Legislative Council Tuesday 25 August, 2020
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -
That the Legislative Council notes -
(1) Family violence is evidenced by any of the following types of conduct committed by a person, directly or indirectly against that person's spouse or partner:
(a) economic abuse;
(b) emotional abuse;
(d) breaching any existing orders relating to Family Violence;
(e) assault (including sexual assault);
(h) verbal abuse;
(j) stalking; or
(k) an attempt to do any of those things.
(2) The Government’s ongoing commitment to the prevention of family violence with Premier Gutwein holding the portfolio of Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence;
(3) The need for a whole of parliament, non-partisan, whole of government approach to:
(a) raising awareness of family violence and violence against women in all settings and challenge attitudes that promote the status quo;
(b) the consideration of further law reform to promote and support the safety of victims, predominantly women and children;
(c) provide whole of community, evidence based, appropriate and targeted education programs in all areas of the Tasmanian community that:
(i) support gender equality;
(ii) increase awareness and understanding of the need for cultural change;
(iii) improve accountability mechanisms; and
(iv) reduce the stigma and silencing of those who have experienced family violence;
(d) promote gender equality awareness and training in workplaces;
(e) provide adequate resourcing to support the victims of family violence, predominantly women and children, to access;
(i) safe shelter,
(ii) financial support;
(iii) social support;
(iv) access to justice and legal aid; and
(v) psychological and therapeutic support.
(f) provide support for and access to evidence-based programs for perpetrators to modify behaviour; and
(g) role-modelling of respectful relationships.
(4) The important role of police and emergency services as first responders to incidents of family violence and domestic abuse.
Mr President, before commencing my contribution on this substantive motion I wish to acknowledge the grief and loss many families are currently experiencing as a result of family violence. I am not sure what the figure is today; I think as at yesterday it was 36 women killed this year in Australia, It goes on. I offer my condolences and heartfelt sympathy to all those who have been impacted, particularly in recent times, by the scourge that family violence is, a scourge that has resulted in more than one woman a week being murdered by a current or former intimate partner.
I also declare my particular interest in this area as a member of the board of Engender Equality. Most members here would be aware the work of Engender Equality. However, I will outline our work in this space under the leadership of Alina Thomas, the CEO, and her dedicated and very hardworking team. Engender Equality provides counselling, education and support to individuals and groups affected by family violence, along with advocacy for systemic change to gender and equality and to reduce violence against women, working towards the elimination of violence and abuse in Tasmania by providing a suite of integrated and specialist responses to family violence.
Engender Equality's practice framework is informed by an evidence-based understanding of family violence, intersectional analysis and supporting frameworks, including human rights, social justice, anti-oppressive practice and trauma-informed practice.
To return to the motion before us, I think we are all aware of the national crisis we are facing with regard to family violence, a crisis that has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure none of us can forget the sickening murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children at the hands of her ex-husband. The horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her children deeply impacted her family, friends, neighbours and almost all Australians, and caused the nation to stop and reflect on this national crisis and shame that we face as the nation.
As I noted in my opening comments, more than one woman a week is murdered at the hands of a current or former intimate partner, and many more experience other forms of family violence as listed in the motion - economic abuse, emotional abuse, intimidation, breaching of existing orders related to family violence, assault, including sexual assault, threats, coercion, verbal abuse, abduction, stalking or an attempt to do any of these things.
Violence against women is a serious and widespread problem in Australia and within Tasmania. It is also the case that violence against women is preventable. What is crucial to understand is that to prevent violence against women we need to understand it. This is one of the reasons why I brought this matter to Parliament for debate. We all have a responsibility to be informed and educated about the reality, the evidence and the extent of this critical issue. We need to inform the public through our work here in the parliament and in the broader community.
According to the United Nations Declaration -
Violence against women is any act of gender-based violence that causes or could cause physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
We need to be aware it is the threat that is also family violence. You do not have to follow through. It is the threat. I will come to that towards the end.
In Australia violence against women is called many different things, including domestic violence, family violence, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault.
While different terms may be used, we need to be clear that however described, family violence and violence against women are at crisis levels and deeply rooted in gender inequality, and we have an obligation to address it.
Our Watch is an independent not-for-profit organisation established in 2013 by the Victorian Government and the Commonwealth Government. Since then, all state and territory governments have joined as members.
Our Watch is an initiative under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22 and implements the work of Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety. Their website has a lot of evidence-based advice, including policy advice, data and resources for anyone in the community or governments to access. They have also produced free research tools and resources to help others imbed gender equality and prevent violence in settings like education, workplaces, sporting clubs and the media.
The Our Watch website provides some key statistics on violence against women in Australia and I quote from the Our Watch website -
On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. 1 in 3 women (30.5 %), has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
1 in 5 Australian women (18.4 %) has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
1 in 3 Australian women (34.2 %) has experienced physical or/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man since the age of 15.
