People with mental illness

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.

  • 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.

  • Gillian and Kyle were in a defacto relationship for around six years. They have two children together, both very young at separation. Gillian has a certificate qualification and has been consistently employed in her specialised area of work. Kyle has a trade qualification, however was unemployed for most of the relationship due to a chronic pain condition. Kyle is a heavy drinker and prescription drug user; and Gillian suspects he has a form of anxiety and depression, however is not aware of any diagnosis. Kyle also has a police record including offences relating to unlicensed firearms, drink driving and assaulting police. Gillian has an older child from a previous relationship who lived periodically with the father and with Gillian and Kyle. Gillian has a good relationship with the child’s father.

    Gillian and Kyle met through Gillian’s previous partner and father of her eldest child. The relationship was on again-off again at the start. Looking back, Gillian recalls feeling a little insecure as a single mother with a young child, and confused and hurt by Kyle frequently putting her down and then apologising afterwards. Gillian made allowances for Kyle’s behaviour knowing that he was finding it difficult to cope with his mother’s death and had to undergo surgery. Kyle’s health deteriorated and Gillian spent some weeks caring for him. He developed longer term chronic pain, and started relying on a range of prescription medications while resuming a heavy drinking habit. Gillian describes Kyle’s reaction to his misuse of alcohol and medication as psychotic and terrifying. He is considerably bigger and stronger than Gillian and would, when in that state, throw heavy objects at Gillian and smash up the house.

    Gillian had decided to leave Kyle when she discovered that she was pregnant with their first child. Given the pregnancy, she felt she needed to try and make the relationship work. However, Kyle’s verbal and emotional abuse of Gillian worsened during the pregnancy, and after the birth, his drunken rages and throwing episodes became a regular occurrence, even when Gillian was holding the baby. Not long before Gillian gave birth to their second child, Kyle gave Gillian a solid shove in her stomach. When they were away on a holiday, Kyle became aggressive and violent when Gillian refused to give him her account access card. She had often given him money, which he’d recklessly spent; this time she wasn’t prepared to lose the only money she had for family and household expenses. Kyle grabbed and held Gillian forcefully until she was screaming and a friend had to pull him off her. She was severely bruised on her arms and neck as a result.

    Over time, Gillian learned to anticipate his behaviour and take preventative action to avoid being harmed. She says she got good at devising escape plans for herself and the children. Sometimes, she would sleep in the car overnight; other times, they would seek refuge at her mother’s house.

    Gillian lost contact with friends during her relationship with Kyle as they didn’t want to be around him when he was drunk and abusive. Gillian has a close relationship with her mother who had re-partnered, however she tried to shield her mother from a lot of the trauma she was experiencing. Kyle’s behaviour was revealed to some extent however at Gillian’s mother’s wedding where he was extremely intoxicated and became aggressive towards the groom. Gillian wanted the relationship with Kyle to be over, but didn’t know how to make it happen.

    In the year that Gillian gave birth to their second child, and for the first time in their relationship, Kyle found work interstate. Gillian was keen for him to earn some money and was grateful for some time apart despite having to look after three children by herself. Kyle didn’t help with the children in any event, and Gillian realised when he left that life and the household were so much more functional and stable. It was when he returned home for brief visits that everything seemed to fall apart. Gillian decided during this time that she must end the relationship; she had also discovered that Kyle had started seeing a former girlfriend. Gillian packed up her gear, put it into storage and moved with the children to her mother’s place. She felt she couldn’t stay at the house because she knew that Kyle would return and wreck it and possibly harm her and the children.

    Kyle moved elsewhere with his former girlfriend. He would harass Gillian with phone calls and text messages at all hours, up to forty each day, tormenting her with the details of his new relationship. Towards Christmas in the year of separation, Kyle told a friend he’d bought a handgun and was heading to Gillian with it; he told his sister (who passed on to Gillian) that “the bitch needs a bullet”. Gillian immediately packed up her gear again and, with the children, relocated interstate for two months as she believed Kyle was extremely dangerous.

