Harsh New Laws Punish Victims of Violence

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Children need to be protected from violent perpetrators and so do their mothers. Mothers who are the victims of domestic violence risk losing their children upon reporting the abuse under new zero-tolerance child protection laws, such as those outlined in the 2013 Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill (Child Protection Amendment Bill (No 33) 2014). With an estimated 80% of all domestic abuse cases going unreported (Vic Health, 2012) such laws will make the direct victims of domestic abuse less inclined to seek help for fear of forced separation from their children. Removing a child from an abused but otherwise loving and capable parent is not in the child’s best interest, nor is it in the best interest of the victim to have them too intimidated and shamed to speak out.

Domestic violence has overtaken paternal mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction as the leading cause of child protection intervention (Butler 2014). The Family Rights Group (2014) states that cuts to domestic abuse and family support services, including strict means-tested welfare reforms, results in further isolation of victims. The inability of a victim to seek sufficient support, in the forms of stable housing and financial aid, increases their dependency on their abuser. Cathy Ashley, the chief executive of the Family Rights Group, states that women who report the crimes committed against them are told by social workers to leave immediately with their children or they (the children) will be taken into care (Butler 2014).

In order to understand the disempowering and dehumanizing demands of such practices, you first must understand the complex issues faced by victims of domestic violence. The zero tolerance laws indicate that even those who experience such cases daily are failing to understand that victims cannot simply pack up and leave. Not only are victims psychologically manipulated by their abusers, and usually dependent upon them through strategic isolation, they are also most at risk of extreme violence once they have left their abuser.

Clementine Ford, journalist for Daily Life, writes:

In June 2013, WA woman Angela Furullo was murdered by her ex-partner, James Bill Payet, at the hairdressing salon where she worked. Her pregnant daughter was injured in the attack. In April 2013, Kara Doyle’s boyfriend shot her in the groin. Doyle had been planning to leave him. She was dumped at a nearby Caltex Station with severe injuries and died in hospital five days later. Her killer, Mehmet Torun, was recently sentenced to eight years in prison with a non-parole period of five years. In February 2014, Victorian woman Kelly Thompson was murdered by her long term partner. Just 19 days before, Thompson had applied for an AVO against Wayne Wood. After murdering Kelly Thompson, Wood killed himself.

These are just a handful of the devastating acts of violence enacted against women and children every week in Australia. Every single one of these women were either in the process of leaving their partners or had already left them. If women are supposed to ‘just leave’ in order to end the cycle of violence, what is it that these women did wrong? The answer is nothing. They did nothing wrong (Ford 2014).

When a social worker tells a victim of family violence to leave immediately with her children, without time to source adequate housing, financial aid or support for safety, they are putting the mother and child/s life in profound danger. Threatening to remove the mother’s children will only add to the psychological trauma of the victim and make her far less likely to report future acts of violence. This advice condemns victims whilst doing nothing to address the real issue.

Domestic violence does impact on children, who, on average, witness 44% of all violence (Vic Health, 2013). Children are often the victims of revenge killings wherein the perpetrator murders his partner’s children to make her suffer further. As discussed above, such incidents usually occur directly after a woman has left her abuser. This illustrates a definite need for intervention but not the intervention that has been proposed.

We ought to be asking ourselves, as domestic violence is as much a crime as assaulting someone in the street (for example, the now famed ‘coward punches’), if child protection services have sufficient evidence and reports to remove children from the home then why can there not be a new legislation introduced where the perpetrator is court ordered to attend men’s behavioural change sessions? Or, why is the perpetrator not formally charged and facing jail time? Why is more not being done to prevent the violence? Why are there cuts to essential support services? Why is more money not being put into women’s refuges? Why have there been such harsh cuts to welfare payments for single parents?

Seventy-eight percent of people in Australia who are homeless due to domestic violence are women (Ford 2014) and it isn’t hard to see why. There seems only three, bleak options available to women experiencing domestic violence; stay with their abuser and not report the crimes against them in order to avoid having their children removed; stay with their abuser and lose their children; or leave, putting their own and their child’s life at risk, and face a life of poverty and, potentially, homelessness.

In a written interview, on the 10th of June 2013, Susan* illustrates what many women must endure when they make the choice to leave.