1 in 4 Australian women (23 %) has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner since the age of 15.
1 in 4 Australian women (23 %) has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
If you look around the room and see how many women are in this place, Mr President, take note -
Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner. Almost 10 women in a day are hospitalised for assault injuries perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner.
Ten women a day!
Women are more than twice as likely as men to have experienced fear or anxiety due to violence from a former partner. Almost one in 10, 9.4 per cent, have experienced violence by a stranger since the age of 15.
Clearly strangers are not as frightening as the people in their home.
Young women 18 to 24 years' experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups. There is evidence that women with disability are more likely to experience violence. One in five
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women aged 15 and over has experienced physical violence in a 12-month period. Over one-third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have experienced physical violence in the year proceeding 2014-15 identified an intimate partner as the perpetrator of their most recent experience of physical violence.
There is a lack of comprehensive population data on violence experienced by LGBTIQ people; however, existing data and research suggests that rates of violence experienced by LGBTIQ people are at least comparable to that experienced by the wider female population. For example, one study has found that lesbian and bisexual women are at least twice as likely to experience physical violence by a partner than heterosexual women.
In 2017-18 the number of women making calls to Elder Abuse helplines across Australia exceeded men, with emotional and financial abuse being most commonly reported.
Finally, there is lack of comprehensive population-wide data on prevalence and impacts of violence against women from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Specific studies suggest high prevalence rates and specific issues of complexity, such as a partner using a women's temporary migrant status as a means of violence.
These are very sobering statistics. We simply cannot ignore them or take the view that it is not something we can do something about. We can and we must do all we can to prevent this unacceptable violence. If you look more specifically at Tasmania's statistics, work under taken undertaken by Campo and Tayton, George and Harrison and Wendall, et al in 2015, it informs us that:
Women living in regional, rural and remote areas are more likely than women in urban areas to experience domestic and family violence.
When you think about our dispersed population and the number of women living in rural and remote areas, there are more women, percentagewise, at risk in Tasmania because of that.
Women living in regional, rural and remote areas who experience domestic and family violence face specific issues related to their geographic location, and the cultural and social characteristics of living in small communities.
These include barriers to accessing service, higher rates of gun ownership, fears of stigma, shame, lack of privacy, and social values and norms that suggest family violence is a family problem and should not be spoken about.
This can also be an issue for religious families where patriarchy is a feature.
Tasmania has the most decentralised population, naturally, where traditional gender norms in rural communities may be more narrowly defined than in urban areas, and act to normalise male abuse and control. We really need to be aware of this. I speak with counsellors working in my region and other regional parts of Tasmania, and it is much more difficult to break through those patriarchal structures and cultural norms that exist within our rural and regional areas than it is perhaps in the more urbanised areas.
As we know, Tasmania supports a large regional and remote population, with 60 per cent of the population living outside the greater Hobart area. These authors suggest that it is therefore imperative that family violence responses in Tasmania focus beyond the capital and other regional centres, as crisis accommodation for women who have been made homeless due to family violence are currently concentrated in the major regional centres and cities of Tasmania - with the exception of Warrawee in Ulverstone, which is not in a major centre.
In a 2017 ABC Story, we were informed that hundreds of Tasmanian women and children fleeing domestic violence were being turned away from shelters each month because of a lack of space. Service providers say, and this article from the ABC states -
In 2015 when the state government launched this family violence action plan, advocate Rosie Batty predicted there would be a tsunami of women seeking help.
Eighteen months on and a greater awareness of domestic violence and a tight rental market in the south of Tasmania is putting women's shelters in the state under extreme pressure.
Hobart Women's Shelter chief executive Janet Saunders said demand for places has never been so high and not everyone could be helped.
'In 2015, we were averaging about 60 a month, that then went to 100 in 2016 and this year we are seeing over 200 a month,' she said.
'In January alone we had 219 unassisted requests for accommodation.'
That is 219 unassisted women they could not help.
At Hobart's two other women shelters about 100 women and their children are being turned away each month.
In the north of the state, about 180 women cannot be immediately helped each month, while the north-west is only just coping with demand.
Major Brad Watson from the Salvation Army, which runs two women's shelters in Tasmania, said more housing stock was needed.
'The hardest thing for all of our services, domestic violence, rehabilitation or whatever they may be, is when you know that someone desperately needs your help, but the resources, the funding or the accommodation capacity may just not be there to support them,' he said.
I was also hearing from those working directly assisting women and children seeking to escape family violence, but the shortage of suitable accommodation remains an issue, particularly in the north and north-west of the state.
In answer to a question I asked in June this year, the Leader informs us in response to the question -
With regard to the safe, secure housing for victims of family violence when escaping a violent and/or unsafe living arrangement on the north-west coast, how many victims escaping from family violence are waiting for safe housing in each local government area? How long has each person or family been waiting?
