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Urgent calls for Australian government to do more about family violence

The Easter long weekend saw five women and children in Australia die from a result of domestic and family violence.

Two, in particular, were high-profile incidents that have made headlines across Australia.

The first occurred last Wednesday afternoon and involved a woman named Fiona Warzywoda, who had been with her partner for 18 years. She had separated from him just before Christmas, and on Wednesday morning had appeared in a court in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine to take out intervention orders against her former partner.

According to police, Ms Warzywoda had left her solicitor’s office just minutes before she was allegedly stabbed to death in the middle of a busy shopping strip in Sunshine. Her ex de facto husband, Craig McDermott, handed himself in to police on Thursday morning. Mr McDermott appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court later on Thursday night and was charged with the murder.

The second incident occurred on Easter Sunday in the Melbourne suburb of Watsonia. Two little girls named Savannah and Indiana, aged 3 and 4, were found dead. The girl’s father, Charles Mihayo, has been charged with their murder; further circumstances have not been explained. According to reports, the parents of the girls had been married but recently separated.

The horrifying events have drawn attention to the Australian statistics surrounding domestic and family violence.

Last year, information from the Australian Institute of Criminology found that at least one woman a week in Australia is killed by a current or former partner. It further found that 36 per cent of all homicides take place in a domestic setting, 73 per cent of which involve a woman being killed by her male partner.

Now, many are calling for more to be done about raising awareness of just how significant the problem of domestic and family violence has become.

While White Ribbon Australia does much to end men’s violence against women, there have been requests for the government – and especially the prime minister, Tony Abbott – to step up and do something about domestic violence, just as he voiced a plea to end drunken street violence after the death of Daniel Christie in December 2014.

Journalist Clementine Ford wrote an opinion piece for Daily Life yesterday, stating:

Violence against women and children in this country is in a state of national emergency, and yet it receives scant attention. I applaud the efforts of state governments to combat the effects of ‘coward punches’ on our young men, but I question why the perilous state of women’s safety is so routinely ignored and downplayed. Street violence has claimed the lives of young men, but at approximately 1/7th the rate of that of domestic homicides.

Just yesterday, in the wake of all these tragedies, Domestic Violence NSW – the peak body for specialist domestic and family violence sector organisations in NSW – launched the No Excuse campaign, which aims to highlight that there are never any valid excuses for domestic and family violence.

CEO of Domestic Violence NSW, Tracy Howe, said:

Australia has had a gutful, enough is enough. Too many lives are being lost and there are there is no excuse for violence against women and children, ever.

Domestic and family violence is killing women and children in horrific numbers. If Australians were dying with this regularity and in these numbers as a result of terrorism, food poisoning, natural disaster or coward punches on the streets, the nation would be united by outrage and grief.

Domestic and family violence is a national outrage. There are no excuses for these murders. It is time for government, non-government and community to acknowledge the horror and to urgently come together to find solutions for this.

It has been asked for all Australians to sign a petition which calls on our leaders to recognise domestic and family violence as a national emergency and to take urgent action against the violence.

If you would like to sign it, please click here.

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Victorian judicial system “failing” victims of family violence

The Age newspaper has reported on just how significant the problem of family violence has become in the state of Victoria.

Despite the State Government investing more than $90 million this year towards preventing family violence, there have been numerous incidents in which serial offenders have repeatedly breached intervention orders issued by the courts.

The Sunday Age quoted Victorian Police data from the past financial year, which revealed that:

– More than 820 offenders breached intervention orders at least three times;
– 200 of the 820 offenders violated orders more than five times and 15 committed more than 10 separate breaches in one year; and
– 88 people were charged with breaching an order three times in just 28 days.

The newspaper also noted that the courts are processing a record number of breaches – that is, more than 12,000 last year.

They noted that, as a result, the judicial system is “overworked” and that courts “struggle to process” the breaches. This has resulted in the failure of protecting victims of family violence, as abusers are able to harass victims while still awaiting trial for previous breaches.

There is currently a notable focus on family violence in Victoria, where family violence cases have been making headlines for months – particularly after the death of 11-year-old Luke Batty earlier this year.

Last week, the Victorian government also proposed new laws relating to family violence that would make it a crime to not disclose a case of child sexual abuse. The crime carries a maximum three-year imprisonment term.

The proposed laws contain a specific exemption for people who fail to report child sex abuse because they feel their safety is threatened – however, victim support groups are still concerned that the mothers of abused children will be too scared to report their abusive partners, and that these women may end up being unfairly jailed.

Victim support groups are also highly concerned that, despite new laws being put in place, there is still not enough focus on just how dangerous family violence can be.

The Age quoted Fiona McCormack, chief executive of Domestic Violence Victoria, who referred to there being 29 family-violence-related deaths in Victoria alone last year:

If we saw that many people being killed on public transport I think there would be a lot more of a response.

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Batkin & Batkin: Mother to be arrested if she continues to disobey orders

The recent family law case of Batkin & Batkin [2013] FamCA 44 involved a separated couple and three children that had been born of the relationship.

The trial initially came before Justice Murphy in November 2011.  At the time, Murphy J adjourned the parenting trial until February 2013, and made interim parenting orders by consent of the parties (referred to as the 2011 Orders).

The aim of the 2011 Orders was to reintroduce the father into the lives of the children; they’d had no direct time with him for over four years, due to a “longstanding dysfunctional relationship” between the parents.

The 2011 Orders included orders to engage with a therapist, and follow directions given by the therapist, with a view to re-establishing the relationship between the children and the father.

However, at the commencement of the final trial of parenting proceedings in February 2013, affidavit evidence submitted by the therapist disclosed that:

 

  • the mother had opted out of the counselling process following the 2011 Orders, and that she had indicated to the therapist by way of SMS message that this was “because the boys do not wish to see their father”; and
  • the boys did not express any concern about spending time with their father, they appeared more to be echoing the views of their mother rather than expressing their own independently-formed opinions.

In reviewing the evidence, the Court observed that the mother “appears to have a complete block so far as recognising the needs of [the] children to be able to form their own views of their father”.

As a result, Justice Kent was concerned that the boys had no opportunity to form their own views of the father; they had simply “regurgitate[d] the views expressed by the mother…and…her negative views of [the father].”

As a consequence, Justice Kent was concerned not to make final parenting orders in the matter until the father had a proper opportunity to re-engage with the lives of his sons, and to demonstrate to the Court that spending unsupervised time with them was in their best interests.

The Court therefore adjourned the final hearing and made interim parenting orders, which included:

  • the father would spend four hours per month supervised time with the boys at a nominated contact centre; and
  • at the end of six months, a report would be produced about the outcome of the father’s time with the boys to assess the father’s wish to graduate ultimately to unsupervised time with the boys each alternate weekend.

To ensure that the mother did not continue to obstruct the process, Kent J also included orders which provided that a warrant be issued for the mother’s arrest should she not deliver the boys to the contact centre at the times required.

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