Thirteen years ago, on the day of my birthday, my one-year-old nephew Bas, my four-year-old niece Malee and my 60-year-old father Peter were murdered. They were murdered by my brother-in-law Neung, who was shot at the scene by police. He died four hours later. I will carry the scars of that day with me forever.
There was an existing family violence situation -- my sister had left with her two children four months prior to the murders. There was a current Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) out on Neung who had already broken it 20 times.
The systems have changed since my family's murders, but not enough.
The systems have changed since my family's murders, but not enough. After my family's coronial court case I read out a list of recommendations on the stand in court and to the media afterwards in a press conference. Sadly, a lot of those recommendations still stand today.
I am proud to be speaking at the National Family Violence Summit this week in Canberra about these recommendations. The summit is run by the Tara Costigan Foundation and Baptistcare. Given Tara Costigan's murderer was sentenced in court last week, the summit is extremely timely for the foundation.
For me the biggest changes needed to stop family violence in Australia are:
1. Education in our Schools
Family violence education needs to be in every single school in Australia from preschool to the final year. Two prongs of education are needed.
Firstly, what family violence looks and feels like and some everyday examples. These need to cover not just physical violence but emotional, financial, sexual and spiritual abuse. This is so children can identify when they are in a family violence situation and seek help not just for themselves but for their mothers.
The second form of education that needs to be in all secondary schools is respectful relationship awareness. This needs to cover consent, pornography and examples of what abuse looks and feels like. Tool kits from Our Watch which have been piloted in schools are available online already for this course.
2. Reform of legal and police systems
The police have had massive cultural change towards family violence and they need to be applauded for this. However the problem remains that although more officers who understand the intricacies of family violence are being promoted and engaged there remains many who do not understand the dangers of family violence.
Women are often brushed off or their concerns minimised on their first approach to frontline officers. Sometimes it comes down to which officer is on that day. All officers need thorough training and potential police recruits need to go through family violence screening and psychometric testing before they are hired. Depending on the police branch location, domestic violence cases will range from 40 percent to 70 percent of their duties. Training in responding to domestic violence should therefore make up a large amount of their training at the academy and then thereafter.
One police officer told my sister to give Neung time to "calm down" as he was probably just stressed about the break up.
Breaches of apprehended violence orders or protection orders are still not enforced adequately. And compounding the problem, some magistrates let off perpetrators with a slap on the wrist. The perpetrators are given implicit permission to carry on in their behaviour. This happens despite the statistics and deaths of women and children in family violence situations. It's also ignoring the fact that often the violent behaviour of perpetrators escalates.
In my family's case, the red flags stretched back a mile long. My sister had contact with six different police officers before one raised concerns and took out a protection order. Neung breached that protection order yet faced no charges or repercussions. One police officer told my sister to give Neung time to "calm down" as he was probably just stressed about the break up. I have heard this exact quote from other women who were told the same thing when they first approached police.
I spoke to a police officer in 2016 who told me he knew a magistrate who didn't believe family violence was a "thing". He and his fellow officers knew if this magistrate was on court that day they may as well tear up the hard-earned AVOs as he would never pass them. All magistrates need family violence training particularly those who reside in the family court system.
3. Prevention and addressing gender inequality
In countries where there is more equality between men and women there is less violence against women. So closing this gap in this generation can reduce family violence for future generations. Studies now show clear links between disrespect and inequality of women and violence against them. But just like 30 years ago when clear studies demonstrated a link between smoking and lung disease but faced denial and push back from society, so to do we face the denial of this link. Women need to be treated with more respect. The pay gap needs to be zero. The everyday sexism women endure needs to stop. Only then can we start working on the true causes of family violence.
Every opportunity that we as a community have and that the police and legal systems have to intervene and prevent the final awful acts of violence need to be taken.
I am the mother to a seven-year-old daughter and two sons aged eight and four. All of them encounter sexism nearly every day and this breaks my heart. Every opportunity that we as a community have and that the police and legal systems have to intervene and prevent the final awful acts of violence need to be taken.
As a neighbour if you "don't want to get involved" or are worried for your own safety you can report the matter or fights you hear to Crime Stoppers anonymously. Family violence is a crime. As one police officer said to me in 2016, it broke his heart investigating a murder of a women where four neighbouring houses knew this woman was being physically assaulted, yet did nothing and now carry the guilt of that.
We all need to work towards changing the stories of so many thousands trapped in this cycle of abuse and I for one would love a different ending to the story of family violence for our future generations.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.
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