The Leader answered -
As at the end of May 2020, there were 75 applicants on the housing register in the north-west to identify as being impacted by family violence. In Burnie there were 19, Central Coast there were 17, in Devonport there were 21, and 18 in other various locations, noting these numbers are not disclosed due to the potential to identify applicants.
Mr President, there was no comment regarding the length of waiting times for those 75 women or families. That was part of the question. I am hearing these waiting times are long, and we know the very real risk there is to women and children if they are unable to source safe accommodation when they need it. Clearly, we do need more work done in this space to provide safe housing for these women and children as part of our response in this national crisis.
We also need to be very cognisant of the barriers to women leaving family violence situations. Most members would be aware that the most dangerous time for a woman in a violent relationship is at the time she makes a decision to leave, and as she is leaving. That is when they are most likely to be killed, and we see that in Tasmania.
Many of these reasons are compounded in rural and regional areas. That includes small, discrete rural and remote population centres, a lack of affordable public transport, affordable housing and specialist domestic violence services.
We also know that without appropriate long-term accommodation and support, many women trying to escape the cycle will return to their abuser. Domestic and family violence has long-term and far-reaching consequences.
Women who experience family violence face poor overall physical and psychological health and wellbeing outcomes, and children who witness family violence are subject to psychological and behavioural impacts, health and socioeconomic impacts, and intergenerational transmission of violence and re-victimisation.
I want to pause here and give a brief account of an interaction I had with a school principal who taught in a lower socioeconomic area within the state. He was at a primary school. There was an incident in the school where a little boy physically hit or assaulted a little girl. Both families were called. When the mother of the little girl came to pick up the child, her response to the principal was, 'For God's sake, she is going to have to grow up getting used to being hit.' There was a sharp intake of air from me at that point. I found it unconscionable that we have families who are so used to being abused, that this is the only expectation for that mother to have for her little girl - that her life was one of accepting being beaten up by men. How sad.
Mr President, we must not overlook the fact that the effects of domestic and family violence reverberate through the whole community. We must all work together to ensure we have enough relevant services to respond to this crisis, that take into account Tasmania's unique challenges, to effect long-term change against a complex and pervasive social problem.
In working together to address these matters, we must be well informed about all forms of family violence, as I have referred to earlier. We must do all we can to address the underlying factors, including gender inequality, particularly through effective primary prevention.
Gender inequality and disadvantage is still evidenced through the appalling reality that Australia's full-time gender pay gap is 14 per cent, with women earning on average $241.50 less than men per week. On average, women spend nearly 32 hours a week on household labour and caring for children, compared to nearly 19 hours by men - a statistic that may prove to be even more inequitable when we get the COVID-19 data related to this measure.
Furthermore, women comprise almost half - 47 per cent - of all employed persons in the labour force; however, women continue to be under-represented in traditionally male-dominated industries, and in managerial positions across these industries.
At this point, I would like to acknowledge the work done by Shannon Bakes, People Improvers, Cheryl Fuller, Renee Donaghue from Elphinstone and Jessica Richmond from Grange, and all the other education providers and supporters who worked with Shannon and I in the Stepping In project in north-west Tasmania. This was a Government-funded project that supported 20 north-west women who are unemployed or underemployed to gain entry-level skills and qualifications to promote their participation in the mining, resources and advanced manufacturing sectors. I look forward to watching these women succeed in these areas that are generally more highly paid and male-dominated. I will be assisting with the presentation of their certificates - I think next week. Shannon Bakes is a male who actually drove that.
In another measure of gender inequality, in 2018 only 35 per cent of Australians who have witnessed workplace sexual harassment in the previous five years took some form of action. Clearly, we all have an obligation to speak up in these circumstances. The more this occurs, the less hidden it becomes and the easier it is for others, including the victims, to speak up and to bring about change. We cannot let it remain hidden.
Back to the detail of the motion and the need to fully comprehend the extent and impact of family violence on our society. Much of the abuse and violence women experience has remained hidden behind the walls of the family home. This has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am aware of examples of coercion and economic, social and emotional and sexual abuses that have occurred during this time, where it has been more difficult for victims, predominantly women, who have found it much more difficult to seek support, and especially more difficult for them to leave an abusive relationship. The statistics are still to come in around a lot of this, but early statistics are showing it is pretty frightening.
This was described in a very recent article in the conversation on 18 August 2020. I will quote some sections of this article, as I have also heard directly from members of my community. This is a very real lived experience. I have heard a very similar or identical example to what is described in the conversation article from people, not just in my electorate, but within Tasmania. I quote from the conversation.
Reflecting the limited opportunity to seek help, more women are making use of the online chat with 1800RESPECT, while more male perpetrators are seeking behaviour change support. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began significant concerns have emerged about the heightened risk of family and domestic violence for women and children. Further, in April the United Nations declared this as a shadow pandemic. The UN called for governments worldwide to commit more funding to ensure the safety from violence during this period.
