Young people

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.

  • Hilary and Bruce were in a relationship for 17 years; they married and had three children who were primary and pre-school age, and two years of age on separation. Hilary has an adult child from a previous relationship who was pre-school age when Hilary and Bruce got together and lived with them until late teens. Hilary is tertiary qualified and has worked in a specialist professional role throughout the relationship other than during periods of maternity leave. Bruce has a trade qualification and held a well-remunerated position with a company for many years before resigning and starting his own business.

    Hilary’s early observation of Bruce was that he was a perfectionist regarding how work was done on their house and cars, he wanted to make the decisions about these matters and got extremely stressed when things didn’t go as planned, he was eager to fix other people’s problems and enjoyed their praise and gratitude. Hilary felt she understood and accommodated these traits in Bruce, along with his need for his own space and to spend regular time away with friends. When they met, both Hilary and Bruce had their own homes. In time, the properties were sold and together they bought a house on a big block with a work shed for Bruce. As a result, they were in a comfortable financial position with a small mortgage, good incomes pooled in a joint account, and relatively low outgoings.

    Bruce’s behaviour became concerning to Hilary when she discovered she was pregnant with their first child. Bruce was angered by the news: Hilary had conceived quickly, however Bruce had wanted it to be later, and expected to be able to control the timing. He even contacted Hilary’s family members to express his displeasure. Witnessed by Hilary’s child who was excited and happy about the news, Bruce came into the bedroom where Hilary was sitting on the bed, wielded two knives and threatened to hurt himself, tipped Hilary onto the floor by lifting the mattress, and punched his fist into the wall. Hilary’s child was distressed and screaming and calling out to her mother that she was going to ring the police. Hilary tried to reassure the child that she would sort it out and everything would be okay. Hilary believes that this incident and many others since have been a source of trauma for the child into adulthood.

    Bruce’s behaviour settled down once he got used to the idea of having a child. Hilary says he was an attentive and doting father to the first child, especially when very young and Hilary returned to part-time work at Bruce’s insistence. Hilary felt they had no financial pressure for her to resume working so soon, and had been looking forward to the break and spending quality time with the baby and her older child. Bruce however told Hilary that if she didn’t work, he wouldn’t either, and he would leave her.

    When Hilary was on maternity leave following the birth of their third child, Bruce was forced to resign from his long-held position due to unresolvable clashes with work colleagues. Hilary says he became depressed and took casual jobs he didn’t enjoy. He then announced to Hilary that he was going to start his own business. Their comfortable financial position had suddenly deteriorated and Hilary became stressed about earning only a part-time wage and having to find additional money to fund the business setup.

    Bruce was disappointed that their second child was a girl and appeared upset and angry on the few occasions he visited the hospital. On the day Hilary was discharged from hospital, he insisted that Hilary host lunch with friends at home. Hilary was exhausted, and refused. Bruce stormed out of the house and retreated to the shed. Bruce’s childish, tantrum-like behaviour escalated over time to physical violence towards Hilary. At the close of a demanding year in her job, Hilary finished work one evening hoping to get some help from Bruce around the house and with the children. Instead, he went to bed and let the children run amok. Hilary questioned him on his lack of support, and he tussled with her and kicked her hard, resulting in pain and extensive bruising to her arms and hip. The day care mother who looked after the younger children noticed the bruising and tried to counsel Hilary to see someone, however Hilary felt she wasn’t ready to get help, or to even recognise the reality of Bruce’s violence. On a subsequent occasion, Hilary tried to discuss with Bruce her concerns about the amount of equipment and vehicles that was accumulating in their yard. He reacted angrily and struck her on the hip with an extension cord while she was holding their youngest child.

    At this stage, Hilary realised there was something seriously wrong in the relationship and let her family know. One family member identified Bruce’s behaviour as domestic and family violence and urged her to take decisive action. Hilary however couldn’t afford to leave the home and rent elsewhere, and she knew that Bruce would dig his heels in. Hilary moved into a family member’s house with the children temporarily to seek safety and to organise counselling. She tried repeatedly to get an appointment but was unable to. Eventually she found help; her focus then was to try and understand what had gone wrong in the relationship and whether it was retrievable. She and the children then moved back into the family home and Bruce agreed to attend joint counselling. On a rare occasion when Bruce was open to discussing the relationship, when asked by Hilary why he was violent towards her, he told her that it was to discipline her. After three counselling sessions Bruce refused to continue, saying there was no point. Hilary continued, knowing that the relationship was over, but needing guidance with the separation process.

    By now Bruce was no longer contributing to the joint account. He agreed to pay only the house utility bills. The mortgage repayments, direct debits and children expenses were all paid from Hilary’s modest wage. Hilary was forced to ask Bruce for grocery money, which he gave out in meagre amounts after much complaint and verbal abuse, further humiliating Hilary each time. Hilary was aware that Bruce was making money from the business having seen him receive considerable amounts of cash from the sale of stock. Bruce told Hilary not to expect any more money from him, and that she needed to work more.

