Social abuse

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • Barbara was a 65 year old woman referred to the Seniors Legal and Support Service by a community health service following concerns that she was being physically, sexually, financially and psychologically abused by her husband of six years, Stan.

    It was initially difficult to speak to Barbara as her husband was controlling and would not allow her to have contact with people he did not know. Barbara had reported to her community health service worker that her husband abused her by:

    • Shouting, swearing and name calling.
    • Rarely leaving her alone so that she was unable to have contact with anyone without his knowledge or presence. Barbara’s only outing and contact with friends was through Church as she was permitted to attend the Sunday service.
    • Intentionally tripping her on a number of occasions while knowing that she had multiple health problems and was physically frail.
    • Sexually abusing her on a regular basis and refusing to take “no” for an answer.
    • Terrifying her to the point that she feared taking any action in case he retaliated with abuse.

    In addition, Barbara was financially dependent on her husband and he controlled all their finances. She was unable to receive social security benefits because of her husband’s income and assets. Barbara owned the house she and her husband were living in and she was fearful that he would “trash the house” if she left him.

    Barbara informed the Seniors Legal and Support Service that her husband became abusive soon after they married. His son was also disrespectful towards Barbara and she was anxious that he would move in with them. Barbara had no contact with her own daughter from a previous relationship although she did have a close relationship with her sister who lived in Adelaide. Her sister contacted her by phone daily but was unable to provide practical assistance due to distance. Her sister was also afraid of Stan.

    Barbara had become socially isolated during her marriage to Stan and had lost contact with many friends and family at his insistence. She had several serious medical conditions and had been advised that her prognosis is poor and she should not expect to live long.

    Barbara instructed the Seniors Legal and Support Service that she would like her husband out of her life so that she could “live in peace” for the remainder of her life.

    The solicitor and social worker made initial contact by phone when Stan was at work. Barbara was provided with immediate advice on her options for a DVO and an ouster condition. Barbara was reluctant to act on this fearing that her husband’s abuse and violence would escalate if he discovered she had sought legal advice. Domestic violence counselling and support was provided to Barbara in partnership with community services to help her make clear decisions about her safety and future. Safety plans put in place while Barbara continued to live with her husband.

    The Seniors Legal and Support Service solicitor helped Barbara to draft a DVO application with ouster condition when Barbara decided she would separate from her husband. Care was taken to ensure her safety during this process - Barbara was only seen in a safe place, and phone calls were only made to her mobile at times when it was safe to ring. The Seniors Legal and Support Service solicitor provided legal representation for her DVO application.

    The solicitor also provided advice regarding Stan and Barbara’s Binding Financial Agreement and liaised with Barbara’s community health service worker to assist with an application to Centrelink for income support.

    Later, the solicitor also assisted with a divorce application while the social worker continued to provide emotional support and counselling as Barbara coped with the trauma of living with an abusive spouse and then made adjustments to living on her own. A psychology service referral was given but Barbara’s frailty and unwillingness to trust “officials” meant she did not take this up.

    With assistance over 15 months, Barbara was able to remove her husband from her home and live without violence, fear and anxiety. Barbara also wanted closure by ending the marriage and all efforts were made by the Seniors Legal and Support Service to expedite a divorce application, however, Barbara passed away prior to the hearing.

  • Ben and Alison were in a relationship for around 3 years. They have 1 child together, James. James is now 2 years old.

    During the relationship, Ben experienced Alison to be very extreme in her emotions. There were times when Alison became very upset and angry in situations which seemed to be unprompted or arise out of relatively minor or unexpected disagreements. Alison often became very jealous and often, without reason, accused Ben of having affairs with other people.

    Alison would often become angry and upset when Ben went out with any of his friends or family. If Ben was going out, Alison would often quiz Ben on whom he was going with and where he was going. Ben often did not spend time with his friends or family so that Alison did not become upset.

    There were several occasions where Alison broke Ben’s belongings, sometimes throwing them around. Sometimes, Alison physically assaulted Ben.

    On an occasion, when Ben was driving, Alison accused Ben of having affairs with his friend’s wife as well as a neighbour. Alison then punched Ben in the face with a closed fist while driving, causing Ben to bleed from his mouth and nose.

    On another occasion, Ben’s family invited Ben, Alison and James over to their home for Christmas lunch. Alison was unhappy about Ben seeing his family. Alison refused to see Ben’s family and would not allow James to go. Ben went over to his family’s home alone. Upon his return, Ben brought back gifts for Alison and James from his family. Alison threw the bag of gifts at the wall breaking the items and pushed Ben in the chest and in the back as he tried to walk away from her.

    Often unprompted or after a minor disagreement, Alison would demand that Ben leave their home. If Ben would not agree with something Alison wanted, she would threaten to call the Police on Ben or threaten to kill herself until he relented.

    After Ben and Alison separated, Alison became increasingly threatening.

