We have detected you are using a machine at UQ and you do not currently have an active Internet Session. Any externally hosted content will not appear unless you have an active Internet session. Please create an Internet session by going to https://login.uq.edu.au

The following case studies are based on interviews undertaken with women who have agreed to be interviewed for this research. In order to maintain the anonymity of the participants some information has been removed. Each case study uses pseudonyms to protect the identity of the participant, her children and others involved. Each case study includes a list of key issues covered in the case study. It is a demonstration of the courage and strength of these women that they are willing to share their stories here.


Key words: [Sexual abuse] [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Cultural abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Social abuse] [Risk] [Women] [People from CALD backgrounds] [Victim experience of court processes] [Protection order]

Angelina was born overseas and English is her second language. She met Barry after coming to Australia on a student visa. She was working to support herself; and studying to improve her English skills and have her foreign professional qualifications recognised. Barry had a responsible job. Neither had been married or in a long-term relationship. They soon started living together as a couple, and Angelina applied for a partner visa with Barry as her sponsor. They registered their defacto relationship and separated after nearly twelve months. There are no children.

Early on in the relationship, Barry urged Angelina to get a different job that didn’t involve night and weekend shifts so that she could be home to take care of the cooking and house, and available to go on short breaks and holidays with Barry. Angelina however enjoyed her job and was happy to work hard for good pay. Barry kept insisting until one day when Angelina was leaving for work, he hid the car keys. Eventually, he gave her the keys, but told her it was ‘the last time’ he would allow it. Barry tried, and failed, to find Angelina a full-time weekday job for higher pay, so she was forced to give up her shift work and become a ‘housewife’ to Barry. While bored and frustrated at home, she applied for countless positions without success. Barry pushed her to apply for roles that she had not yet qualified for; she resisted.

Barry took more and more control of their daily lives. He scheduled weekends away according to a strict timetable that didn’t suit Angelina; he took her on long car trips that Angelina found unpleasant, and wouldn’t allow her to listen to the music she likes; and he chose destinations that she didn’t enjoy. Angelina would not tolerate being dictated to, and they argued frequently. Often, Barry reminded her that he controlled her visa, and threatened to write to the immigration authority withdrawing his sponsorship. Barry had all of Angelina’s immigration documents and details in his possession.

In time, Angelina got another shift job that she was reasonably content with. Barry was angry because she was earning less money and he complained that her English was getting worse. Barry demanded that Angelina transfer all of her wages to him, and he would then put an amount each week in a joint account that she could access to pay for groceries and household expenses. Again, Angelina questioned these demands asserting that she was happy to share, but was also entitled to her own money to buy, for example, gifts for him. Barry never deposited enough money in the joint account, and Angelina had to regularly ask for more, which she found humiliating. Meanwhile, Barry was free to spend his wage and the balance of Angelina’s wage as he pleased.

Angelina was made responsible for cooking and household duties while also working and studying. He criticised and belittled her efforts around the house. He bought her clothes that she felt were age inappropriate and uncomfortable. Sex occurred on Barry’s terms without any regard for Angelina’s wishes. He told her she was required to sleep with him as a condition of the visa, and if she didn’t, he would report her. He also told Angelina that Australian women manipulated men so they could have children, and acquire the majority share of income and assets before divorcing them. Angelina concluded that Barry had pursued her because he believed he could take advantage of her visa dependency.

When they first met, Barry spoke to Angelina of his many friends; however, the only person they ever saw was Barry’s mother. Barry refused invitations for them to spend time with some of Angelina’s close family members who lived nearby. He monitored her phone and internet activity. Barry objected to Angelina speaking her first language. On one occasion when she was on the phone to a family member in her home country, Barry wielded a knife demanding that she end the conversation and cook dinner. Angelina was aware that Barry also kept rifles at home.