    On returning, she went to apply for a protection order, but was told by the court support workers that too much time had elapsed since the threat and she would need to wait for Kyle’s abuse to resume. Before long Kyle began driving past Gillian’s mother’s place, texting Gillian’s eldest child, and repeatedly texting and screaming down the phone at Gillian, threatening to kill them all and telling her it was a shame she hadn’t died during a recent operation. This time, Gillian proceeded with a protection order application. She was represented, with legal aid funding. Initially, she obtained a temporary order for 12 months, however it was another year before the matter could go to a hearing as Kyle sought multiple adjournments, which Gillian believed was a deliberate tactic to frustrate her and the process. On the hearing date, Kyle arrived late, by which time the Magistrate had issued a two-year protection order on the basis that he didn’t deserve to be heard if he couldn’t be bothered to arrive on time. Kyle had also cross applied for an order against Gillian; however his application was dismissed as his allegations were unsubstantiated. Kyle tried to intimidate Gillian in the courthouse and precinct on mention dates.

    Gillian found the first few years post separation particularly harrowing. She had a new baby, as well the two older children, and was feeling emotionally rattled, fearful and unsafe. She reported breaches of the protection order by Kyle to the police; however she feels they never took her seriously and no charges resulted. Gillian received counselling that helped her to restore her confidence and capacity.

    During the period leading up to the final protection order, Gillian tried to find ways of giving Kyle contact time with the children without compromising her safety. She was advised to arrange it away from home in a busy, public space. She would take the children to the park where they could play with Kyle. This worked for a time until Kyle’s constant verbal abuse towards her became intolerable. Gillian’s mother and new partner then took over the supervision for a while, but they too were subjected to Kyle’s abuse and threats.

    With a view to applying to the Federal Circuit Court for parenting orders, Gillian arranged supervised contact through a private contact centre. Kyle didn’t respond to the proposal and went without seeing the children for many months. The parenting order application was also unduly prolonged over a two year period due to Kyle’s repeated delays and failure to comply with judicial directions (eg that he have liver function testing). There was a three-day trial. An independent children’s lawyer (ICL) was appointed. Gillian was represented, but this time without legal aid funding. She sought orders allowing supervised contact on the basis that Kyle was a chronic alcoholic and prescription drug misuser and the children were not safe in his sole care. Gillian had kept (and produced as evidence) numerous photographs of Kyle using drugs, notes written and signed by Kyle attesting to his own behaviour, and hundreds of text messages verifying her allegations. The judge issued self-executing orders requiring that if Kyle failed to complete a certain drug and alcohol course and deliver the necessary material to the ICL by a certain date, contact would be disallowed. The ICL signed off on Kyle having complied with the order and the judge accepted this, despite, in Gillian’s view, Kyle not completing all the requirements originally imposed by the judge. On a further court date, Kyle was granted unsupervised contact for five hours every second weekend.

    Fairly certain that a 12 hour course was unlikely to have remedied a 30 year drinking habit, Gillian took steps to ensure that the children were supervised by one of Kyle’s family members whom she trusted. This is working well. Changeover now occurs at a large service station, which Gillian finds unnerving so she makes sure she has a friend to accompany her.

    Gillian has sole parental responsibility for the children, and must only give Kyle notice of medical issues or a major relocation. Kyle had been paying negligible child support, and then stopped. Gillian got approval to relinquish child support on family violence grounds, while maintaining her full entitlement to the family tax benefit.

    Around this time, Kyle posted a message on Facebook directed at Gillian: “I hope you die excruciatingly”. She immediately went to the police and applied for a new protection order. This time the police were supportive. Gillian was not eligible for legal aid funding so appeared at the hearing self-represented, having prepared the necessary affidavit material. On this occasion, Kyle didn’t appear at all, and the Magistrate issued a two-year protection order in his absence. The order includes no contact conditions together with a prohibition on emailing, social media and any other form of harassment.