    One evening, while they were still living together, Hilary again expressed her frustration to Bruce at his failure to help with the children. An argument ensued and Bruce punched his fist through the door. Bruce then rang the police alleging that Hilary had verbally abused him. The police arrived at the house and interviewed them separately. Hilary had not planned to get the police involved as she felt ashamed by what was going on and didn’t want Bruce in any trouble, but after some probing by the police, Hilary detailed the violence and abuse she had been experiencing. They urged Hilary to apply for a protection order, and to seek a condition preventing Bruce from entering the property. Hilary obtained a temporary protection order, which only required Bruce to be of good behaviour towards her and the children. Hilary says she wanted Bruce off the property but knew that if he weren’t allowed access to the shed, his behaviour would only worsen. The Magistrate commented that these matters could be dealt with at the final hearing when Bruce had an opportunity to put his case. When the temporary protection order was served on Bruce, he became extremely angry and verbally abusive towards Hilary, and told her she was mentally ill.

    Due to financial constraints, Hilary attempted to put in place separation-under-the-one-roof arrangements. She notified Centrelink, relocated Bruce’s belongings to a spare room in the house, and told him she would no longer be cooking, washing or providing other benefits to him. Again, he reacted angrily. On a number of occasions he rang the police complaining that the dinner leftovers had been fed to the dog. Hilary could tell that the police believed Bruce’s complaints were exaggerated, yet she always felt they were supportive of her own situation.

    Just prior to the final hearing of the protection order application, Hilary was served with Bruce’s cross order application. The matter was adjourned to allow Hilary the opportunity to seek legal advice and representation. Hilary returned to the family home that day to find what she describes as a ‘romantic note’ from Bruce, which she interpreted as disingenuous and, once again, temporarily relocated with the children to a family member’s house. Bruce resumed living at the family home, and verbally abused Hilary’s adult child causing Hilary to alert police. Hilary and the children returned to the home, the family still governed by the temporary protection order requiring Bruce to be of good behaviour towards them. One of the children developed a fever and became quite unwell, and Bruce refused to help, choosing instead to watch television and send text messages on his phone. Hilary took the television remote control and phone away from Bruce hoping that this would prompt a better response; it didn’t, and the following morning when Hilary was preparing to leave for work and drop the children off to day care and school she discovered that Bruce had taken her car keys. Hilary tried to look for the keys; Bruce became angry and told her to get out of his room, then grabbed and pushed her forcefully into a chair while the children were present and becoming increasingly distressed. Hilary told Bruce to stop because he was hurting her. He then rang the police and waited at the front of the property for their arrival. Hilary also called the police to report a breach of the temporary protection order. It took some hours for the police to arrive, by which time Bruce had left and Hilary gave her statement regarding the breach. Bruce was charged with the breach, and the matter was heard, but Hilary hasn’t ever been advised of the outcome.

    At the final hearing of the protection order application (which included Bruce’s cross application), Hilary sought a variation to include an ouster order as she could no longer tolerate Bruce being on the property. Both Hilary and Bruce had legal representation. Hilary’s lawyer told her beforehand that the particular Magistrate listed to hear the matter would require that Bruce be given access to the shed, so there was no point in pushing for an ouster order. Hilary reported that the Magistrate was irritated by having to deal with the matter, telling them both that while separation can be difficult they needed to sort the issues out like adults. Bruce’s cross application was dismissed; and based on the Magistrate’s comments in the court room, Hilary believed that Bruce was granted access to the shed between certain hours on certain days, however when the paper order issued there was no such specification.

    Consequently, Bruce continued to come and go from the property as he pleased, including into the house. Hilary knew the latter behaviour was a breach of the order but felt uncomfortable about bothering the police with repeated breach complaints. When Hilary applied for a renewal of the order, she requested a variation denying Bruce access to the house. She felt admonished by the Magistrate for not reporting the breaches, and for being so petty as to not allow Bruce to use the toilet in the house. Bruce made another cross application against Hilary, and at the same time applied for the matter to be heard at a different courthouse, claiming a potential conflict of interest as a result of Hilary’s family connections. The matters were adjourned and Hilary and Bruce appeared for a mention before a different Magistrate who Hilary felt acted fairly and reasonably, in contrast to her previous experiences. The Magistrate expressed the view that Hilary and the children should stay in the house and made a further temporary order against Bruce in accordance with Hilary’s application; he also made a temporary order against Hilary requiring that she be of good behaviour towards Bruce. The final hearing of both applications is pending.

    When Hilary is at home with the children she tries to stay indoors and keep them distracted and settled, however when Bruce sees her, he often verbally abuses her. She has changed the locks on the house. Hilary feels intimidated by Bruce’s presence on the property, and her greatest concern is that he will attempt to take the children away so as to reassert his control over her. There are currently no parenting orders in place, though they have an informal arrangement where Bruce cares for the children one day each weekend. Hilary had been loath to involve the Family Court in matters relating to the children as she feared the process would be damaging to them, however she believes now that securing orders would be in their best interests. She is also aware of the need to make an application for property orders to clarify her financial situation. Based on Bruce’s business returns, a child support assessment has issued requiring Bruce to pay an annual total of $500 for the three children. Hilary otherwise wholly supports the children from her wage.