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What does it take to protect Doreen and other women?


When it comes to domestic violence, the apologies, condolences, reviews and promises are simply not enough, writes Madonna King.

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Just imagine being Doreen Langham for a moment; going to bed on Sunday night, petrified your ex-partner, might have been outside your home.

Imagine calling police, desperate for help, and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. And wondering why those charged with keeping you safe weren’t responding.

Imagine Doreen Langham’s last moments. Did she try to sleep? Lie awake hoping the next knock on the door would be the police?

Or did she hide in the dark, hoping her ex-partner Gary Hely was far, far away as the domestic violence protection order against him demanded?

Did she know death was stalking her; an arsonist allegedly outside her bedroom window fuelling hate with an attack that should have us all stopping and wondering what the hell we are doing to curb domestic violence?

Look at any photograph of Doreen Langham. That smile! Read the tributes penned by friends on social media. This mother had a heart of gold, and the reach of an angel. And despite seeking help, she’s dead.

Who failed her? Let the reviews and inquiries and courts and committees and coroners decide what they think, but perhaps we all did.

This heartbreak is almost a year to the date that Hannah Clarke and her gorgeous children were burned to death in a gutless suburban attack.

And what have we got? The Palaszczuk Government announcing another committee to look at coercive control laws – something it has briefed against consistently and recommended against.

Coercive control needs to be addressed. It is a big part of the problem.

But is the Government announcement a PR exercise, or a concerted attempt to stop the violence being waged behind closed doors; violence that has escalated during COVID?

By any expert analysis, that legislative change – if it proceeds – will help. But not in isolation of other changes.

So what else could we be doing to stem this cancer that we talk about daily, and then go about our normal lives as though it was yesterday’s problem?

Overseas there has been strong results by implementing a program called ‘focused deterrence’, which is also supported by the Australian Institute of Criminology and some of Australia’s top domestic violence researchers.

Here, offenders are categorised by their violent or predatory history and targeted by police, who offer help to those willing to put their hand up. Those who don’t are watched and any breach of any law – from weapons to drugs or community-based orders – is punished severely. Last October, it was trialled in Queensland under the code name Operation Sierra Alessa.

What’s happened to that trial? Could it have a place in the weaponry we adopted to stem domestic violence?

Or what about the proposal put by a former senior police officer to the Palaszczuk Government to protect women during ‘vulnerable periods’. Grant Killen provided Hannah Clarke with her ‘burn phone’ and has helped hundreds of domestic violence victims. He knows that women are more likely to be attacked at particular points – while strapping their children in a car, or attending Family Court, or after they take out a domestic violence order – and has a plan for veterans to help protect them.

Killen, who works with domestic violence organisations and police, has a pilot program worked out, that encompasses Browns Plains. If only he could get someone in the government to sit down and listen to him….

So, call me sceptical, but one press conference over coercive control shouldn’t result in a pat on the back for a government which yesterday simply responded with a ‘these things will be looked into’ attitude.

And the police hierarchy, so quick to have its voice heard when the headlines promise to be favourable, need not wait months or years for an inquiry to be able to explain the lack of urgency in responding to Doreen Langham on Sunday night.

It’s easy to hide behind a coronial inquest or a committee set up to commemorate the anniversary of Hannah Clarke’s death.

But that doesn’t mean women’s lives will be saved. Their hiding places are much more exposed.

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