    Alison told Ben to “watch his back” and talked about her friends in motorcycle gangs. Alison also sent text messages to Ben on many occasions with comments like “I dreamed you died. Let’s hope dreams come true”. Alison often threatened that Ben would never see James again.

    Alison also became increasingly emotionally abusive towards Ben. Often, Alison made comments to Ben like “everyone thinks you are a disgusting and pathetic cunt”. Alison was particularly derogatory about Ben’s relationship with his son. She would tell Ben that James hates him; and make sexually explicit comments about Ben and James. Also, Alison often made taunting comments about Ben’s sister who had died.

    Initially after separation, Alison would only allow James to spend time with Ben in very limited ways or not at all. Ben did not have any risk issues affecting his parenting.

    On one occasion, Alison agreed to meet Ben at a shopping centre so that Ben could spend time with James. During the time, Alison became very agitated about how Ben was putting a jumper on James. Alison started to verbally abuse Ben, and then accused him of having affairs during their relationship. Alison slapped Ben in the face. After this incident, Alison made a private application for a protection order against Ben. Alison did not attend any of the Court dates and the application was dismissed.

    On another occasion, Alison stalked Ben whilst he was spending time with James. There was an occasion when Ben was at his parent’s home with James at a time when Alison thought James should be having his nap. Alison sent Ben text messages demanding that he leave his parent’s home. Alison was very controlling around James’ time with Ben. Alison would demand that Ben send constant photos of James to her to prove that he was caring for James in accordance with her requirements. This included photos of James wearing the pyjamas she wanted him to wear, the right bed clothes in his cot and the right toys.

    After Ben was unable to have any regular time with James, he invited Alison to dispute resolution to try and sort out some arrangements for Ben. Alison did not respond to the invitation.

    In the meantime, Alison told Ben that she was taking James to Bali for a short holiday. At first, Ben was concerned about agreeing to a passport for James. But after Alison threatened to kill herself, Ben agreed to Alison taking James overseas. Alison went to Bali with James and refused to return for over a year. Indonesia is not a party to the Hague Convention. On two occasions, at Alison’s request, Ben sent Alison hundreds of dollars to pay for flights for Alison and James to return. Alison took the money but did not use it for their return.

    Eventually, Alison returned to Australia with James. Ben initiated family law proceedings. Ultimately, the Family Law Court made final orders for James to spend regular but age appropriate time with Ben.

    Ben did not particularly identify himself as a victim of domestic and family violence. Ben did recognise that the relationship with Alison had a damaging effect on his self esteem and sense of self; and engaged in counselling.

  • Brenda is a 70 year old woman who was referred to a Seniors Legal and Support Service, a State Government-funded service to respond to elder abuse.

    Brenda lived with her husband Kevin in a caravan on her daughter’s property. Kevin was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive towards Brenda. The police and a domestic violence prevention service helped Brenda to apply for a domestic violence prevention order after Kevin pushed and hit her on several occasions.

    Brenda stated that the verbal and emotional abuse had continued after the protection order was made and that he also pushed her from time to time. She could no longer tolerate her husband’s behaviour towards her and wished to separate from him.

    Brenda’s daughter and son-in-law decided they no longer wanted Brenda and Kevin living on their property and became “nasty” towards Brenda. They also blocked Brenda’s access to the laundry located in their house.

    Kevin told Brenda he intended to travel around Australia for six months in the caravan but Brenda didn’t want to leave Brisbane and asked the Seniors Legal and Support Service to help her relocate safely.

    She also asked for advice about financial abuse and exploitation from another daughter, Kim. Brenda had lent Kim $105,000 two years previously to help her to purchase her own home. Kim had since sold the house, initially refused to discharge the loan, and then later offered to repay Brenda $150 per week which she said Brenda could access using her ATM card. Brenda was worried that there was no written agreement and a risk that her daughter would not make regular payments or cease repayments before the full amount was repaid.

    Brenda had suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following a home invasion when she was confronted by an intruder. As a result, she feared living alone, being unsupported or socially isolated. She acknowledged that her relationships with her daughters and son-in-law were tense and her relationships with her siblings were also poor.

    The Seniors Legal and Support Service lawyer and social worker arranged for a meeting room at the local community centre and community transport so that Brenda could meet them there for a confidential discussion.

    Safety plans were discussed with Brenda, including ways the legal service could contact her that would not jeopardise her safety.

    The solicitor explained to Brenda that she should call the police if her husband continued to abuse her and clarified that she was required to report any breaches so that orders could be enforced to give her protection.

    Brenda considered advice about putting in place a written repayment agreement with Kim but was reluctant to take that step, fearing she would lose her relationship with Kim and that Kim would retaliate by stopping all repayments. Brenda understood that the informal arrangement meant she still risked irregular or possible cessation of payments.

    The social worker worked through future housing options with Brenda, taking into account her need for social contact and the financial constraints as a single pensioner once separated from Kevin. The service helped her investigate retirement village, private rental, over-50s private rentals and social housing rental options. Brenda was anxious about her financial survival as an ageing, single renter. The service advocated to the social/public housing authorities to take into account her vulnerabilities.