During the first period of restrictions, our research with practitioners in Victoria and Queensland identified an increase in frequency and severity of family violence. Practitioners also reported an increase in first-time reports of intimate partner violence and the weaponising of children as part of shared-care arrangements. Practitioners told us perpetrators were using children as a threat of COVID-19 infection to gain access to women, to force them to share a house with their abuser, when they had previously lived separately and to control access to children.
National research by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that one in 10 women in a relationship said they had experienced intimate partner violence during the pandemic. Half of those women said the abuse had increased in severity since the outbreak of the pandemic in Australia. Further, since the COVID-19 restrictions began earlier this year, 1800RESPECT, the national helpline, has had an increase in demand for its services nationally. There has been a shift in how individuals are accessing the helpline. I believe this is significant. It has also been the case with the services provided by Engender Equality, we have seen an increase in demand and contact through our data as well.
The Conversation article says:
One of the notable changes compared with the pre COVID-19 period has been the increased use of the online chat function. The other key changes help seeking the 1800RESPECT data shows is the increased volumes of calls placed late at night, peaking around midnight. This may reflect that women are waiting until their children and/or abusive partner are asleep before they seek help. Anecdotally, however, counsellors report that callers at these hours are seeking help to deal with trauma, including nightmares, flashbacks and/or sleep disturbances.
It is believed that COVID-19 restrictions are exacerbating experiences of trauma, as being confined to their home triggers victims/survivors' memories of being or feeling trapped. They might not be trapped by their partner, but they are trapped by the restrictions.
The impact of COVID-19 on families experiencing family violence will last long after the pandemic. We must maintain adequate levels of funding and resources in these areas to address the very real issues that women and children will face for years to come. As we saw initially in Tasmania during our shutdown, Victoria is also reporting a slight decrease now, in their second lockdown, of reports of family violence to police since the beginning of that second lockdown. We must remember the second lockdown is harder than the first lockdown in Victoria. The article notes:
Since stage 3 restrictions were reintroduced in Victoria in July, Victoria police have reported a slight decrease in family violence reports around the state.
This may reflect that restrictions make it more difficult for victims to report abuse. If living with an abuser, they are likely to have less time on their own and significantly less time out of the house. The fact that previously separated couples were once more having less in-person contact may also be a factor here.
Potential or actual perpetrators of family violence are also increasingly seeking assistance, which is a positive thing. They are actually seeking help. There is an urgent need to ensure these services are well resourced to support predominantly men because we really do need to help those that do reach out. To prevent family violence should be the ultimate goal.
The article from The Conversation says, 'No to violence', the peak body for men's services reported a spike in requests for services during the initial period of stage 3 restrictions in Victoria. While calls to the men's referral service slightly increased as Victoria entered stage 3 restrictions, it has not been at the same level as earlier in the pandemic.
Despite the growing awareness of family violence and abuse, I believe there remains in our community a lack of full knowledge of the extent and attributes of the forms of family violence and abuse. The article in The
Conversation notes that neighbours, friends and family can also play a critical role supporting victims and helping them access support during periods of restrictions. Recognising this, we need to enhance the capacity of bystanders to know what to do and how to keep safe in effective ways.
Securing women and children's safety during COVID-19 requires a whole of community response. For instance, coercive control is only recently becoming more understood. The very serious nature of this form of abuse cannot be underestimated. It can often occur in the complete absence of physical violence. However, it often leads to very serious physical violence including murder.
Those of you who have not read Jess Hill's book See What You Made Me Do really should. It is a difficult read in many parts, including a chapter I found particularly harrowing to read. Jess provides a warning regarding the content of that chapter at the beginning of it but I encourage you to read it because we need to understand. We must be aware of what is actually happening. We owe it to the women and children and families of those who are the victims. We must be willing to speak up and work together to address the underlying causes, including gender inequality.
We all need to fully understand the signs of all forms of family violence; support those impacted; ensure the safety of victims, predominantly women and children; and provide services and support to modify behaviours of perpetrators. We need to ensure our laws adequately protect those who need it and service providers who provide support and services to victims, survivors and perpetrators must be well and adequately resourced.
I commend the Premier for assuming the portfolio of the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence. I know he is very committed to addressing the crisis. I appreciate the opportunities he has already provided to me to meet with him to discuss my concerns and suggestions.
At a meeting some months ago - it feels like about three years ago now because it was pre-COVID-19 - I discussed my desire to establish a nonpartisan, cross-party approach to addressing this challenge. I was encouraged by his positive response to the suggestion, noting that he had been considering a similar approach. I am hopeful he may be able to say something further about this in his contribution on this important debate but I do accept that we have been busy with other things as well but we cannot not act on this.
