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Law Week 2012 hypothetical part 1 of 7

 

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[Law Week Hypothetical 2012]
[www.legalaid.qld.gov.au] [1300 65 11 88]

>> Kay McGrath: I'm Kay McGrath, I'm a journalist and presenter with the Seven Network and I'm your moderator this morning.

I'm also pleased to tell you that I'm a patron of a number of child protection groups in Queensland and have been working in that area since 1984.

Of course, child protection fits very well with today's subject of domestic violence and you may all be aware that not only is it Law Week, but it's also Domestic Violence Month in Queensland. I'd like to welcome you all.

I know there are some Year 11 Legal Studies students with us. If anybody's got a spare Legal Studies assignment, my son is struggling a little bit, so maybe talk to me afterwards.

Welcome to members of the Australian International Islamic College.

We've got members of the general public and from the legal profession with us here today.

So, welcome to each and every one of you.

Every man, woman and child has the right to live a life that's free from violence and free from abuse.

But sadly that's not the reality, no matter where you're living.

It's predominantly women and children who fall victim to domestic violence.

People who are affected by domestic violence experience often significant physical and emotional trauma. Their work and their educational opportunities can be disrupted, their lives turned upside down.

Now, while it's well and truly recognised that anybody can be a victim or a perpetrator of domestic violence, again, the reality is that 90 to 95 per cent of the victims of domestic violence are women and children and it's their male partners or ex-partners who are, sadly, the perpetrators of this violence.

To give you some statistics, in the year 2009 to 2010 the Queensland Police Service recorded 49,372 domestic and family violence incidents. That's in Queensland and that was an increase of 11 and a half per cent on the previous year's figure.

Over that same period, the courts received 22,754 applications for domestic violence protection orders and then on from that, the police laid 8033 charges for breaches of those domestic violence orders.

So you can see the true size of the problem and this is just in Queensland that we're talking about.

Now, today we're going to focus on a fictitious couple. I want you all to imagine them.

Their names are Jacob and Samantha and they've been in a relationship now for four years. They have a little boy - a gorgeous little boy - his name is Lucas, and they would be like any other couple that you would know.

You might hang out with them; they could be your neighbours, friends or family.

Sadly, things aren't quite as they seem.

Behind closed doors there's a physical and emotional problem. There's abuse taking place.

Today we're going to look at exactly what domestic violence is and hopefully we're going to be able to separate the facts from the myths.

The good news is that there is support out there for anybody who's in a domestic violence situation.

So we're also going to look at the services available to people who are experiencing domestic violence and we'll examine the legal processes that sit around this whole subject as well.

To help us this morning we have our esteemed panel, which has very kindly given up their time.

Let me introduce from the end, Fionna Fairbrother. Fionna's a principle lawyer with Legal Aid Queensland's Violence Prevention and Women's Advocacy Team.

Beside Fionna, the Honourable Judge Brendan Butler, the Chief Magistrate of Brisbane Magistrates Court.

A warm welcome to Heather Nancarrow, Heather's the director of the Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research at Central Queensland University.

Megan Giles is sitting beside Heather. Megan is the director of Child and Family Policy with the Department of Communities - welcome Megan.

Inspector Mark Wheatley joins us. He's from the Legal Services Branch with Queensland Police. Welcome Mark.

And Miss Amanda Whelan, finally, is the coordinator of the Brisbane Domestic Violence Advocacy Service.

Would you please give them all a round of applause.

[audience applauds]

Thank you for giving up your time today.

Now it's my very great pleasure to introduce you to our host, the Chief Justice, Paul de Jersey, who will officially welcome all of us and also acknowledge the traditional owners. Chief Justice.

>> Chief Justice: Thank you Kay and it is appropriate that on this occasion I acknowledge the original inhabitants of these lands who were here many thousands of years prior to European occupation and in particular the Turrbal and Jagera peoples and I pay my respects to their leaders and elders.

Legal Aid has hosted events like this for many years now. How long has it been, do you know, Anthony?

[consults Legal Aid Queensland Chief Executive Officer Anthony Reilly, who sits in the audience]

Four to five years. They've always been most successful and informative.

This occasion this year will be the last in this ceremonial courtroom as we look towards moving to our new courthouse at 415 George Street, from early August and I notice Rachel Hunter's here - it was during Rachel's director-generalship of the Department of Justice that that project gained momentum.

Rachel, of course, is the Chair of Legal Aid. Anthony Reilly, who I addressed a moment ago, is its CEO.