    As a result of a range of supports and legal advice, Brenda was able to obtain a protection order; she learnt more about how the domestic violence legislation applied to her situation and understood her options in dealing with breaches. She also understood her options in dealing with the loan arrangements with her daughter and how to obtain a divorce. Psycho-social supports and practical assistance in securing housing meant Brenda was able to leave an abusive and negative home environment.

    Social work support continued to provide Brenda with emotional support while she adjusted to the changes in her life.

    Brenda was satisfied that she had made informed decisions for her life and knows how to seek further help and advice from a range of sources should she require it.

    Brenda had contacted the Seniors Legal and Support Service twice, about a year apart. She felt unable to act on the issues initially but was encouraged to recontact at any time.

    Brenda is vulnerable due to her age and related health issues, social isolation and lack of family support. A protection order and access to ongoing support service advice have given Brenda some confidence and feeling of safety to deal with her situation.

  • 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.

  • Celina and David grew up in the same country of origin, however at the time they met through an online dating website, David had been living in Australia for 7 years, and Celina was still living in her home country with her mother. Celina also has a sister and family living in Australia. Both Celina and David have been married previously, are professionally qualified and aged in their thirties. David has a primary-school age child who lives with his former wife and spends regular weekend and holiday time with David. After Celina and David married overseas, David promptly returned to Australia and Celina applied to Australian Immigration for a joint visa for herself and her mother, with David as their sponsor. When the visa was granted, Celina resigned from her professional employment and travelled to Australia to live with David; Celina’s mother followed a few months later to allow them some time to settle in together.

    Celina speaks fondly of her early days living with David. She described him as gentlemanly, respectful, loving and enthusiastic about showing her the sights of the exciting city she had moved to. Celina had experienced stigma in her own culture due to being a divorced woman, and felt that her marriage to David restored her dreams for a good life and a family. She was committed to supporting David in caring for his child, and believes she made a genuine effort to build a relationship. When the child was staying with Celina and David, Celina would take care of the child’s needs, prepare meals and do the housekeeping while David went to work. This was not a lifestyle Celina was accustomed to having been employed and independent for many years. Celina was unable to get employment while on a temporary visa and was therefore entirely financially dependent on David.

    One evening, around a month after Celina arrived in Australia, David’s behaviour towards her changed abruptly. It was the child’s birthday and they had planned to collect the child from the mother’s house and go out for dinner. Celina had prepared and wrapped presents. David refused to allow Celina to travel in the car on the basis that it would upset the child’s mother. Instead, she was dropped somewhere close to a big junction on the way and was pushed out of the car by force. In the middle of an unfamiliar area, she walked down the street and stopped at a supermarket and decided to wait there as it was getting dark and she didn’t know where else to go being still new to Australia. She was left for several hours until David eventually collected her. Celina found herself highly distressed, at night in unfamiliar surrounds, and confused and hurt by David’s inconsiderate treatment. Not knowing what to do, she rang his parents and her own mother (all living overseas) seeking their advice and comfort. She pleaded with David’s father to contact David and ask him to collect her. David’s mother told her that David had a bad temper but he couldn’t afford to have another marriage fail. Celina’s mother advised that she must try hard to make the marriage work. When David collected Celina later that evening, he shouted abuse at her, claiming that she was trouble and had ruined the child’s birthday, and that he didn’t want a woman who wouldn’t obey him. Once home, David left Celina in the car crying for half an hour then returned and grabbed and shook her violently. Considerably smaller than David, Celina felt scared and weak and asked him to stop; he then dragged her out of the car and pushed her away. Celina fell and hit her head on the concrete driveway resulting in a painful bump to her head and wounded right foot. David dragged her into the house where she laid crying and shaking on the floor while he had a meal. Seemingly to revive her, David began slapping Celina repeatedly on both cheeks, and then tossed a bucket of water over her face. Some hours later, Celina managed to get to her feet and make her way to their bed; however, David had gone to sleep in the child’s bedroom, which Celina was shocked by so early in their time living together. In the days following, David apologised to Celina, but remained angry about her contacting the parents and sharing details of their marriage, which he believed should remain private.

    Over time, David demanded that Celina take on more and more of the household duties and child caring responsibilities. David began scolding and verbally abusing Celina in the presence of the child who mimicked his father’s behaviour towards her. Celina was not allowed a phone of her own; instead, David would give her his personal mobile while he was at work and he would use his office mobile to call her incessantly through the day, principally to tell her what he wanted done and to get details of the meals and snacks she was preparing for the child. When David returned home, he would check the activity and search history on his personal mobile and inspect the food in the fridge and cupboards. So demeaned by this suspicious conduct, Celina decided to document meals and activities through the day by taking digital photographs and loading them on David’s Dropbox so he could inspect and verify them. David only ever gave Celina small amounts of cash to cover public transport costs to and from the child’s school; otherwise, she had no access to any funds. He also accused her of secreting spare coins for her own use. They argued daily about David’s demands and Celina’s resistance to comply. David would often skype his parents and complain to them about Celina being a bad wife, aware that Celina was listening.

