People with disability and impairment

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.

  • Anna and Nathan met one another at high school, however neither completed year 12. During their five-year relationship, they lived together for periods, on and off, and had a child who was aged two when they separated. Anna has experienced physical and mental health problems since early adolescence, which, as an adult, have prevented her from gaining a qualification or employment. She is on a disability pension and, as the primary carer of the child, receives parenting and public housing support. When younger, Anna took party drugs to cope with her anxiety and depression, but feels now that she has grown out of the habit. Nathan’s drug taking and dealing and associated criminal activity have dominated his life for many years, and on one occasion resulted in a serious conviction for which he served a sentence of probation. Anna describes Nathan as extremely aggressive—and more so when taking drugs or alcohol—and possibly having a mental illness, though she believes undiagnosed. The child has been diagnosed with various behavioural disorders, which are now managed with medication and ongoing medical treatment. There are Family Court parenting orders in place granting Anna residence and allowing Nathan weekly contact, however Nathan rarely sees or telephones the child.

    From early on in the relationship, Nathan would regularly (and wrongly) accuse Anna of cheating on him, he would often check on her whereabouts and who she was spending time with, and constantly monitored her money while refusing to make any contribution himself to rent and other joint expenses. On a few occasions when Nathan got drunk and felt that Anna was giving him attitude, he would put his hands around her throat strangling her in front of others. Anna became pregnant when Nathan was on probation, and child protection was alerted to Nathan’s physical and emotional violence towards her. On a visit during her pregnancy, a child protection officer told her the child would be taken away from her if she stayed with Nathan. Anna wasn’t overly concerned because she had good family support around her and, with the help of a local youth service, was attending parenting and ante-natal classes and getting set up at home.

    Nathan’s physical violence did however escalate during and after the pregnancy. Nathan wielded a knife at Anna causing her to barricade herself in a locked room. While the baby slept, he strangled and beat her so badly that she blacked out and, with help from a family member, was taken by ambulance to the hospital and treated for multiple fractures, and facial and scalp wounds. Two months later, he yanked her arm forcefully, resulting in a serious elbow injury and lengthy recovery. Nathan was often drunk or stoned during these violent rampages, and would always flee the scene leaving Anna to fend for herself. On one occasion, Nathan assaulted Anna while they were walking with their child to the local shops. He took off with the child, leaving Anna on the street with severe cuts and bruising and torn clothes. Police were alerted and successfully applied to the court for a two-year protection order on Anna’s behalf, with the child named as a protected party.

    On the expiration of the first order, police obtained a further identical order, which is due to expire in the coming months. Anna has spoken to a local domestic violence support worker who is encouraging her to seek a five-year order. Anna reports feeling both frustrated and terrified because, despite having these orders and being on the police high-alert list, Nathan has repeatedly and flagrantly breached the orders, and continues to do so regularly, by stalking Anna and the child, ringing and letting her know where she has been and with whom, and threatening physical harm and death. Nathan has ready access to guns and knives and, on one occasion when he was facing the possibility of a jail term for another offence, threatened to shoot Anna’s mother and Anna herself if Anna tried to disappear with the child. Anna has returned to police, repeatedly, to make statements attesting to Nathan’s breaches, and at times, has had to appear at the hearing, self-represented (due to no access to Legal Aid), accompanied by a local domestic violence support worker, and intimidated by the prospect of Nathan being in the courtroom. Nathan would frequently seek and obtain adjournments for the breach hearings; and whilst he was often found guilty of breach, he has never received other than a fine as penalty. Following each hearing, Anna expected that the police would contact her to advise the outcome, but she found that she had to constantly ring and ask. She was only ever told about the fines, and can’t say whether convictions were recorded, or whether Nathan has ever been charged with stalking, assault or any other offence related to his domestic and family violence towards her and the child.

    Anna believes that Nathan continues to be involved with criminal activities and that he is known to police. Although Nathan doesn’t physically approach Anna, he continues to monitor her and the child through his family and friends. Anna feels constantly unsafe and under threat, and won’t venture out of the house without people who can protect her and the child. Anna regularly changes her appearance and telephone number, and has recently changed the locks on her house. The police have cautioned her to lock herself in. Still young, Anna is desperate to establish a normal and happy life; however she feels trapped and damaged by Nathan’s ongoing domestic and family violence, and by what she perceives to be the failure of the justice system to recognise the seriousness of Nathan’s crimes and to punish him appropriately, and to protect her and the child adequately.

    Nathan has only ever paid a negligible amount of child support; ultimately, his violence resulted in Anna having to obtain an exemption from claiming. Despite having contact orders, Nathan has always flouted the conditions, or not bothered to see or speak with the child at all. Anna would like to have the orders varied to disallow contact on the basis of Nathan’s serious and ongoing violence, however she expects to be criticised by the court for seeking to prevent a relationship between Nathan and the child; and yet has had the experience of being told by child protection that if she remains with Nathan, the child will be removed from her.

    Having tried and failed, time and again, over five years to secure proper protection from Nathan, at this stage, Anna can’t see what else she can do to improve her situation. She doesn’t have the financial resources to engage a private lawyer, and her health is so compromised that her prospects of future employment are limited. She is also very concerned about the daily and long-term impacts of the violence and fear on the child.

  • 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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