    Kyle previously owned the house he and Gillian lived in. Unknown to Gillian, he mortgaged the property and squandered the loan funds. Just prior to the birth of their first child, the loan was recalled and Kyle was unable to repay. Gillian’s mother and new partner bought the property for the amount Kyle owed. Gillian and Kyle and the children stayed on as tenants. They were entitled to whatever equity there was upon the sale of the property. In due course the property was sold leaving only a few thousand dollars after expenses. Kyle applied to the Federal Circuit Court for a property settlement seeking a share of the equity. Gillian expended more than $10,000 in legal fees responding to Kyle’s claim, and in the end the court dismissed the application on the basis that there was no property to divide.

    Gillian has made sure that Kyle is unaware of her mobile and landline numbers and her address. She has told the children that they must never disclose their address to Kyle; that they are free to see him at his home, but he is never to visit theirs.

    Gillian believes that it has been important for her safety to have protection orders in place against Kyle. She has become familiar with how the system works and confident to act when she needs to. She is grateful to her solicitor who was prepared to believe her story and take whatever steps necessary to ensure her protection and the wellbeing of her children. Gillian found her engagement with court processes frustrating as Kyle was permitted to repeatedly delay proceedings on spurious grounds. She found it mostly helpful to have the same judge presiding over their various matters in the Federal Circuit Court, although the time delay in the parenting proceedings meant that the judge lost touch with the facts and, in Gillian’s view, made a questionable final ruling. This was in contrast to the Magistrates Court where there was a different Magistrate at every mention and facts had to be revisited each time. Gillian questions the value of the ICL in her case; very little weight was given to Kyle’s violence and abuse in the context of determining the children’s best interests. The judge however was focused on ensuring safety at changeover.

    Gillian has spent more than six years post separation accessing the legal system to secure parenting arrangements and her own safety. It has come at great cost to her emotionally and financially. She is however getting on with rebuilding her life. She is distrustful of people, wary of any signs of violence and abuse, and finds it very difficult to contemplate an intimate relationship.

  • Ingrid and Scott met overseas in Ingrid’s home city. Scott was taking a break from a job that he said had caused him post-traumatic stress disorder and a persistent back injury, for which he received benefits and self-medicated using marijuana and medicinal painkillers. Ingrid has post-graduate qualifications and was working in a well-paid position at the time. The relationship developed quickly and Ingrid was soon pregnant.

    During the pregnancy Scott resigned from his job while Ingrid continued to work. Ingrid found that she often had to ask Scott and his friends not to smoke marijuana near her. After the birth, they lived with Ingrid’s mother who helped with the baby. Ingrid received part-paid maternity leave, which she used to support the family. Scott refused to make any contribution to rent or other living expenses and, when asked, would angrily yell and throw things, including a computer on one occasion. Ingrid felt fearful of these early behaviours, but didn’t react, trying not to hurt Scott’s pride or add to the damaging effects of his job.

    Scott persuaded Ingrid to move to Australia where he grew up. He went ahead alone to prepare for the family’s arrival, and Ingrid and the baby were to follow when Ingrid’s visa issued, and the baby was around nine months old. Scott did very little in that time: he lived off friends, failed to look for a job and eventually sought help from his father to find accommodation. Scott then insisted on returning overseas to collect Ingrid and the baby.

    Once back in Australia, Scott pressured Ingrid into paying off his credit card debt, which she was not liable for. Ingrid’s maternity leave money soon ran out. Ingrid also understood that Scott had or was due to receive a significant lump-sum compensation payment from his employer for his post-traumatic stress disorder but he kept the detail from Ingrid. One day Scott fell in the kitchen, further injuring himself, resulting in his increased use of marijuana and painkillers, which Ingrid observed made him angry and depressed.

    Increasingly, Scott would verbally and emotionally abuse Ingrid and damage household property. Ingrid felt isolated with a very young child, no family or friends nearby, and no car licence. Scott made frequent sexual demands of her that she found distressing and painful.