    Not long after the incident on the child’s birthday, David had an argument with the child’s mother at a changeover occasion and, in full view of the child, tried to strangle her. The child’s mother called the police who subsequently issued a protection order against David. Celina believed that he was also charged with assault and the matter would go to a hearing. At the same time Celina’s relationship with David was deteriorating, David was putting pressure on Celina to provide a character reference (character evidence) for the court. He told her it was her chance to do something for him and to save the marriage. His lawyer told her that a strong reference from her as David’s wife would be highly persuasive to the court. Celina made a number of attempts to write a favourable reference, but felt conflicted and wronged given David’s ongoing abuse. She kept the reference to herself, unsigned, knowing that the hearing date was still some months away.

    As planned, Celina’s mother travelled to Australia with David after he had been on a brief visit to their home country. They were to live together in the same house, and Celina’s mother was to share the child’s bedroom. David however insisted that the child sleep between him and Celina while the mother stayed in the other room. Celina tried to talk with David about alternative and more comfortable sleeping arrangements, but he wasn’t amenable. One night, Celina was left with so little room in the bed that she fell out and injured herself. David handed her over to her mother and went back to sleep. Celina and her mother were forced to sleep together in a very small bed. Thereafter, they spent most nights on the couches in the living room. The marital relationship soured and sexual relations ceased, yet Celina continued to make an effort to look after David’s child and keep the household going despite suffering diarrhoea, headaches, muscle and back pain, and feelings of stress and depression.

    Another evening (in the presence of Celina and her mother), David skyped his parents, again complaining about Celina. During the conversation, Celina tried to correct David’s claims and explain her experience of his behaviour. David called her (in their first language) a prostitute and accused her of having sex with her mother because they slept together. He then wielded a coffee cup as if to throw it at her when Celina’s mother physically intervened. Later, as he became increasingly intoxicated, he told them both to leave the house before he turned into an animal; he said he would refuse them food and drinks and get rid of them if they caused trouble with his child. He threatened to separate them and send Celina’s mother back to her home country. When David was asleep, Celina and her mother went to a neighbour who called the police. Celina believed the police were sympathetic to her situation and could see that David was volatile and dangerous. While Celina and her mother were at the police station, David arrived and began arguing with the officers in an aggressive manner. The police returned Celina and her mother to David’s home as they were unable to find emergency accommodation for them due to their not being permanent residents; again, David began arguing with the police, whereupon the police told Celina and her mother to pack their belongings and leave David’s home as soon as possible. Soon after the police left, David destroyed the wedding photographs hung on the wall by smashing them in front of Celina. Celina and her mother were left totally helpless. Using the neighbour’s mobile phone, Celina contacted her sister who was living interstate and sought her help. At that time, Celina destroyed the character reference she had written in relation to David’s assault proceedings.

    The police initiated a protection order application on Celine’s behalf and, at the first mention date, secured a temporary protection order. Soon after, Celine and her mother relocated interstate to stay with the sister. A second mention date was set, however the police advised Celina that it wasn’t necessary for her to appear in person. When she contacted the police after the mention, she was told that the application had been withdrawn because she had moved interstate.

    Celina and her mother began living with the sister, however it was soon apparent that the sister and her family didn’t have the financial resources to support them, and they were forced to leave and find alternative accommodation. Celina sought advice from a local domestic violence support organisation which she says provided them with advice and access to support when she and her mother were desperate and homeless. The service arranged refuge accommodation for them both, provided transport to the refuge and financial assistance to cover their ongoing needs, referred them to psychiatric counselling to cope with the stress and depression they were experiencing, and gave Celina advice and assistance in applying for a protection order on the basis of David’s abusive and threatening behaviour. Celina and her mother also applied for and were granted the Centrelink Special Benefit soon after they moved interstate. Celina obtained a temporary protection order, however service was delayed as David’s current address and whereabouts are not known. When eventually the matter was heard by the magistrate, Celina was unrepresented, whereas David had a solicitor and barrister acting for him. Feeling pressured, Celina accepted a written undertaking from David that he would not contact her, and would be of good behaviour and not commit any act of domestic violence towards her for one year. Celina and her mother sought advice from a community immigration lawyer, and have now been granted permanent residency status. They are now both housed, safe and supported, and Celina is studying. Celina is not sure of the outcome of David’s assault charge; however, she believes he pleaded guilty and was placed on a good behaviour bond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Leyla is 15 years old.

    Leyla moved to Australia from Iraq when she was 12 years old. Leyla lives with her parents, siblings and uncle.