I mentioned earlier Our Watch, the organisation the Government has partnered with is doing some phenomenally important work in the way we change society and the way we change culture. They have said that in order to prevent violence against women, we need a shared, consistent, mutually reinforcing approach where all levels of government contribute with business and community to create a safer Australia built on respect and equality.
We talk a lot about women being careful alert and aware when we go out and about especially at night alone and in not well-lit areas. We often hear of women needing to be situationally aware of needing to protect themselves. We really should not have to worry about our safety in areas like that but we do. Not that I can go to Melbourne at the moment, but I would like to, but walking from my son's place at Albert Park into the city when it is only just dawn, if I went through the park it would be much quicker. I do not; I go up the main road. I should not have to do that, but Eurydice Dixon did it. She went through a park.
However, it is important to recognise that most of the murders related to family violence take place in the woman's home and they are often the final brutal act after a long history of violence. We know in many of these cases women have reached out to service providers, who have not always been funded well enough to meet the demand. Resourcing service to assist those impacted by family violence must be a priority of our Government and must be a focus primary prevention.
Sadly, the deaths we see are just the tip of the iceberg for 1000s of people living with family violence. It is a national emergency and needs our urgent attention. This a compelling need for long-term secure and ongoing funding across the entire violence against women sector. As Our Watch states, particularly with our response and early intervention work, if we tell women to leave and we do not support them, we are culpable in what happens to them.
As point (3) in the motion states, we must take a whole-of-parliament, nonpartisan approach to addressing this crisis as not to do so will result in ongoing harm to women and families at a significant cost to society. The Our Watch website outlines the impact and cost of violence against women. The violence against women takes profound and long-term toll on women's health and wellbeing on families, communities and society as a whole.
They note on the website that intimate partner violence is the third greatest health risk for women aged 25 to 44, with the first being childhood abuse and neglect. In 2014-15 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were 30 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence assaults than non-Indigenous women. Based on 2015 analysis violence against women in Australia is costing Australia $21.7 billion a year; that money could be better spent on providing services for them.
Women who experience partner violence during pregnancy are three times as likely to experience depression, and we know the pregnancy actually escalates violence in many cases. Domestic and family violence are a leading driver of homelessness for women. In 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted a personal safety survey collecting information from men and women aged 18 years and over about the nature and extent of violence experienced since the age of 15. It also collected detailed information about men's and women's experiences of current and previous partner violence and emotional abuse since the age of 15, some I have already referred to.
Stalking since the age of 15, physical and sexual abuses before the age of 15. Witnessing violence between a parent and partner before the age of 15, lifetime experience of sexual harassment and general feelings of safety.
I will share some of the findings from that survey I have not shared previously as we do hear of what is called 'whataboutery', that is 'what about men? They can be victims too', and, yes, they can and they too need support when they are the victim. We need to ensure our resources are appropriately directed to where the major need is.
Furthermore, to quote Jessica Eaton, a doctoral researcher in forensic psychology who along with her husband established a charity to support only adult men lending support and mental health and wellbeing following the suicide of her father-in-law. It was named the Eaton Foundation in the United Kingdom. She says whataboutery comes from a place of misogyny, an arrogant derailing technique used to respond to a campaign video research study, intervention organisational communications that scream, 'I do not care about women, talk about men.'
Whenever I raise this matter, others often say men are victims too; that is what I am talking about here. The proof Ms Eaton says is in the comments she receives when she speaks about men's and women's issues separately, and she has done an enormous amount of work on women's issues as well as men. She says -
We need to get to the point when we talk about women's issues we get the same level of respect as what we get when we talk about men's issues. Until then, whataboutery is unwelcome here.
I will quote some data from the ABS that considers gendered violence, particularly family violence and intimate partner violence. More than one in three Australians experience violence by a male perpetrator since the age of 15, 36 per cent, compared to one in 10 by a female perpetrator. We are talking about who perpetrates the violence there. Approximately one in four, 23 per cent, of women experience violence by an intimate partner compared with one in 13, or 7.8 per cent, in men. More than one in four men, 27 per cent, experience violence by a stranger compared to one in 11 women, 9.4 per cent.
It is important that we understand these statistics as we know men do experience violence. They are less likely to experience it in their homes. They are much more likely to experience it out in the community. So, on the question of experience of violence, as the ABS reported, in the most recent incident of physical assault by a male, men were more likely to be physically assaulted by a male stranger, 66 per cent. The location of the incident was most likely to be either a place of entertainment or a recreational venue, 28 per cent, or an outside location, 28 per cent. In the most recent incident of a physical assault by a male, women are more likely to be physically assaulted by a male they knew, 92 per cent. The location of the incident for women is most likely to be in their home, 65 per cent.
In-depth information was also collected about men's and women's experience of violence by a partner since the age of 15 in the personal safety survey. Women were nearly three times more likely to have experienced partner violence than men, with approximately one in six women, 17 per cent, and one in 16 men, 6 per cent, having experienced partner violence since the age of 15. One in six women, 16 per cent, and one in 17 men, 5.9 per cent, experienced physical violence by a partner.