    In time, Ingrid was employed again, Scott enrolled in a university course, and the child went to day care. Scott also began rehabilitation for his injury and psychologist appointments for his post-traumatic stress disorder. Ingrid felt that life had become more normal and bearable until one day Scott threw a piece of furniture around the kitchen in a rage about medical expenses that had to be paid to treat a condition Ingrid had developed. Ingrid took the child into the bedroom and locked the door. Scott never struck Ingrid or the child, but would raise his hand menacingly in anger. Scott was well over double Ingrid’s weight.

    When not at university, Scott spent more and more time during the day and night drinking and taking drugs with his friends while Ingrid worked and cared for the child. Without asking Ingrid, Scott invited a female friend to stay because she needed somewhere to live. Scott’s drug taking made his behaviour more abusive and irrational. He would accuse Ingrid of lying about her whereabouts, and, despite her resistance, his sexual violence towards her escalated. He wrote her a letter complaining that the child was taking up too much time and that she was not paying him enough money.

    Ingrid reached emotional breaking point and sought psychological help through her employer. She moved into another bedroom and they began living separately under the one roof. Scott discovered from reading Ingrid’s emails that she had made a male acquaintance. He became very aggressive, repeatedly texting her (and the male friend), demanding that she leave without the child, reminding her of his weapons licence, and threatening suicide. Ingrid could not afford other accommodation and refused to leave the child in Scott’s care. While she had no intention of leaving her job and uprooting the child from day care – and in any event had no funds – to return overseas, Scott had hidden her passport, which she managed to retrieve before finally leaving.

    With the help of support services, Ingrid and the child were housed temporarily in a motel then moved to a shelter. Inevitably this caused upheaval with work and day care, but Ingrid was grateful for the assistance she received with visa matters and an application for a protection order. Initially acting for herself (while Scott had a lawyer), Ingrid was unable to obtain a temporary order and the matter went to trial, for which she was granted Legal Aid. Ingrid describes an intimidating courtroom experience where: during cross-examination, she was yelled at by Scott’s barrister, and the Magistrate was unable to respond effectively; she was not allowed to give evidence of the sexual violence because she was told it could no longer occur due to separation; and she was told that because there was no physical violence or harm, the texting, suicide threats and reference to a weapons licence were minimised and not considered sufficiently abusive to establish domestic and family violence. The court dismissed Ingrid’s application and she was denied a protection order.

    Despite strict security controls, Scott was able to locate the shelter where Ingrid and the child were living. Concerned about the risk to the shelter and its other residents, and the complications associated with moving to another shelter, Ingrid decided to stay with friends. Again, Scott revealed to Ingrid an address in the vicinity. Distraught, Ingrid searched for an explanation, and then discovered Scott had sewn a GPS tracking device in the back of a doll that he’d insisted Ingrid take for the child. Ingrid went immediately to the police and gave a statement. Initially police told her she couldn’t get a protection order because there was no physical violence, but she persisted and the court granted a temporary protection order. At the final hearing, Ingrid was unrepresented and Scott’s lawyer offered a protection order without any admission of facts. Ingrid resisted because she knew that Scott’s behaviour was abusive and he should be held responsible. The Magistrate declined to make a final decision on the basis that Family Court matters were pending; and instead extended the temporary order. While an interim parenting order was put in place for shared care, there are multiple problems regarding changeover and other arrangements and Scott flouting the order. The matter was referred to mediation, however precluded from proceeding due to risk of domestic and family violence.

    Scott soon sought a cross order against Ingrid fabricating evidence of her beating and raping him, which at the final hearing she was able to resist using audio and social media records she had diligently gathered, and ultimately was granted a final protection order, however the child and others are not listed as protected parties. Before the hearing, Scott had also tried to run Ingrid over in his car. Scott continues to breach the good behaviour provision of the protection order and the terms of the parenting order. Scott has never been charged with breach, or with any criminal offences relating to the stalking and monitoring, attempting to run over Ingrid, or the false affidavit evidence.