    Leyla’s mother told Leyla that arrangements had been made for her to marry an older cousin in Iraq. In preparation for the marriage, Leyla’s family travelled to Iraq and paid a dowry. Leyla’s parents told Leyla that after the end of the next school term, she would no longer be going to school. Leyla’s older brother told Leyla she didn’t need to go to school now because soon she would be married. Her new role would be to look after her husband and their home.

    Leyla did not want to get married. Leyla wanted to keep going to school. She likes school. For Leyla, it feels very important to her that she finishes her education.

    Leyla told her mother that she did not want to get married. In response, Leyla’s mother told Leyla that she was bringing shame on her family. Leyla’s mother slapped Leyla in the face and pushed her, causing her to hit her head against the wall. Leyla’s mother took away her mobile.

    Leyla told her teacher about her family’s plans to force her into marriage. Her teacher made a report to the child protection agency, who contacted the Australian Federal Police.

    Leyla left home with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police. Leyla now lives in youth supported accommodation.

    Once Leyla left home, she also disclosed that her uncle had been sexually inappropriate towards her, including exposing himself to her. This allegation was investigated by police and child protection.

    The Australian Federal Police referred Leyla to Legal Aid. With the representation of Legal Aid, Leyla made an application to the Family Law Court for orders placing Leyla’s name on the Family Law Watch List and restraining her family from removing her from Australia or from forcing her into marriage.

    Leyla’s family have made ongoing threats to Leyla. Leyla’s brother sent Leyla a message over Facebook saying “If you don’t come home soon, then Dad will have you killed”. With the assistance of Legal Aid, Leyla reported this behaviour to the police. Police applied for a protection order to protect Leyla.

    Living in supported accommodation, Leyla feels very isolated from her religion, culture, family and friends. Leyla has struggled with her mental health; and at times, has felt suicidal.

  • 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.

  • Rosa and Ken were both born overseas, and have completed tertiary education. English is Rosa’s second language and she requires the assistance of an interpreter for other than basic communications. Ken is in highly-paid professional employment. They first made contact through an internet dating website, and then met in Europe for a holiday. The relationship developed quickly: Rosa arranged a tourist visa for Ken to stay for a few months with Rosa in her home country where they married and Rosa became pregnant. Ken’s work then took them to another country where they settled briefly—together with Rosa’s high-school aged child from a previous marriage—and their baby was born. Less than a year later, they all moved to Australia, again for Ken’s work. Ken came on a temporary work visa with Rosa (as his wife) and the children as dependents. They separated only two months after arriving in Australia, when the infant was aged six months. Rosa advised Australian Immigration of the separation and related circumstances, and was granted a visa extension. While Rosa was in full-time work in her home country, she has not been employed since her departure.

    Rosa explains that she noticed problems with Ken’s behaviour during his first work posting (prior to coming to Australia). Ken began getting angry and upset, they argued often, and on one occasion he smashed a computer. He told Rosa that if she didn’t trust him, the relationship was over. Once a week he would tell her she had to go back to her home country. After their arguments, Ken would tell Rosa he cared for and looked out for her. Yet during her pregnancy, Ken forced Rosa to do various activities that were not comfortable for her. Rosa was reluctant to disrupt her older child’s schooling and opposed the move; it proceeded nonetheless, and the child experienced considerable educational difficulties as a result. Meanwhile, Rosa was having great difficulty learning English as the course Ken made her attend was at too high a level. Once the baby was born, Rosa believes that Ken misled her about citizenship matters so that the child could be granted citizenship of Ken’s home country.

    When the family relocated to Australia, Ken began calling Rosa demeaning names, he told her she was stupid, and insisted that she learn and speak English rather than her native language. Again, he regularly told her she had to go back to her home country, but that she must leave the baby in Australia. He said he didn’t want Rosa, only their child. Ken often used the child’s citizenship as a threat to Rosa, asserting that there was no point in her seeking help from police because she had no legal rights in relation to the child. Their first month in Australia was spent in a motel while they waited for their belongings to be shipped. They then moved into an apartment, and Ken soon departed interstate for work. Unexpectedly one evening he arrived home, giving Rosa a fright. He told Rosa he was missing the baby. Rosa says, without thinking, she handed Ken the baby and they went out into the garden while she continued cooking. When dinner was served, Rosa and her older child realised that Ken had left the apartment with the baby. Rosa contacted Ken on his mobile; he told her he wanted a divorce, he was posting her a document, he had paid a year’s rent on the apartment, he would pay her a minimal amount per week, and he was taking the child. Rosa called the police immediately. The police attended and stayed for approximately 20 minutes and tried to reassure Rosa as she was very nervous, upset and concerned because she was still breastfeeding the baby. They told her the child would be okay and could have a bottle. She did not find them helpful and later called the police again. Different officers attended and told Rosa the father had not stolen the child, and the child would be okay with him. Rosa became increasingly distressed, and rang the police a third time, and throughout the following day and night, pleading with them to find the child. She also tried to track Ken down without success.