It got to the point where I had to seriously consider getting an intervention order against him. His behaviour was erratic and irrational. One moment he would be begging for my forgiveness for what he had done, saying he would love me forever, and at the next he would be calling me a ‘dumb slut’ and saying everything was my fault. I was scared of him, for myself and for my daughter. I had been too afraid to go to court for a formal custody agreement, fearing what he might do if I pushed it that far, so we had our own agreement where he would have her 3 nights a week. Every abused woman with children knows the horror stories that are both real and common. We all fear for our children (Susan* 2013, pers.comm., 10 June)

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March in March: A Vote of No Confidence in The Abbott Government

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The train, normally so quiet and empty on a Sunday afternoon, is packed. There are families, middle aged women clutching signs, men with beards and waist length dreads, an attractive woman wearing a maxi dress under a cropped denim jacket. Everyone is smiling, chatting, leaning forward to talk to their companions.

In a huge surge we exit at Melbourne Central. I have never seen it like this; not late on a Friday or Saturday night, not at peak hour on a weekday, never. We are slowly shuffled forward, unable to resist the flow of the crowd. We make our way through the twists and turns of the station and exit onto Latrobe St, directly across from the Melbourne State Library where thousands have already gathered for the March in March protest- a vote of no confidence in the current government and Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The signs are eye catching, bearing slogans such as “We need an Abbott-Proof fence” and “Welcome Refugees. Deport Abbott.” Every now and then chants arise, led by speakers and groups within the crowds, cries of “Shame, Abbott, shame” and “People, not profits.”

The vibe of the crowd is good; strong and purposeful. It is hard not to marvel at the diversity of protestors. This is not just one group. Here are not just hard-leftists. There are grandparents, elderly wheelchair-bound individuals, mums pushing babies in prams, dad’s with toddlers high atop their shoulders, men and women with dread locked hair and bare feet, groups carrying tin drums, youthful university students, individuals wearing Anonymous masks, and many, many people carrying cameras.

One speaker calls for everyone in the crowd to pull out their phones, take a picture, and upload on all social media sites with the hash tag MarchinMarch. The crowd complies. They want this to be huge. They want to be heard. This protest was not organized by the usual activist’s groups- they attended but they weren’t running it. It arose through social media, through a nationwide discontent with the Abbott government. Afterwards, we would learn the hash tag MarchinMarch had been trending at no.4 since 10AM that morning; a success. The media would indeed report on the marches but the coverage would be minimal and mildly dismissive. It would comment more on the size of the crowds and the unpreparedness of the police, than the purpose of the march and the changes Australians need to see being made. The media would, however and to their credit, report with honesty that the crowd was benign and respectful. 

Many marching were doing so with the knowledge that as of September 1st in Victoria such political protests will be illegal, a law passed at 1pm on Friday 15th, dictates. This was added to the long list of things to infuriate the people of Melbourne.

The signs clearly proclaimed what many were marching for. Like me, they were marching for:

1.            Australia’s National Parks and Tasmania’s old growth Forests.

2.            Asylum Seekers on Manus Inland and the violation of their human rights.

3.            Women’s Rights (and against Abbott appointing himself Minister for Women and against the new Paid Parental leave scheme, which will make employer’s less inclined to hire women.)

4.            Climate change and the Carbon tax.

5.            The Great Barrier Reef.

And much, much more. The list is endless.

As a small van trundles past to lead, blaring up-beat music and encouraging chants, the march as it begins. We all begin to creep forward, signs and banners raised, ready to show Abbott just what we think. Many people walking by or eating at café’s whip out their phones to record us as we march by. Others stare in complete confusion.

One man has a little boy atop his shoulders. The boy, no more than four or five, is pumping a chubby fist in the air and shouting in a soft, rounded child’s voice “People, not profit! People, not profit!” Other marchers turn to look and take pictures. The boy’s dad joins his son, his voice deeper, louder.

“People, not profit! People, not profit!” My friend and I join in as do dozens of others marching alongside us.  I’m sure plenty will wonder what difference it will makes and perhaps it will make none, but the purpose is to express a vote of no confidence and when 30,000 people turn out in one city to march, that expression has to be heard. It’s not just Melbourne either. Thousands upon thousands of people in city after city are marching with the same purpose.

After all this, one would think Abbott would wake up and start listening. As one sign claimed, “The power of the people is greater than the people in power.”