Angelina was becoming increasingly isolated, demeaned and depressed by Barry’s abuse. She started working more to get away from him. Barry then set up a whiteboard in the kitchen recording her rosters; he would ring and text her repeatedly at work demanding to know her shift times. Angelina says she felt like a slave: working long hours, being constantly monitored, and relinquishing her wages.

The situation became intolerable for Angelina and she left to stay with a friend. A family member encouraged her to get some advice from the support service at the local Magistrates’ Court. She was referred to other services that helped her with her visa application and recommended she apply for a protection order. She also started seeing a psychologist as her emotional health and confidence had deteriorated markedly.

After separation, Barry went to Angelina’s workplace and spoke with her employer more than once, embarrassing Angelina. He followed her; and Angelina believes he broke into her relatives’ home and stole goods. Barry went to Angelina’s home and took photos of her and the car licence plate. It was at that point that she rang the police, and then proceeded to obtain a temporary protection order. Police advised her that Barry had tried to avoid service. On the hearing date she felt pressured to accept a two-year undertaking for Barry to be of good behaviour towards her. Barry’s lawyer told her it would be sufficient, and that a protection order wasn’t necessary. She therefore offered an undertaking and Barry’s lawyer agreed to it on behalf of Barry on the basis that she provide a reciprocal undertaking. Angelina felt humiliated by this tactic; she refused to provide the undertaking and insisted that the matter be heard. Barry gave the undertaking and the matter was dismissed. She felt the Magistrate was understanding of her circumstances and could see that Barry was an untruthful opportunist.

Barry has made no contact with Angelina since the court date. Angelina left the relationship with only her clothes and personal possessions.  She is entitled to be reimbursed the wages she earned and to retrieve furniture she purchased, however she would rather forgo her rights than have any further involvement with Barry. Angelina is on medication to cope with the depression she has suffered as a consequence of Barry’s abuse. She is trying hard to re-establish her family and social networks, and to complete her studies.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Exposing children] [Systems abuse] [Risk] [Women] [People with children] [Children] [Young people] [Pregnant women] [People with disability and impairment] [People affected by substance misuse] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Protection order] [Breach of protection order] [Sentencing] [Parenting orders]

Anna and Nathan met one another at high school, however neither completed year 12. During their five-year relationship, they lived together for periods, on and off, and had a child who was aged two when they separated. Anna has experienced physical and mental health problems since early adolescence, which, as an adult, have prevented her from gaining a qualification or employment. She is on a disability pension and, as the primary carer of the child, receives parenting and public housing support. When younger, Anna took party drugs to cope with her anxiety and depression, but feels now that she has grown out of the habit. Nathan’s drug taking and dealing and associated criminal activity have dominated his life for many years, and on one occasion resulted in a serious conviction for which he served a sentence of probation. Anna describes Nathan as extremely aggressive—and more so when taking drugs or alcohol—and possibly having a mental illness, though she believes undiagnosed. The child has been diagnosed with various behavioural disorders, which are now managed with medication and ongoing medical treatment. There are Family Court parenting orders in place granting Anna residence and allowing Nathan weekly contact, however Nathan rarely sees or telephones the child.

From early on in the relationship, Nathan would regularly (and wrongly) accuse Anna of cheating on him, he would often check on her whereabouts and who she was spending time with, and constantly monitored her money while refusing to make any contribution himself to rent and other joint expenses. On a few occasions when Nathan got drunk and felt that Anna was giving him attitude, he would put his hands around her throat strangling her in front of others. Anna became pregnant when Nathan was on probation, and child protection was alerted to Nathan’s physical and emotional violence towards her. On a visit during her pregnancy, a child protection officer told her the child would be taken away from her if she stayed with Nathan. Anna wasn’t overly concerned because she had good family support around her and, with the help of a local youth service, was attending parenting and ante-natal classes and getting set up at home.