    Eventually, three days later, a police officer advised Rosa to go the Family Court and seek an order authorising that a PACE alert be put on the child’s passport, which meant the child was placed on the airport watch list. A duty lawyer assisted Rosa; it was discovered that Ken had already filed an application for divorce and residence of the child. He alleged in his affidavit material that Rosa wasn’t feeding the child and she tied the child down. Later, when the child was returned to Rosa, both child safety and a psychologist interviewed her and provided reports that found Ken’s allegations were unsubstantiated.

    Rosa was granted legal aid to fund legal representation in the child proceedings. Rosa was seeking residence. Rosa saw the child for the first time one and a half months after Ken had taken the child from the apartment; initially she had supervised contact, which had been delayed due to problems locating an interpreter. After a number of Family Court appearances, the child was returned to Rosa’s full-time care and Ken was granted weekly unsupervised contact. Both parents were prohibited from taking the child out of the country and Ken was prohibited from entering the apartment.

    With the assistance of a local support service, Rosa obtained a one year protection order; Ken is required to be of good behaviour. Rosa represented herself as she was not entitled to legal aid on that application. She is entirely financially dependent on Ken as she is unable to receive Centrelink benefits and cannot find appropriate work given her limited English and childcare responsibilities. Rosa would have to text Ken weekly to ask for money to cover her living expenses. In response, Ken would repeatedly taunt Rosa by threatening to cancel her visa and take the child. Rosa also discovered that Ken had hired a private detective to follow and watch her.

    Australian Immigration contacted Rosa after receiving notice of the divorce querying her intentions. She has sought advice from a community legal service about her visa status, and the implications of her older child turning 18. A student visa for the older child is an option; however a course of study would require funds that Rosa does not have access to.

    Ken regularly breaches the contact orders, returning the child to Rosa late. Rosa attempted to photograph his arrival on her phone and he became verbally abusive. Further, in breach of the protection order, Ken bangs noisily on the door to Rosa’s apartment demanding that she open the door and give him the child. On one occasion, the child was sleeping, and Rosa told him to wait until the child was awake. Ken persisted and Rosa rang the police. During his angry outbursts, Ken often slaps himself in the face and pushes himself against railings; he also asks Rosa to hit him. Rosa believes he may have a mental illness. Rosa feels frightened by Ken’s behaviour, and continues to feel highly vulnerable given her financial dependence on him. She is not sure if Ken’s work visa will be renewed. If his visa is not renewed the family will have to leave Australia, most likely to different countries. This is very distressing for Rosa as she fears she may be separated from her youngest child.

  • Trisha was born overseas and English is not her first language. Initially, Trisha required an interpreter for other than basic conversational English, however over time her skills and understanding have improved somewhat. Trisha and Jarrod met over the internet, made contact with each other a number of times overseas, and subsequently married in Australia. Trisha came to Australia on a prospective marriage visa and, when married, was issued a temporary spousal visa. Trisha completed high school and was previously in unskilled employment. Jarrod was born in Australia and completed a trade following high school. Jarrod has two children from a previous marriage: an adult who lives independently, and a younger teenager who came to live with Trisha and Jarrod, together with Jarrod’s mother. Trisha and Jarrod have a young child who was aged two at the time the four-year relationship broke down.

    Jarrod was in employment and told Trisha that he was happy to support her while she studied English and looked after the household. Trisha noticed early in the relationship that Jarrod’s behaviour was secretive and suspicious. He told her not to disclose their living circumstances to Centrelink, and often asked Trisha what her plans were. He also helped her apply for permanent residency, but insisted when completing the forms that they not fully disclose their financial position. Jarrod held a joint bank account with his mother and household and living expenses were also incurred jointly. Trisha was excluded from these arrangements and felt unable to open Jarrod’s mail because it was also addressed to his mother. Over time, this became more concerning to Trisha and caused arguments between the couple.

    Jarrod became increasingly abusive towards Trisha through the relationship, yelling and swearing at her, refusing to give her money, not allowing her to make phone calls, demanding that he know her whereabouts.

    Jarrod’s children and mother made Trisha feel unwelcome in the family. Trisha recalls reading a text from the teenaged child on Jarrod’s phone making insulting personal comments about Trisha and her culture. On discovering that Trisha was pregnant the teenaged child became angry towards Trisha, damaged her personal belongings, burned her clothes and pushed her down the stairs. Jarrod and Trisha lived in the car for five days, all the while Jarrod repeatedly urging her to go back to her home country because he couldn’t manage the teenager’s reactions. Trisha agreed to go, but felt resentful, questioning why she was being made to leave.

    Trisha returned to Australia after six weeks in her home country. Jarrod told her he was lonely, so she resumed living with the family and the child was born. Jarrod’s abuse continued. Having not allowed Trisha a phone, Jarrod was aware that Trisha’s laptop was her only means of communicating with her own family. On one occasion, Jarrod grabbed the laptop from Trisha and she ran after him to retrieve it. Jarrod held Trisha’s throat hard in one hand and grabbed her shirt with his other hand and pushed her backwards. Trisha fell and hit her head on the floor; she felt dizzy, and when trying to get up from the floor, Jarrod spat on her face and pointed with his finger at her chest calling her a “fucking Asian” and accusing her of coming to Australia to get money from the government.