    Ingrid agreed to settle final parenting orders with Scott, avoiding a trial. Ingrid finds changeovers distressing and demeaning: Scott yells commands at her. She is concerned about how they will jointly manage ongoing parenting decisions and arrangements in the best interests of the child while she endures ongoing abuse. Scott is still unemployed and demands that Ingrid pay him child support. Ingrid would like to visit her home city with the child, but expects that Scott will take any steps to prevent them from going. They were together for only three years, and yet Ingrid feels she and the child will live with Scott’s abuse and its harmful consequences for many years yet.

  • 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.

  • Susan and Neil were in a relationship for three years and had a child born in the year they separated. Susan is university educated, professionally qualified and has always been in well-remunerated employment apart from during leave following the birth of the child. Neil did not complete high school, however trained in a trade and earns a modest salary. Neil has a history of intermittent drug and alcohol misuse, and when younger attempted suicide on a couple of occasions during periods of depression. After separation, Susan consulted a psychiatrist to deal with the anxiety she experienced as a result of the abusive relationship, and took medication for a time until she felt it was affecting her capacity to function properly; she was also concerned that she may be prejudiced in the Family Court if her Medicare records revealed that she was taking a medication that was indicated for bipolar disorder (but prescribed to Susan for anxiety).

    Susan and Neil casually dated for a brief time some years before living together when Neil was going through a difficult divorce. Neil became resentful and obsessive about Susan dating other men after the brief relationship ended. They eventually got back together and Neil quickly moved in with Susan at a property she owned. While the first six months of their relationship were happy and without incident, in the remaining two and a half years tension and conflict grew between Susan and Neil, there were periods of separation and reconciliation, and Neil’s behaviour became abusive. Susan’s income was considerably higher than Neil’s and, while she did not highlight the point and was happy to make a greater contribution to joint expenses, Neil would accuse Susan of belittling and humiliating him for his limited earning capacity. Increasingly he became frustrated and angry, and would lash out at Susan. Neil is more than a foot taller than Susan; and is athletic and strong. On one occasion, when loading a large and heavy metal crate in the car, he threw it so as to hit Susan who was standing nearby. She was knocked off her feet, her thick-lens glasses cracked and the impact caused a black eye and bruised lip. On another occasion, Neil grabbed Susan around the neck and held her down on the bed.

    When Susan became pregnant, she found intercourse painful and preferred to avoid it. Neil began seeking sexual satisfaction elsewhere. While Neil was away visiting his parents, Susan discovered videos of Neil’s sexual encounters with multiple other women (as well as herself) on his computer. When Susan confronted Neil on the phone, he was enraged that she’d invaded his privacy. Susan then discovered that Neil was having an affair with one of these women. Neil returned to try to salvage the relationship and Susan allowed him back as she didn’t want to raise the child alone. Soon after, Susan discovered on Neil’s phone that he was contacting a former girlfriend on Facebook. Susan left Neil a week before the baby was born and went to stay with her parents; however they told her she must return and try and make the relationship work. Neil made her apologise and taunted her about having no interest in her welfare.

    For three months following the birth, Neil’s behaviour settled down and they both focussed on adjusting to being new parents though Neil had little to do with the day-to-day care of the infant. Neil came up with a business idea that involved selling internet-based camera systems to away-from-home workers. Susan funded the establishment costs as Neil didn’t have the resources himself, however the enterprise did not succeed and ended in financial loss. Neil set up a remotely-controlled camera system in the home, and monitored Susan’s movements in every room, including when she was showering and breastfeeding. She repeatedly asked him to disable the system, and at one stage feared it had been hacked. She recalls one occasion, as she walked out of the bathroom, the camera moved to follow her.

    Six months after the birth of their child, Neil told Susan that he would marry her only if she agreed to go to a swingers club with him; she refused and told him the relationship was over. Susan left and returned to her parent’s house for a couple of days when Neil’s parents became involved. Eventually he told Susan that he ‘could live with it’ if she did not wish to go to a swingers club and the relationship continued for one more month.

    Neil was known for his outbursts of road rage. He would throw heavy objects out of his van while driving, with reckless disregard for the consequences. He was required to attend a police interview about an incident where he allegedly smashed another car with a crow bar. When Susan told his parents, again he was enraged that she breached his privacy. This came shortly after yet another fight about Neil’s infidelity; it was the tipping point for Susan and she decided to leave Neil for good. Their child was seven months old at the time.