Nathan’s physical violence did however escalate during and after the pregnancy. Nathan wielded a knife at Anna causing her to barricade herself in a locked room. While the baby slept, he strangled and beat her so badly that she blacked out and, with help from a family member, was taken by ambulance to the hospital and treated for multiple fractures, and facial and scalp wounds. Two months later, he yanked her arm forcefully, resulting in a serious elbow injury and lengthy recovery. Nathan was often drunk or stoned during these violent rampages, and would always flee the scene leaving Anna to fend for herself. On one occasion, Nathan assaulted Anna while they were walking with their child to the local shops. He took off with the child, leaving Anna on the street with severe cuts and bruising and torn clothes. Police were alerted and successfully applied to the court for a two-year protection order on Anna’s behalf, with the child named as a protected party.

On the expiration of the first order, police obtained a further identical order, which is due to expire in the coming months. Anna has spoken to a local domestic violence support worker who is encouraging her to seek a five-year order. Anna reports feeling both frustrated and terrified because, despite having these orders and being on the police high-alert list, Nathan has repeatedly and flagrantly breached the orders, and continues to do so regularly, by stalking Anna and the child, ringing and letting her know where she has been and with whom, and threatening physical harm and death. Nathan has ready access to guns and knives and, on one occasion when he was facing the possibility of a jail term for another offence, threatened to shoot Anna’s mother and Anna herself if Anna tried to disappear with the child. Anna has returned to police, repeatedly, to make statements attesting to Nathan’s breaches, and at times, has had to appear at the hearing, self-represented (due to no access to Legal Aid), accompanied by a local domestic violence support worker, and intimidated by the prospect of Nathan being in the courtroom. Nathan would frequently seek and obtain adjournments for the breach hearings; and whilst he was often found guilty of breach, he has never received other than a fine as penalty. Following each hearing, Anna expected that the police would contact her to advise the outcome, but she found that she had to constantly ring and ask. She was only ever told about the fines, and can’t say whether convictions were recorded, or whether Nathan has ever been charged with stalking, assault or any other offence related to his domestic and family violence towards her and the child.

Anna believes that Nathan continues to be involved with criminal activities and that he is known to police. Although Nathan doesn’t physically approach Anna, he continues to monitor her and the child through his family and friends. Anna feels constantly unsafe and under threat, and won’t venture out of the house without people who can protect her and the child. Anna regularly changes her appearance and telephone number, and has recently changed the locks on her house. The police have cautioned her to lock herself in. Still young, Anna is desperate to establish a normal and happy life; however she feels trapped and damaged by Nathan’s ongoing domestic and family violence, and by what she perceives to be the failure of the justice system to recognise the seriousness of Nathan’s crimes and to punish him appropriately, and to protect her and the child adequately.

Nathan has only ever paid a negligible amount of child support; ultimately, his violence resulted in Anna having to obtain an exemption from claiming. Despite having contact orders, Nathan has always flouted the conditions, or not bothered to see or speak with the child at all. Anna would like to have the orders varied to disallow contact on the basis of Nathan’s serious and ongoing violence, however she expects to be criticised by the court for seeking to prevent a relationship between Nathan and the child; and yet has had the experience of being told by child protection that if she remains with Nathan, the child will be removed from her.

Having tried and failed, time and again, over five years to secure proper protection from Nathan, at this stage, Anna can’t see what else she can do to improve her situation. She doesn’t have the financial resources to engage a private lawyer, and her health is so compromised that her prospects of future employment are limited. She is also very concerned about the daily and long-term impacts of the violence and fear on the child.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Exposing children] [Risk] [Women] [Indigenous people] [People with children] [Pregnant women] [People affected by substance misuse] [Protection order] [Breach] [Sentencing][Child protection]

Cassy and Glen were in a relationship for five years and during that time had five children together aged between four and near newborn at separation. They are both Indigenous, and neither has been in employment or received any post-secondary training or education. Their income during the relationship was in the form of various welfare benefits. Cassy used cannabis regularly from the age of 13, but has been clean since soon after the birth of their fifth child. Glen is a long-term speed and ice user; his drug taking increased during the relationship and made him more violent particularly when he was ‘coming down’ or when he couldn’t access the drugs readily. Cassy was abused during her childhood by a family friend who was imprisoned briefly as a result, and later, by a close family member. Growing up, Cassy was also significantly involved in the care of a disabled relative.