    Trisha decided that she could not live with Jarrod’s domestic and family violence any longer. She contacted her friend who called the police for her. Concerned for Trisha’s safety, the police told her to go to her friend’s house so they could interview her. Trisha was extremely distressed; she showed the police the broken laptop and marks on her neck, and gave a statement. Trisha can’t explain what happened next, but became aware that the police obtained a protection order on her behalf against Jarrod. She has the paper order in her possession, but isn’t certain of the conditions as it was not translated in her first language. She believes the duration of the order is two years.

    While Trisha was not required to attend court for the protection order hearing, to make arrangements regarding parental care and responsibility for their child, she and Jarrod had to attend phone mediation and then, failing agreement, the court. The Family Court made an order, effective until the child reaches pre-school age, that (among a number of other conditions) the child would reside each week with Trisha for four nights and with Jarrod for three nights. Trisha received legal aid representation and interpreter support for part of this process, however given her limited understanding of English and the legal system, Trisha feels that she didn’t have enough time to consider the family report, and was pressured into consenting to the orders without being satisfied they were in the child’s best interests and not knowing what her rights would be as the child gets older.

    Trisha believes the protection order has been important in reducing her fear of Jarrod, and her concerns about him harming the child. She says however that Jarrod does not respect her as a mother; and she continues to worry about the child being in the presence of Jarrod’s children both of whom are drug users and have police records. She also believes that Jarrod does not share her expectations for high standards of education for the child, and is worried about having to return to the court before the child reaches pre-school age to make fresh arrangements for the child’s care and responsibility. Trisha and Jarrod have been unable to reach a property settlement; Jarrod asserts without grounds that Trisha should pay off all his debts. Trisha receives a Centrelink single-parent benefit, which she is doing her best to spend carefully so she can save for the child’s future. She is concerned however that, despite her phoning Centrelink to advise of the care arrangements (as set out in the Family Court order), she is receiving too much money and may be forced to repay. At times, Trisha has felt so overwhelmed by these anxieties that she has had suicidal thoughts. Counselling offered through a local domestic and family violence service has helped and supported her through these very difficult times.

    Trisha is now a permanent resident; she has a driver’s licence, and has purchased a car with her modest savings. Her English has improved considerably, and she has commenced studies so that in time she can secure stable and rewarding employment. While Jarrod is no longer a direct physical threat to Trisha and contact changeovers occur without problems, he continues to send her abusive texts, and his mother and children stalk her periodically.

  • Yvonne and Emir were in a relationship for around 13 years, and had four children together. Emir was born overseas; he did not complete high school, he is multi-lingual, English being a language acquired later in life, and he has periodically run small businesses. Yvonne was born in Australia, is university educated and runs her own business. They met in Emir’s home country when Yvonne was in the early years of her professional training. Within a year, they married and had their first child, and decided to resettle in Australia, Emir on a spousal visa. The children now live with Yvonne and her new partner in a home they own. The youngest child has contact with Emir pursuant to Family Court orders. The three older children have declined any contact.

    When Yvonne first knew Emir he was gentle and quiet, but also strongly committed to his faith and spiritual beliefs. He followed a rigorous daily worship practice, and over the years required that the children strictly comply. In the early years Yvonne found Emir’s faith and dedication captivating, and was happy to participate even though she never felt like she really belonged. When they moved to Australia, Emir was drawn to a philosophy that aligned with his beliefs, and began attending places of worship. Soon he became very involved in his new-found faith community, following their ascetic lifestyle regimes, and volunteering. Meanwhile, Yvonne had three more children over six years; and worked full-time when she wasn’t caring for young children. Emir was opposed to contraception as he believed it was unnatural, and he refused to have a vasectomy as he felt it would diminish his masculinity. Rather ironically, it was the women from the faith community who urged Yvonne to consider contraception; she did so and never disclosed to Emir because she knew he would vehemently object.

    Yvonne describes feeling a great deal of tension around multiple issues that Emir had strong views about and that Yvonne was unable to discuss with him without heightening the risk of conflict and his expression of hatred towards her. Emir exercised a high level of control over the daily lives of Yvonne and the children. The children were made to do hours of prayers in the mornings and evenings, which made them late for school and behind with their homework. Emir would dictate how prayers should be performed, and then often change the rules without explanation. If the children did it incorrectly, Emir would hit them across the face, or swing them around on one arm. While Yvonne experienced some physical violence, she says the children were frequent victims and subjected to the constant threat of more severe harm.

