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State's grim milestone: 100,000 family violence interactions in 12 months

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Police on the frontline of Queensland’s family violence scourge are preparing to hit a grim milestone this financial year — 100,000 interactions with the community, as victims and advocates warn the lack of effective change as left them feeling hopeless.

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This financial year, the Queensland Police Service is on track to hit a record number of domestic violence occurrences with 96,364 recorded so far — an increase of 8 per cent on last year.

That includes the amount of calls for service, DVO breaches, DV applications, and number of orders served.

Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Tracy Linford said domestic violence was a scourge on society, and it was a priority for the service to keep victims safe and seriously respond to reports. She says police have faced a steady increase in domestic violence work.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen increases year in, year out, in terms of calls for service,” she has told the ABC.

“Now is that a good thing or a bad thing? With a glass half full, I’d say that gives me some confidence that we are building the confidence of people to come to us and report it. Do we get it right every time, no we probably don’t,” she said.

“But what I can tell you is this that year we will probably surpass 100,000 instances where police have had to interact with the community over something to do with domestic violence.”

Since the Not Now, Not Ever report police adopted all eight recommendations and have enhanced specialist and academy training for officers and established vulnerable persons units and high-risk teams for better case management.

In 2018-19, Queensland courts issued 24,967 domestic violence prevention orders (DVO), and police dealt with 28,396 breached orders.

Linford said the high-risk teams main focus was to identify repeat and violent offenders.

“What’s really challenging for police is that there are always new people coming into the domestic violence scene, so as young adults mature into adults they might be new perpetrators,” she said.

“But of course we’re also dealing with a lot of offenders who are repeat domestic violence perpetrators and they’re the one we’re really focused on.

“We know that about 18 per cent of domestic violence perpetrators are responsible for about 44 per cent of our calls for [domestic violence] service.

“So those high-risk teams really try to focus on them because we know that’s what’s driving a lot of the police activity but we also know those are the ones that can be really violent.”

For Natalie Hinton, this September will also mark a sobering date — it will be five years since the death of her daughter, Tara Brown, who was bashed to death with a steel plate by her ex-partner in 2015.

“It’s getting easier but I still miss Tara very, very much,” she said.

“Bringing up her daughter is a constant reminder of her, and as she’s getting older she’s soon to learn the story about her mother and unfortunately, her father.”

Brown, 24, was ambushed by her killer, Lionel Patea, after she dropped their daughter off at day care in 2015.

Patea pleaded guilty to Brown’s murder and was sentenced to life in prison in 2017.

It was a horrific case of domestic violence that bore similarities to the murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children.

Hinton said she was frustrated by a lack of meaningful change in the domestic violence system in Queensland since her daughter’s murder.

“The changes that have happened since Tara’s death are definitely for the better, but are they enough? No, I don’t think there have been enough changes,” she said.

“I would say right across the board, from the time women and children leave, right up to our judges sitting in the courts with our legal system — it needs a big shake-up.”

The ABC spoke to domestic violence survivors, families of victims, legal services, advocates and academics who said they agreed with Hinton that there were still gaps in the system — even after the landmark ‘Not Now, Not Ever’ report.

A benchmark for best practice

Police data shows there were 964 prosecutions for choking, suffocation or strangulation since it was introduced as an offence in Queensland in 2016.

Last year, The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council noted no mandatory imprisonment penalty existed for strangulation in Queensland and courts retained wide discretion for deciding the types of penalties imposed for such offences.

Red Rose Foundation CEO Betty Taylor said more work was needed to strengthen the laws around strangulation.

“There have been cases that have been thrown out of court or charges not proceeding through prosecution because of the lack of clarity of a definition.

“And on the issue of consent we’re saying ‘you can’t knowingly consent to something that could kill you’ and often the consent came in if people wanted to consent to strangulation during sex.

“Often with strangulation only 50 per cent of people have any visible injuries, the internal injuries are life-threatening and highly dangerous.

“And women who’ve been strangled are 800 per cent more likely to be murdered but we don’t see that.”

Taylor said separation, sexual violence in an intimate relationship, stalking and strangulation — or the deadly S’s — were key indicators of high risk or violent offenders.

The Red Rose Foundation has called for a Domestic Violence Commissioner, similar to what has been established in the UK, which would be an independent body within the State Government to oversee the entire sector and break down silos.

“I believe it could be multi-purpose and a body that sets the benchmark for best practice across government and non-government services, they could advise on policy and take on research.

“But I think we need an office where women who have exhausted all avenues of redress can go, not as a central place for every complaint … but a place to uphold their human rights and rights to justice.

“We need to look at where those gaps are falling down and be honest enough to have conversations about it.

“We can talk about there’s been a lot of reform, and that’s great but really a response is only as good as the most recent homicide.”

An international precedent

The United Kingdom appointed Nicole Jacobs as the Domestic Violence Commissioner for England and Wales in September last year, and will later this year pass a Bill to make it a permanent body within government.

Jacobs said her role would be to map and monitor services, make recommendations to public bodies about their response, carry out research, and consider how mainstream services identify and respond to victims and survivors.

“I am here to advise government, but also to hold government to account so I’m not party-political, I’m independent of government.

“Government and particularly the Prime Minister thought this was a really important way to drive change.

“For many, many years what we have known is that our services and our responses to domestic abuse, while they’re improving, they’re not certainly anywhere near, where they need to be.”

‘Enormous issues’ in criminal justice system

In 2015, a special taskforce, led by Dame Quentin Bryce, handed down a report which looked at ways to prevent and respond to family violence.

The State Government has implemented all 140 recommendations.

But Women’s Legal Service Queensland CEO Angela Lynch said there still needed to be a more thorough review of the criminal justice system.

“The Not Now, Not Ever report was done in a very short period of time, I think in six months, and they looked at small issues surrounding the criminal justice system but it wasn’t comprehensive,” she said.

“They simply did not have time.

“I think the horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her children has highlighted how far we still have to go.

“There are still some enormous issues around access to justice so being able to access Legal Aid and legal assistant services is still a real problem.

“There are gaps in how we respond to high-risk offenders and perpetrator accountability.

“There’s real issues with housing affordability, women’s refuges and being able to access those and there’s gaps in the system between domestic violence and child protection, and the Family Court.”

Lynch said police attitudes also continued to be a problem with many victims reporting dismissive behaviour when they came forward to report abuse.

“Unfortunately we still continue to see reports from victims that they feel they haven’t been taken seriously by the police.

“We know from research that first interaction is absolutely key to the women’s progression through the criminal justice system and even her engagement with the legal system as a whole with lawyers.

“It’s not about picking on the police, it’s just that they are so important to the victim’s journey to safety.”

– ABC / Rachel Riga

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