Victoria’s Domestic Violence – spiralling out of control

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I was angered a month ago to read in the Australian papers that a father had stabbed his 14 year old son to death, while the young boy attended cricket training in country Victoria.

Last week, I read that a woman was stabbed to death by her estranged husband in plain view of her children and the general public as she walked along a street in Sunshine, Melbourne.

Five days ago, I read that a father had stabbed to death his two baby daughters as they played in their bedroom in Watsonia, Melbourne.

What the hell is going on you ask? These are tragedies that are all part of the growing issue of domestic violence that is spiralling out of control in Victoria. Australia. Although I was not surprised by the crimes, as I have spent the past 20 years working as a police officer in Victoria and investigating child abuse in developing countries like Cambodia, and seen countless incidents of domestic and family related violence, I am extremely angered that men in Australia appear to be increasing the level of violence against children.

As a father of two beautiful daughters, I cannot comprehend how any father could even contemplate hurting or killing his own children. What level of anger and hatred must a person possess against their partner to be able to commit such cowardly acts of violence.

Domestic violence and men killing their children is not a new phenomenon; I can remember a number of times when as a uniformed police officer I attended calls from family members who had been physically assaulted by their boyfriend, partner or husband. In many cases children had either been witness to the assaults or been a victim of the assaults themselves. In nearly all cases, the male would be charged with criminal assault and presented to the courts for prosecution.

However in 1996, the situation all started to go pear shaped in Victoria. The courts were becoming more-soft in their approach to offender accountability, handing down minimal sentences, if any sentence, for crimes where men had been violent against women and children. The courts had also lost their ‘victim first’ thinking, instead allowing defence lawyers to present stories of how the male offender was sorry for bashing his wife and children, and that it was all caused because the male had a tough upbringing, or was himself abused as a child, that he was affected by drugs or suffered depression – all excuses that basically blamed everyone but the offender committing the violence. In fact, the defence lawyers became so predictable in their justifications that it sounded like someone reading from a template in a book.

Domestic violence incidents increased significantly in 1998 and in a knee jerk reaction by Government, Courts and Police in Victoria, it became mandatory that every time a police officer attended a call which had the hint of domestic violence, police had to, without using their discretion, take out an ‘Intervention Order’, which supposedly would protect victims from further offences.

However, this mandatory action backfired – an Intervention Order became so common that they were not worth the paper they were written on. Family members were taking out intervention orders against other family members because they yelled at each other, neighbours were taking out intervention orders against their neighbours over a dispute about barking dogs and friends who had fallen out of favour with another person were taking out intervention orders just to be vindictive. The courts in typical fashion were approving every intervention order application that was presented to them.

There became so many active intervention orders in the community, that Police spent the majority of their time responding to calls related to people breaching an intervention order. Police were presenting every case to the courts where a person had breached their intervention order. The courts were receiving so many of these cases that for the offender to receive any punishment, especially gaol sentences, he/she would have to breach the intervention order multiple times before the court would act.

And so the spiral has continued. Offenders did not and still don’t fear any repercussion for breaching an intervention order. If you tell a child that they will get burnt if they play with fire and it doesn’t occur, then how will they stop? It is no different to telling a male that if he harms his partner, wife or children that he will receive strict punishment and when he does harm them, all he gets is a slap on the wrist.

Experts in Australia are now getting together to discuss magical ways in which they can reduce domestic violence in Australia – well the answer isn’t rocket science! Assault a women or your children then you receive a mandatory gaol sentence.

Of course the do-gooders and anti-gaol activists will come out and say that harsh penalties do not reduce crime. My answer is that I don’t particularly care if it doesn’t reduce crime as all I know for sure, is that if a person assaults their loved ones once, and they go to gaol, the family will immediately be safe from further harm from that individual. After a while the amount of offenders committing domestic violence will reduce because the majority of them will be locked up and out of the safe community we all want and demand.

My argument is hard to knock down when you look at the 3 cases over the past month in Victoria. The offender who killed his 14 year old son at cricket training was known to police, had numerous intervention orders against him and had assaulted his partner several times previously with no punishment; the offender who stabbed his wife to death in a street in Sunshine was known to police, had numerous intervention orders against him and had just left the court after being told by the courts not to breach his intervention order again; and the offender who killed his two daughters had a history of domestic violence and was known to police.

Unfortunately, unless drastic measures are taken now, men will continue to commit domestic violence, and we will be reading more tragic stories in the newspapers of lives taken by individuals who should have been in gaol in the first instant.

If it were possible and we could ask the 3 children and one woman who were recently killed by their father and husband, – “Did they feel let down by Victoria’s judicial system?” – I wonder what the answer would be.