    When Yvonne was heavily pregnant with their second child, Emir had insisted that she attend worship with him. They had to travel by train; Yvonne was tired and asked him whether it was necessary for her go. Emir became angry and pushed her towards the train line. Yvonne was terrified and walked kilometres to a family member’s house and stayed overnight. On another occasion, soon after Yvonne was home following the birth of their youngest child, a friend called to offer to look after the other children to give Yvonne and Emir a break. Emir declined, and Yvonne questioned him. He slapped her across the face twice while she was holding the baby, and told her never to question his authority especially in front of the children.

    Increasingly, she felt unable to communicate with Emir about any difficult issue, so she shut down completely. Yvonne became even more isolated as a result of Emir excluding Yvonne’s family from the home as they didn’t adhere to the rules of his faith. Emir did not allow the children to attend an important family wedding despite Yvonne being a bridesmaid. Yvonne says she felt constantly strained and under pressure; she didn’t have any friends other than a small number in the faith community, nor did she believe she should.

    Yvonne and Emir had separate bank accounts, but shared resources, although Emir would accumulate cash amounts from Centrelink payments or odd jobs and hide them from Yvonne. Finances were always tight for the family; Emir reprimanded Yvonne for even modest spending despite the fact that he earned little or no money and Yvonne was the consistent wage earner. Yet, Emir insisted on family trips overseas which were related to faith, these were expensive and required many months of saving to afford. Yvonne found these trips distressing with young children, and especially when pregnant, as the living standards were poor and public spaces generally unsafe. An incident that was particularly disturbing to Yvonne and the children occurred while they were on one of these trips. Emir believed that his younger relative had infringed a sacred ritual, and punished the child by burning an imprint deep in his hand. Family looked on, horrified. Since then, when Emir believed his own children to be disobedient, he would threaten similar punishment. The level of fear experienced by Yvonne and the children grew in increments over time; eventually Yvonne believed she would be killed. Her sister had expressed the feeling to her that she would arrive one day and they would all be dead.

    Yvonne had tried to leave the relationship twice before final separation when she arranged for a family member to call a friend in the faith community and pass on a message to Emir that she and the children were leaving. Shelter accommodation was organised through a local domestic violence support service. From there, Yvonne worked with a lawyer to obtain a protection order and with a psychologist to try to identify and understand her experiences over the past many years. Yvonne received critical support from the shelter and these professionals. On the first mention date, Emir appeared with his lawyer and supporters from the faith community. He denied any domestic violence but consented to a two-year protection order without admissions. Yvonne’s lawyer guided her through the process and ensured that she felt safe in the court and protected from any direct approaches from Emir or his lawyer. Yvonne felt the order was important to have because she was fearful of how Emir would react to her taking the children away.

    Again, with the assistance of her lawyer, Yvonne participated in mediation with Emir over the telephone in an effort to make arrangements for the children. This process failed as Emir denied all of the circumstances surrounding the breakdown of the relationship. Ultimately, Yvonne made an application to the Family Court. A separate representative was appointed for the children, and a psychologist was consulted to ascertain the children’s wishes. The three older children, who were then aged in their early to mid-teens, made it clear that they did not want to see their father. Orders were made by the court granting Yvonne residence; and Emir, contact only with the youngest child once a fortnight at a supervised contact centre, gradually moving to overnight contact. Yvonne was required to email Emir to keep him generally updated about the children, and to facilitate email contact between the children and him. There was to be no phone contact. Yvonne believes that the psychologist could identify serious risks in Emir’s behaviour, particularly towards the children, justifying a highly protective approach to contact conditions.

    Three years elapsed between separation and the Family Court orders. After the shelter, Yvonne and the children stayed in various forms of accommodation, and sought the help of multiple services for financial, legal and emotional support. Once the orders were settled, Yvonne and the children moved further away, necessitating a change in handover arrangements for the youngest child who, by that stage, was having overnight contact with Emir. On one occasion, Emir’s relative contacted Yvonne telling her that Emir and the youngest child had been crying together for hours. Yvonne knew this was out of character for the youngest child and became very concerned when the handover time passed at the agreed location. Emir returned the child late to a different location very close to their new home resulting in one of the children becoming extremely anxious about what Emir might do and needing significant counselling help in the aftermath. Yvonne observes how profoundly affected the three older children are by Emir’s prolonged abuse.

    Yvonne is seeking further assistance from her lawyer to have the original contact orders reinstated as she believes the overnight contact is potentially detrimental to the youngest child. Meanwhile, the child is not having contact with Emir. Yvonne believes they have a good relationship, and Emir considers the child to be his favourite.

    Property matters remain unresolved. The couple have land and money in Emir’s home country, but Yvonne has insufficient resources to take the necessary legal steps to facilitate a settlement of joint assets. She has received legal aid funding for past applications, but no longer qualifies, and has limited capacity to personally fund further actions. Yvonne is in a new relationship now, which she feels is going well, however she is cautious and on alert for any signs of the abuse she was subjected to for many years. She and her partner are building a business together, and caring for Yvonne’s four children. Yvonne feels she and the children are through the worst of their ordeal, though she believes there is always a risk that Emir will snap.