It is important to put some on these statistics in context. With regard to men's and women's experience of emotional abuse by current and/or previous partners since the age of 15, results from this survey noted that one in four women, 23 per cent, and one in six men, 16 per cent, reported experiencing emotional abuse by a current and/or previous partner since the age of 15.
There is much more data on the ABS website to inform us. We need to ensure that we do not perpetuate myths or detract from the key arguments and urgent matters. If we are to be well informed, we must work collaboratively to achieve real change. We need to listen to the research, be well informed about all areas of family violence and abuse and act accordingly.
When writing her book See What You Made Me Do, Jess Hill interviewed dozens of abused women, domestic violence sector workers, male perpetrators, children's advocates and system experts over five years. If you listen to her talk about the toll it took on her to write it, that is not insignificant either. Following the release of the book she was asked some questions about issues arising from the murders of Hannah Clarke and her three young children. I quote from some of her comments. They shine a light on what coercive control is and what it looks like. I quote from Jess Hill's interview -
Coercive control is a very particular kind of domestic abuse. It is not a reaction to stress, nor is it triggered by alcohol and drugs. It is an ongoing system of control in which the abusive partner seeks to override their partner's autonomy and destroy their sense of self. The end game, where the perpetrator knowing sets out to achieve it, is to make their partner entirely subordinate, a willing slave.
To do this they isolate, micro-manage, ameliorate, degrade, servile, gaslight and create an environment of confusion, contradiction and extreme threat. The victims have, as the British survivor advocate, Min Grob tweeted the other day, is that the rug has been pulled out from under your feet. You become disoriented, hypervigilant, confused and most likely sleep deprived. You are walking on egg shells, afraid you are going mad; afraid to make them mad; afraid all the time, sometimes not even knowing why you are in fear but the panic is there always. This abuse can also be incredibly hard for the victim to detect because it happens slowly, bit by bit. There is the total mental dislocation of this coercive control, which Amnesty International has classified as torture.
That is the hardest thing to recover from. Coercive controllers may use extreme physical or sexual violence or, as reported in the case of Rowan Baxter, Hannah Clarke's ex-husband, no physical violence at all.
It is important to remember that. He never hit Hannah. He just murdered her at the end -
For more than 40 years women and children have been saying that except for extreme violence, that coercive control is the worst part. In fact, one of the most common refrains from victims of coercive control is 'I wish he would just hit me'.
Sadly, there are many women who identify with this reality. When commenting on why women stay in these abusive relationships - people often ask, why did she stay? - Jess Hill said -
Many women do not know they are experiencing abuse until they are already in situations that are incredibly dangerous, partly because coercive control is so poorly understood, also because the perpetrator makes it invisible.
By the time the victims realise the danger they are in, many believe no system will ever be powerful enough to keep them safe. If they do report it to the police and something reportable actually occurs, which is difficult - you cannot report someone watching you in a certain way, or you can, but the police probably will not respond - they are taking a terrifying gamble.
Jess Hill also covers some of the underlying challenges related to gender inequality we must address if we are to alter the outcomes. Men do not abuse women because society tells them it is okay, men abuse women because society tells them they are entitled to be in control. In fact, society says if they are not in control, they will not succeed, they will not get the girl, they will not get the money, they will be vulnerable to the violence and control of other men. It says if they fail to assert themselves like real men, they will end up poor and alone.
Clearly, we need to change societal approaches to masculinity and manhood. We need to share power and not see being in control as the only state that matters. We also need to be aware of the impact of trauma, especially experienced in childhood. Jess went on to talk about this. She said -
Trauma-based entitlement is very common in people who are abusive. The notion that I have to go through so much, so f** you, you just have to deal with whatever I do to you. When the entitlement is thwarted, there is the notion of being defied, or being humiliated, or of being shamed. This is what has been called humiliated fury, when insecurity, toxic shame and entitlement combine. It is a very dangerous emotional state. There is much we need to understand if we are to undertake effective primary prevention, as well as provide adequate and effective resources to assist victims.
Mr President, Project O, run by BighART, is a successful primary prevention model that was piloted in Wynyard in 2015, in a family violence hotspot, and is now a national strategy that has generated strong bipartisan media and public interest.
Project O has enabled young women, many of whom who have been directly impacted by family violence, to build the confidence and skills to become change-makers in their community. I have watched these young women really step up. It has been life-changing for them and their families, and our community. We need to support similar successful models.