    Susan went home with the intention of retrieving some of her personal possessions. Neil should have been at work but she found him in the backyard shed drinking and playing computer games. Susan packed a bag and gathered her personal documents and, with the baby, went to stay with her parents. Susan never returned to Neil. He stayed on in the property for a time and changed all the locks even though the property belonged to Susan’s family and he had not sought permission to do so.

    Susan engaged a lawyer immediately and put in place contact arrangements. The child lived with Susan, and Neil had contact for certain hours three times each week under Susan’s supervision. Neil would at times run away with the child in the pram, which made Susan feel anxious and concerned about the child’s safety. Susan was also keen to get the joint financial matters settled with Neil. She had contributed significantly by way of income, property and parenting, and proposed a cash payment that she felt reflected Neil’s contribution. Neil, acting for himself, approached her one day (when Susan attended the home they had shared to supervise contact) and made an irrational counter offer seeking far in excess of his share. He also demanded that she sell all her properties, leave her job and live with him at a place of his choosing. Susan described Neil’s behaviour as menacing and intimidating, and she was concerned about what he may do next. In the following days, Neil badgered Susan repeatedly by text about his proposal. When Susan rejected his offer, Neil verbally and offensively abused her and threatened blackmail with sex videos. She told him she would go to the police if he continued; he took no notice, and his texts became more threatening. In time, Neil accepted the cash sum originally offered by Susan.

    Susan kept copies of all of Neil’s texts and applied for a protection order against Neil. She was granted a temporary order; however the magistrate refused to name the child on the order. The police delayed in serving the order on Neil and, as a result, Susan was unable to have him charged with an almost immediate breach. This was the first of numerous encounters with police over an extended period where Susan felt her circumstances were not taken seriously nor responded to appropriately. Once served, Neil made a cross application and obtained a reciprocal temporary order against Susan. The final order hearing was conducted over two days; Susan was represented by a solicitor and barrister, Neil was self represented. Susan found the experience of being cross-examined by Neil harrowing and upsetting, and she became quite emotional in the process. She accepts that the magistrate had a duty to ensure Neil was given full opportunity to put his case. While Neil’s application was dismissed and a final order granted in Susan’s favour, it took some months for the magistrate to hand down the judgment; the matter had apparently been overlooked. Susan was not awarded costs even though the magistrate recognised that Neil’s application had no substance and was a case of ‘tit-for-tat’. The delay resulted in interim Family Court parenting orders being made before the final protection order issued. Contact was ordered to continue three times each week as previously, however Susan would be required to come into contact with Neil at handovers contrary to the conditions of the protection order.

    Following the hearing, Neil actively and regularly flouted the protection order. A neighbour witnessed Neil entering the property which he had once lived in with Susan and where she still had many belongings stored. He was subsequently charged with breaching her Temporary Protection Order. Neil would leave notes and photos for her in the child’s bag after contact visits; they were principally designed to rattle Susan, occasionally under the false guise of concern for the child’s welfare. On one occasion, Susan made an audio recording of Neil urging her to read a letter he’d written her while acknowledging that he wasn’t legally able to. When she refused, he told her things would end badly. On another occasion, Neil left his go-pro camera in the child’s bag with footage of him telling the child that Susan had tried to kill Neil. Susan made multiple breach complaints to the police notifying them that she was fearful Neil would kill her; however she was ignored.

