Image from canberratimes.com.au. No copyright intended.
Pre Covid19 isolation, on 18 February 2020 I was fortunate to be able to host a Family Violence Roundtable at the Law Institute of Victoria and introduced keynote address speaker and past Australian of the Year – Rosie Batty AO. I urged people working in the sector that if they were suffering from coalface fatigue, to find someone else to pass the baton onto.
We reflected on what gains had been made since the Royal Commission in Victoria and how much further we still have to go. Ms Batty regretfully noted that in her opinion law makers had indeed dropped the baton on family violence and there was still more work to be done. On that same morning I appeared on the Virginia Trioli program on 774 to discuss the family violence sector and she queried whether this sector still required our attention. Timing is everything. On 19 February 2020, Hannah Clarke and her three children were murdered by her former partner and the children’s father.
The brutal murder of Hannah Clarke and her children caused outrage and an outpouring of grief in the Australian community. People took to the streets and protested. People demanded change and that there be zero tolerance in relation to acts of family violence. Given how horrendous this attack was, there was an expectation that we would see a line in the sand be drawn against incidents of family violence – this was to be our Port Arthur – an act so horrific that we would turn a corner. Have we?
Sadly, it comes as no surprise to us that family violence incidents have not diminished – in fact the opposite has happened. Due to Covid19 we have seen instead an explosion of incidents and increase in the number of people reporting and an increase in the number of incidents of family violence. Covid19 has provided perpetrators of family violence with the perfect opportunity to continue to inflict that violence.
A perpetrator will use whatever weapons they have at their disposal to ramp up their campaign of increasing terror in the life of the person whom they allegedly love. They often follow a pattern – implementing an insidious program of robbing their partner of their family, their friends, their sense of self and in the process, they cut off their avenues of escape and then completely dominate all aspects of their life including financial control.
Covid19 has resulted in perpetrators eliminating those last avenues of daily escape – taking the kids to school, going to the supermarket, visiting others. Then the violence on the home front has taken a sinister turn with survivors explaining how their partners would use Covid19 to elevate their campaign – threatening to put them out on the street to contract the virus, stopping them from all contact with family and friends, making them wash repeatedly, and then ramping up the usual daily campaign of criticism, complaint and domination. The downturn in the economy has also been used to exert financial control. It is important to note that at the heart of all family violence is power and control. Many survivors of family violence do not realise that the law recognises the more subtle and pernicious forms of violence such as financial control. A downturn in the economy, even if it has not adversely impacted the perpetrator, will still be used by them as an excuse to further dominate their partner.
I am not sure how many more women and children need to be murdered, hurt, harmed, damaged before we all draw the line in the sand and say “enough is enough”!
Accredited Family Law Specialist
Past President Law Institute of Victoria