Jess Hill also commented on ways to detect and assist those impacted by coercive control, acknowledging that these women may be in quite dangerous situations. She said -
When you first hear those red flags - isolation, micromanagement, rule setting, financial control - you need to respond carefully, listen without judgement, criticise their partner's behaviour, but do not condemn their partner. That may make them defensive. Comment on the changes you have noticed in them personally, and why you are worried about it. Most importantly, do not give up. The perpetrator wants their partner to be isolated, so do not enable them, stay in contact if you can. Remember, always that your friend is the expert in their own experience. They do not need you to take over. Let them know that if they are thinking of leaving, they should get in touch with a domestic violence case worker, so they can develop a safety plan. Lastly, do not make your friendship conditional on your friend leaving. They may take months or years to leave, or they may never leave. Just let them know you will be there for them, no matter what.
Jess also makes some suggestions on the way forward and the role of police. She suggests we need practical action at the coalface, and encourages and supports women who seek help, keeps them and their children safe, and removes loopholes of impunity for perpetrators. If the government wants new ideas, here are some bold new strategies proven to reduce domestic abuse here and internationally. They should be seriously considered.
First, the introduction of police stations for women, which are solely dedicated for policing family violence and provide a one-stop shop for women and children, including therapeutic, legal and financial help. They have been proven to reduce domestic violence in countries across South America. Crucially, they get women reporting earlier.
Second, we should look very seriously at criminalising coercive control, as has been promised by the Queensland opposition leader, Deb Frecklington, and urged by New South Wales MP Anna Watson. We, in this area in Tasmania, have been a leader in this. The Government is to be commended for its action in this matter. We need to make sure all police are equipped to respond effectively and appropriately to keep women and children safe, and to really recognise coercive control when they see it.
Jess also suggests criminalising coercive control is not about locking people up. It is about changing the paradigm of domestic abuse, requiring police to investigate and report on the entire arc of the relationship, instead of isolating incidents. Scotland has been a world leader, as all the harms of domestic abuse are included under one charge.
Third, I am also a big advocate for localised strategies, such as focused deterrents and justice reinvestment, that develop close and constant collaboration between the community sector, domestic abuse, substance abuse, homelessness and so on, and the justice system.
These strategies break down silos between sector groups, and often work at odds with each other. They close loopholes in the justice system. They deliver a strong message to perpetrators that unless they accept the help that is on offer and make a rational choice to stop their offending, they will feel the full force of the law.
Last, fix the family law system. The Australian Law Reform Commission has delivered a set of reforms that will make children safe. Implement them. Go with Jess's suggestions about what could be done.
When asked what could we do today, right now, to urgently improve the situation and prevent more murders like Hannah Clarke's, Jess Hill stated -
The good news is that we know that change is possible.
Here are some critical changes the federal parliament could introduce now. To begin with, straightaway announce enough secure funding for a women's refuge sector to ensure no woman or child is denied vital protection.
Allocate proper funding for affordable and transitional housing, so they can move into houses they can afford.
Reverse funding cuts to community Legal Aid. We just saw $130 000 in funding removed from Victorian Legal Aid, which has cancelled the court network of volunteers to help family violence victims in the family law courts. Legal Aid is already woefully underfunded.
Mr President, these things are not just related to Tasmania. These are around other parts of the country as well, but the principles are the same.
This motion in many ways speaks for itself. We need to take a united nonpartisan approach to consider necessary legislative change, police educational training, timely access to safe shelter, justice and social and psychological support for victims of family violence.
We need to be well informed, address underlying drivers - particularly gender inequality - and we must role-model respect for relationships, both inside and outside this place.
I will close with the words of some local north-west women who were willing to share their lived experience. These are real women with real stories, and they highlight their lived reality and identify some problems they experienced in areas in which we could do better.
Sadly, there are thousands of stories just like these. Those working in the areas of supporting victims of family violence inform me these experiences are not unique, and they often have very similar key themes.
One of the themes is perpetrators not experiencing consequences for their abusive behaviours or breaches, particularly of their family violence orders, and these behaviours do not stop when the woman manages to leave the relationship. Typically, they can continue for many years.
The workers inform me that from the moment perpetrators are not held to account, and their behaviour does not change, the harm they cause the women and children in their lives is traumatic and enduring.
At this point, I can also identify the behavioural patterns of abusive men. You see these in these few accounts. I am only going to read parts of them. They are quite long accounts. They are particularly textbook.
Rather than repeatedly giving the benefit of the doubt, and chance after chance to change, these men who are the perpetrators should be presumed to be a danger to women, and intervention should address until accountability is established and behaviour change is evident.
Both women I will quote from identified the need for police to have family violence training, or to create a specialised unit for that. Their experience with police who clearly understood the elements of family violence were vastly more helpful, and in some cases they felt safer with some.
They suggest that if all officers had more training, it might actually help. One of the women here mentions 'shark cage' training. This training is available for women to help them identify red flag behaviour early and develop enough self-worth and confidence to walk away.
Family violence workers inform me that many women who have done this 'shark cage' course feel like the information was incredibly useful, but coming too late. They wish they had it when they were not in an abusive relationship. So we are supporting an initiative to facilitate a version to be delivered in schools so that young women are aware.
