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On a mission to end family violence

Cover Story

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2015 89 (1/2) LIJ, p.20

Victoria's legal profession with police and community groups have established a Family Violence Taskforce in response to the pleas of mother and campaigner Rosie Batty.

By Carolyn Ford

Luke Batty was murdered by his father, Greg Anderson, one year ago. The Tyabb schoolboy was belted with a cricket bat and then stabbed with a knife in the nets at cricket practice on 12 February 2014. He was 11.

The next day his mother Rosie Batty faced the media, calmly beseeching the community to stop rising family violence – the phenomenon that in Australia affects one in three women and one in four children; that kills at least one woman a week and 27 children a year; that constitutes 40 per cent of police work and 75 per cent of all assaults against women; and that costs Victoria $3.4 billion annually.

Ms Batty’s message resonated. In the 12 months since the brutal death of her only child, the issue of domestic violence has gained momentum with much – and many – committed to fight it.

Former Governor-General, head of a Queensland government taskforce on domestic violence, Quentin Bryce has called it the gravest human rights issue in the world today. The federal government has allocated $100 million to an action plan to combat violence against women. The Victorian government has appointed the state’s first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson, and announced a Royal Commission into family violence. It will be led by Supreme Court Justice of Appeal Marcia Neave AO. Justice Neave will retire from the bench before the Governor’s appointment.

Justice Neave was foundation chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, conducting inquiries into sexual offences, homicide and disability.

“Justice Neave is a celebrated judge, academic and lawyer who has devoted so much of her professional life to keeping women safe – on the streets, in the workplace, and now, in their homes,” Ms Richardson said.

Also, Victoria Police is set to appoint its first Assistant Commissioner for Domestic Violence.

Victoria’s legal profession has also responded. With police and community groups, it has established a Family Violence Taskforce, which was launched at the LIV’s annual White Ribbon event last November.

The taskforce, a high-level interdisciplinary group, includes Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen, Victoria Police, LIV criminal and family lawyers, Victoria Legal Aid, No to Violence, the Victorian Bar, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, Domestic Violence Victoria and Women’s Legal Service. The LIV is providing policy and administrative support. The taskforce will review family violence services, recommend improvements across criminal, civil and child protection jurisdictions and may make recommendations for legislative or funding changes.

An issue already identified is the provision of “safe places” in magistrates and children’s courts for victims. Some victims and children will be able to give evidence via video.

Also, all magistrates in Victoria will do two-day family violence training courses, including best practice in hearing domestic violence matters and how to deal with perpetrators in court, at the Judicial College of Victoria. Registrars who answer queries at court counters will also get training. A website with information on family violence intervention orders will be launched and time frames for responding to family violence-related criminal charges will be improved.

In a new Practice Direction effective 1 December 2014 (see p65), the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria will introduce staged fast tracking of the hearing and determination of criminal offences arising out of family violence incidents. Chief Magistrate Lauritsen said the rate of recidivism for crimes of violence against intimate partners is much greater than crimes of violence against strangers, and that usually the violence increases in number and intensity, and accordingly, fast-tracking of these cases has been introduced, initially in the Dandenong Magistrates Court.

“The taskforce is a round table discussion between many of the organisations involved in family violence in this state. The discussions attempt to develop new ways of dealing with family violence in order to reduce its incidence in the community,” Chief Magistrate Lauritsen said. “To date, the taskforce has met on four occasions and its discussions have been most useful.”

2014 LIV president Geoff Bowyer said the [taskforce] idea originated with lawyers who were concerned with the lack of coordination between services dealing with family violence offences. “The consequences of an inconsistent and confusing legal system can be extremely serious, as we have seen with the tragic death of Luke Batty,” Mr Bowyer said.

Taskforce founding member and former LIV president Caroline Counsel said the importance of the taskforce could not be underestimated.

“Given the alarming number of family violence incidents and the adverse impact on children, the family and the community, it became obvious to me that those of us in the justice system, at the coal face, could help by sharing our knowledge to improve the impact of the system and create better outcomes for families,” Ms Counsel said.

She congratulated the state government and the LIV for tackling the complex and difficult area.

Since her son’s death, Ms Batty, nominated for 2015 Australian of the Year, has rarely been out of the public eye advocating for an end to family violence. She fronted several of the more than 1000 White Ribbon Day (25 November) events nationwide last year, including the LIV’s annual lunch dedicated to the male-led campaign to end men’s violence against women.

In a panel discussion with then Chief Commissioner Ken Lay and social commentator Phil Cleary that was moderated by Women’s Legal Service CEO Joanna Fletcher, Ms Batty tearfully urged the legal profession to “understand that family violence is an epidemic. You need to make yourselves very aware of the complexities . . . we need our court system and processes and everybody involved to be fully aware that these are complex issues that affect people’s lives”.

Ambivalence on the issue must stop, appropriate funding of women’s legal services must start, she said, and women needed to be believed when reporting abuse, which could happen if you were a judge or a street sweeper. “We are in a victim-blaming society. As victims, we have to work so hard to be believed. So, on top of all the abuse that we navigate every day, we fight the systems that are supposed to be supporting and protecting us. How can this be?”

Chief Commissioner Lay agreed. “We tend to find a reason not to believe the victim. The first response is, why doesn’t she leave, why did she pick this bloke, what did she do to deserve a belting? We know the vast majority, when they tell us a story about pain, hurt and violence, are true.”

He said the system was complex, difficult and not supportive of domestic violence victims when it needed to “wrap itself around these people”.

“Women often face years and years of abuse before they find the courage to speak to their GP, a lawyer or local police. All too often they are met with a response which is inconsistent, non-believing and not supportive.”

Ms Batty’s story was, he said, “one of hundreds out there where the police response has been inconsistent, where it depends on who you speak to or what station you call. And sometimes a response is different if you go into a particular court or talk to a particular lawyer”.

The system was not integrated – “we work in these stove pipes” – and an enormous investment was needed, as was support for perpetrators.

“It’s fine to say let’s lock them up, increase jail sentences, make bail restrictions tighter and put bracelets on people. But unless there is primary prevention it will keep occurring.”

The 41-year police veteran has championed the fight against family violence. On news he was stepping down as Chief Commissioner from 31 January, the Minister for Police Wade Noonan said, “Central to his proud legacy will be his action on family violence. He, above all others, put this squarely on the public agenda.’’

Ms Fletcher pointed out family violence was more likely in a society where gender roles are rigid and the sexes are unequal. In Australia, the gender wage gap is 18 per cent, the gender wealth gap is 14 per cent and 30 per cent support men making decisions in relationships, she said.

Ms Batty said: “This is about gender inequality, about a man’s sense of entitlement, seeing his woman and family as possessions. I am a classic example of the worst kind. Greg, as the ultimate act of control, to make me suffer for the rest of my life, took our son’s life.

“I wanted my little boy to have the best chances in life. I can’t see that through. So I’m doing what I’m doing, I’m on a mission.”

Comments

Phil Cleary
The law and the courts have been part of the problem, in excusing male violence by way of the old provocation law and continuing with evidence and argument designed to blacken the name of dead women. To that extent the law has been part of a dangerous narrative. Is that a view shared by anyone on the new panel and will the panel include someone to speak directly from the experience of losing a woman - sister, mother or daughter - to male violence that we define as 'family violence'.
30/04/2015 5:43:40 PM


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