    A significant breach of the protection order occurred at handover one evening. Handover took place at a public venue frequented by families and most of what ensued was captured on CCTV footage and Neil’s own go-pro footage. Neil alleged that Susan’s car wasn’t safe to drive and refused to hand over the child, slapping Susan’s hands away as she reached out for the child. Susan called the police for assistance; they suggested she sign a one-off waiver of the protection order to allow Neil to drive the child to her home, and took the matter no further. Susan was unable to get legal advice at that hour of night, so remained in the car park unable to reverse and leave as Neil was standing behind her car. Neil then sat on the bonnet of the car while Susan was locked inside breastfeeding the child; he filmed her, called out insults and accused her of being unsafe with the child. Susan rang a family member and arranged for them to collect the child; she then tried a different police station. The police arrived, however refused to take a statement claiming it was a Family Court matter. Later, when police viewed the CCTV footage, they said Neil had simply deflected not assaulted her, and his actions didn’t constitute a breach of the order. Susan felt aggrieved by the police treatment of her, and with the assistance of a domestic violence support service, lodged a formal complaint, which was never addressed.

    In preparation for a further interim hearing in the Family Court, a family report was prepared. Susan had obtained the CCTV footage of the incidents already described and past medical records evidencing Neil’s mental instability and suicide attempts. Recommendations were made regarding contact in Susan’s favour. On the day prior to the hearing, handover occurred. Neil had read the report. He approached Susan and told her he would get her. Susan went immediately to the police station to make a breach complaint. They took a statement after initially resisting, but said her claims were unsubstantiated as she had no recording of the interaction. Susan’s lawyer, on the other hand, had cautioned her against using recording devices as the Family Court did not regard the practice favourably. Susan tried to submit this fresh evidence at the hearing, however it was not accepted by the Court and the matter was adjourned for some months. Neil continued to refuse any order which excused Susan from being present at handover stating he did not have the financial means to pay for an independent third party.

    Susan (with representation) applied for a variation of the protection order to secure better protection at handover. Neil, for the first time, was represented. Susan’s barrister was concerned that if the matter proceeded to a hearing, Susan may say something in cross-examination that may prejudice the parenting proceedings. Consequently, Susan accepted an undertaking from Neil that he wouldn’t communicate with her during handover or otherwise except in an emergency. Susan agreed to communicate in writing with Neil via a website specifically designed for separated parents. Neil continues to send abusive text messages and emails to Susan. At another handover occasion, he opened the car door while Susan was driving out of the carpark; she had to stop suddenly while he retrieved a piece of paper from the child’s bag. Again, she reported the incident to the police and requested fingerprinting; they wouldn’t take a statement and told her to come back later, they also told her that fingerprinting would be of no value.

    Susan travelled overseas with her son (with Neil’s consent and the Family Court’s knowledge) to visit her sister. Knowing Susan was overseas with the child and unable to attend the mention, Neil made an application for the protection order to be dismissed. He later withdrew the application.

    Further interim parenting orders issued allowing a transition to overnight contact for one night during the week, and daytime contact on the weekend. Susan made an urgent application to the Family Court for further changes after another incident where Neil, with a female friend, approached Susan in a supermarket and told her he was ‘gonna get her’ while she was holding their child. Neil’s contact time changed to three nights every second weekend, with collection and drop-off at day care. At considerable relief to Susan, handover involving contact with Neil was no longer necessary.

    The final Family Court hearing is pending. Susan is assisting her lawyer in gathering records to evidence Neil’s parenting deficits and mental ill health. Susan is seeking sole parental responsibility and would be prepared to accept 4-5 nights contact each fortnight. Susan is concerned that Neil not having representation will adversely affect the outcome; however her lawyer is confident that his motives and behaviours will be exposed in cross-examination.

    Susan estimates having spent more than $200,000 on legal costs; she has had to sell one of her properties to finance the litigation, and will need to mortgage her other property to fund the final Family Court proceedings. Susan believes that it has been very important for her to be legally advised and represented throughout, though she attends mention dates in the Magistrates Court personally to avoid additional costs. Susan and the child continue to live with her parents for protection and to recover financially. Susan has re-partnered but continues to be fearful of Neil and believes he is capable of killing her. She dreads having to reapply for a protection order on the expiration of the current order given the lack of support she has received from the police. Susan believes the police have failed in their duty to respond to Neil’s multiple breaches, despite Susan’s concerted and consistent efforts to provide comprehensive statements and supporting evidence where possible. Neil’s abusive behaviour and Susan’s need for protection continue three years after separation.