Kay mentioned some of the students - can I mention all of the schools represented here today: Northside Christian College, Mitchelton State High, the Australian International Islamic College, All Hallows', John Fisher College and Redbank Plains State High School and there are some tertiary institutions represented here as well - The Brisbane North Institute of TAFE, Queensland University of Technology, Royal Brisbane Clinical School and Griffith University.

Can I endeavour to echo what Kay said a moment ago in an introductory way, about domestic violence.

By the way, it was very unfair that I should have to follow you. I thought you were following me. [laughs]

>> Kay McGrath: I had the order changed.

>> Chief Justice: A crusty Chief Justice following a vibrant leader of the media.

Anyway, domestic violence is something, which, as has been said, engages the courts of law, the legal profession - heavily represented here today - and immediately of course, families including both victims and offenders.

It is a fraught subject with a high focus in the community and while one is tempted to say that there is no complete solution to it because it feeds off weaknesses in human personalities and they will always be there, this hypothetical we all hope, will engender a better understanding in all of us and that should enhance the responses we make and our capacity to engage with other people who have to confront this problem also in a creative way.

Now, you'll say thankfully, back to Kay.

[audience applauds]

>> Kay McGrath: Thank you very much.

Okay, so indeed, we are going to learn more about this problem.

So let's go back to our scene and remember our subjects are Samantha and Jacob.

They're both 28 years old and they have a little boy. He's six months old now, he's very cute and his name is Lucas.

Now, Sam and Jacob have been together for four years. The first 12 months of their partnership was lovely, everything seemed very normal and then they decided to move in together and that's when things started to change.

Jacob started displaying a fairly possessive nature. He began calling or texting Sam whenever she was away from the home and he wanted to know where she was, who was she with, what was she doing, what time would she be home?

Now, to begin with Sam thought, this is pretty cute, you know, this is nice; Jacob really cares about me. (Girls, yes? You'd agree?) He cares, he loves me very much. But then it became very persistent and very prolonged and she started to get a bit concerned about it. She started to feel uncomfortable with it so she decided she would have a talk to Jacob.

Well, that didn't go at all well.

Jacob slammed his fist down on the table and got really angry and very defensive with Sam.

So Sam thought, okay, that didn't go well, so we won't talk about it again.

Then Jacob started to get really annoyed if Sam wanted to catch up with her friends and members of her family and he'd say things like I don't know why you want to see them; I'm your boyfriend. Why don't you spend more time with me?

One time, Sam got home late from a family barbeque; Jacob was so angry he yelled at her and punched the wall in his frustration, wanting to know why she was so late.

That behaviour Samantha found very scary. It was not good.

Jacob apologised, said it would never happen again, didn't know what had come over him, he was really, really sorry, won't do it again.

So Sam, still in love with Jacob, forgave him.

Okay, let's open this up to our panel.

First question to Heather Nancarrow from the Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research.

Heather is Samantha in a domestic violence situation? Does that qualify as a domestic violence situation?

>> Heather Nancarrow: Yes, yes Kay, it certainly does.

This is clearly more than an argument or a disagreement. Jacob's using a number of controlling, coercive tactics in order to control the behaviour and limit the autonomy of Samantha.

So yes, it's very clearly a case of intimate partner or domestic violence.

The coercive controlling behaviour, in fact, is expressed through a number of means including telephone surveillance and we can see now that the abusive tactics are starting to escalate to indirect physical violence in order to intimidate Samantha into the kind of behaviour that Jacob thinks is acceptable.

>> Kay McGrath: Can you tell us a little bit more about what exactly qualifies as domestic violence, from what extreme?

>> Heather Nancarrow: Well, look, it varies in terms of the range of behaviours. It may or may not be physical violence; it's intimidation and a range of tactics. As I said, it could be non-physical forms of abuse, basically intimidating somebody in order to control their life and it's a form of general control over the other person's life and it's predominantly perpetrated by men against women and I think we're going to be exploring some myths and facts soon and I'd like to explore that a little bit more at that point.

But certainly, what qualifies is one person dominating and controlling the other person and it's an ongoing pattern of domination and control.

It's not an isolated or a one-off incident. It's about an ongoing pattern of domination and control.

>> Kay McGrath: That's one end of the spectrum though, Heather, it can go right to the other end, unfortunately, can't it?

>> Heather Nancarrow: Absolutely, absolutely.

You know, about a third of the homicides that occur in Australia, nationally, are domestic violence related homicides.

So it certainly can end in that case and whilst we're getting better at being able to identify risk factors for homicide, it's not a perfect science and people who are living with domestic violence are at risk of severe injury and in some cases, homicide.

[Part 1 ends - continues in part 2]

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