contraception, nor any understanding of it. Leah rarely left the house, and even within the house, she stayed mostly in one corner of her bedroom near the television, going to the kitchen only when required to cook. She never went to the upper level of the house.
Leah’s parents visited for a few months during and after Leah’s second pregnancy. Leah told Ethan that she needed the help and her parents would pay for most things. The parents were shocked to witness first hand Ethan’s treatment of Leah. Her father was distressed by what he felt he had allowed happen to his daughter and suffered a long period of depression.
Despite the debilitating effects of Ethan’s violence and abuse, Leah looked for opportunities to become less dependent on him. She studied and gained a further degree, got a job, opened her own bank account, and paid for the groceries from her own money. Ethan objected to Leah’s new independence and suspected she may be planning to leave. He stopped work so he could be at home to monitor her. He hid recording devices and sensors around the house. Leah confronted Ethan, asking him to explain his behaviour, and then turned off or broke the devices.
Over time, Leah did gather the courage to leave. She knew she had to be careful as Ethan was likely to become angry and violent and would try to stop her. Leah sought advice from a community legal service about applying for a protection order. Whenever Ethan was out, she began shifting her belongings to the neighbour’s house. She organised alternative private accommodation and, while her parents were still visiting, in a single day, got their help to move in and look after the children so she could attend the Magistrates Court. The legal service had prepared the necessary documents and a solicitor met her at the court ready to apply for a temporary protection order. When Ethan discovered Leah and the children had left, he called and messaged her repeatedly, threatening to report her to the Federal Police. Ethan agreed to a one year protection order. He also had Leah put on an immigration watch list to prevent her from leaving the country with the children.
Ethan organised mediation to make contact arrangements. Leah felt that Ethan manipulated the mediator, and that the mediator did not listen to her requests or concerns, including that she did not want to be in the same room as Ethan during the process, despite the mediator being aware of the protection order. Leah was not happy with the outcome allowing Ethan contact for 11 nights across 28 days, but she agreed nevertheless. Ethan rarely complied with the contact arrangements. Leah instructed a lawyer and a hearing date was set in the Federal Circuit Court to deal with property matters. Meanwhile, Ethan continued to message Leah about getting back together. Leah ignored his pleas, but was concerned that he would use the children to continue controlling her.
Leah says the protection order was effective as Ethan’s harassment by text stopped and she was otherwise free from any form of contact with him. Leah did not seek to apply for another order on its expiration as she believed she would need to engage a lawyer, which she couldn’t afford. Leah remains frustrated and concerned by Ethan’s care of the children; in particular, the younger child does not want to spend time with Ethan. The older child, a mature and independent teenager, moves freely between the two houses. Ethan is unreliable and rarely confirms arrangements with Leah. The older child tends to be the liaison and buffer between them.
Property matters have now been settled by consent. Ethan was reprimanded by the Federal Circuit Court judge for his failure to disclose his financial position. While Leah was represented by a lawyer, she felt she must settle as she did not have the resources to fund the matter to a trial. Ethan is required to sell the house they lived in, and the profit along with superannuation is to be shared equally. Leah received a much smaller sum than she expected from the sale of the family home and most of it will be spent on the considerable debts and expenses she has to discharge including legal fees.
Leah experienced years of physical, sexual, financial, emotional and social abuse. The abuse was seriously detrimental to her sleep and health. Now that she has left the relationship and taken steps to protect herself, she feels safer however, she believes Ethan is spying on her and that he has made contact with her neighbours. She also believes that Ethan tries to control her through the children. Leah has had to retrain as her previous employment was beginning to cause health problems. She cares for herself and the children on a part-time wage and minimal welfare while she is studying. Ethan pays no child support. Leah is determined to improve her circumstances and build a good life for her children. She believes that because of insufficient funds she was unable to achieve fair results through the justice process. She has immense praise and gratitude for the assistance she received from the community legal service and social workers.
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.
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.
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.