I will finish with some of the words of these relatively young women from the north-west coast, acknowledging their stories are not unique. The first one is a woman who was talking about the frustrations with frequent breeches and how long it takes to be sorted out. I am only going to pick out bits of her comments. It is not a direct quote. She said that one of things significant for her is the police taking things seriously -
Some do and some do not. It takes hours every time you do a breach. It is the time taken. So, they are reluctant to report breaches because it takes so long - 'It is just going on a file for record and that is it.' The thing is the more he breaches and gets away with it the more he thinks it is okay, I got away with it.
She talks about family violence orders. She said -
the family violence order she had only protected me at home so he could not drive past my house. He couldn't go near my house but he could see me in the street he could come up to me and see me here and do whatever but then I was told they can't strengthen unless there is a significant incident.
So basically, something has to happen first and then they will consider strengthening it.
She goes on further, and there are quite a few comments about those aspects of it. The emotional part of it is part of the coercive control. In terms of the emotional abuse she said -
Yes, he would just muck with your head and you wouldn't know what was up and what was down. He would make you feel guilty for things that you didn't need to feel guilty for. Just nothing things. It is hard because there is not much of a web of anything, but yes, he would make you feel guilty or he would cry at you or things like, 'if I had slept in the other room because I have trouble sleeping'.
It goes on -
It makes you question like even now I will question. I don't believe myself. Like it has made me not believe things that I think. Like I question everything. Do you know what I mean? Like even simple things I think, God is that right or is it not right? I shouldn't have done that. You don't trust your own mind any more.
Then she talks about the use of children. She said -
Even when the child was little and we would go to the park, I would see him several times sitting up on the hill just watching. It is always like he has to be somewhere. Like there is no escape. He is letting me know there is no escape. He is letting me know he is always there still. And then the threats. Threats like, 'I will make sure you get a bullet'. Another one, 'I have got video evidence of us having sex. I took videos so don't even try to say it didn't happen. I will show everybody.' Like I know he doesn't have any video or anything but at the time I was oh my God he is going to show this video to everybody and probably put it on Facebook. I got really scared. Now I know he is full of crap, just a way to control.
Then the verbal abuse, the name calling, he said to her things like -
You are mutton dressed as lamb. You think you are special. You are ugly. You are fat. Once I got a new jacket and he said, 'it is a wonder you got one to fit around you'.
She talked about the varying experiences with the police when reporting aspects of her experience.
To speak about another one - a woman who entered a relationship with a guy who apparently had a significant history of violence, but she had no idea when she started the relationship of his history and the drug use -
The violence in our relationship began within two months. The control and financial abuse started not long after. In order to fund his drug habit, he would take my bankcard on the day I was paid and empty my account without my knowledge, take my money, offer to pay bills or buy groceries and then spend it, leaving me with a bad credit history.
Further on -
During the year of our relationship I was physically, emotionally, psychologically, sexually and financially abused. Strangulation was his go to method of physical attack on me and it happened regularly.
We need to criminalise strangulation. I think the Attorney-General was looking at that. I hope so -
I often feared for my life. I was held in the house against my will. I had been threatened and intimidated on a regular basis. He took my car, keys, phone and wallet and would not let me leave the house. One year into the relationship I became pregnant with twins. The violence escalated, as it often does. Two PVFOs were placed during my pregnancy. He insisted that I went to Centrelink with him and asked that we put all the family tax benefit for the children in his name. During our relationship the police were called to the house many times by others hearing arguments and abuse. Of threats I had received from him, one was constant. If I had an argument with him and caused him to go to gaol, I would be f**ed.
If I had an argument and wanted to leave he would threaten that if we were not together he would be able to go harder on what he was doing to me, as he was holding back. I have no doubt I was being seriously threatened and that things would get worse if I left. The final six months of our relationship was the worst of the abuse. It was when I realised if I do not get out I am doing to die, whether it is him or myself, I have been living with this for seven years.
It goes on. Even when she did leave, he broke into her house, took photos, sent them to her, all those sorts of things. Then, sometime after they had been apart, he sent death threats by the phone. I will read this next bit -
He became convinced I was seeing someone. In the space of 24 hours he sent over 150 text messages. This was classed harassment and another breach was determined. He then went on to call and leave voice messages and text messages approximately 100 times, more breaches. The messages ranged from, 'I love you, I want you back;' 'I want to see the kids;' 'how could you do this to me?', just a barrage of abuse.
There is much, much more there. These are sadly not uncommon stories. We need to address this national shame, this national crisis. We need a community response. We need a whole-of-parliament and whole-of-government response. It is up to all of us. For anyone listening to this contribution, or is reading this on my website or in Hansard at a later time, who has been impacted by what they have read or heard and needs assistance, please call 1800RESPECT(1800 737 732) or triple zero if you are in immediate danger.