Glen’s violence towards Cassy started several months after their first child was born. Glen punched Cassy in the nose causing severe pain and bleeding. A passerby called the police and an ambulance took her to the hospital. A police-initiated protection order was issued allowing Cassy and Glen to continue living together on the condition that Glen maintained good behaviour towards Cassy. At that stage, Cassy felt committed to the relationship and hoped that she could influence Glen to stop his violence and drug taking. At Cassy’s request, Glen was not charged with assault.

During Cassy’s second pregnancy, despite the protection order, Glen’s violence became more frequent and aggressive, though not as physically severe as previously. Cassy describes the violence as ‘blow outs’ now and then, rather than an exercise of ongoing control. This continued through to Cassy’s third pregnancy when, at six months, Glen beat Cassy badly one afternoon before travelling together on a train with their two children, and again at home the following morning. Cassy was taken by ambulance to the hospital and afterwards, with the children, went to stay with her sister for a week before returning to live with Glen. Again, police asked if Cassy wanted Glen charged with assault, and she declined and he was not charged. Cassy reasoned to herself that the violence was the price she was prepared to pay for having ‘beautiful children’ with someone who ‘had his good sides, and wasn’t always an arsehole’.

After their third child was born, when Glen’s ice-use was escalating, Cassy started using ice occasionally, hoping that it might bring them closer together. Cassy felt she loved Glen and wanted the relationship to work; she also believed he was a great father and, despite his violence towards her, he would never harm the children. However, the violence continued. When Cassy found out she was pregnant with their fourth child, Glen seriously bashed her nose after an angry verbal exchange between the two of them, and when Glen was ‘coming down’ from an ice hit. Once again, the police were called and Cassy went to hospital for treatment.

Despite not having been charged for any of his assaults on Cassy, Glen had by that stage been convicted of a breach of the protection order, and received a two-year probationary order with a good behaviour bond and no conviction recorded. He was then convicted of drug possession and received an extended probationary period before being charged with the assault and rape of a relative and a relative’s girlfriend respectively. Child protection was alerted and began visiting the home every week to check on the wellbeing of the children and how Cassy was coping. Cassy thought the situation was stable and manageable until child protection acted on a report from a third party claiming that Glen had harmed their son. Cassy does not believe that Glen would have done that, and observed that the child was happy and unharmed on the day in question. Child protection removed all the children from Cassy and Glen’s care and resettled them with some of Cassy’s relatives.

When Cassy was pregnant with their last child, Glen went into custody on remand awaiting trial of the assault and rape charges. Two days after the birth, child protection removed the child, again to one of Cassy’s relatives. Given that Glen was now in custody, Cassy couldn’t understand why the infant, or any of the other children, were deemed to be at ongoing risk. She accepted however that they needed to be protected from the violent relationship and believed that the children were being well cared for by her relatives. With the assistance of a lawyer, Cassy was able to ensure the child protection order was made for only 12 months rather than the longer period sought by the child protection department. She commenced supervised contact with all of the couple’s children each week, and attended counselling sessions and a parenting program in preparation for their return. She also stopped using illegal drugs.

While Cassy feels she had little support and understanding from police and child protection, she believes that she has benefited a great deal from the advice she received from her lawyers and counsellors. It is critically important to her that the children return to her care, happy and healthy, and she believes she understands the damaging effects of her violent relationship with Glen. When Glen is out of prison she is adamant that she does not want to continue the relationship, and that she will be careful to make proper, safe arrangements for him to have contact with the children.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Social abuse] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Risk] [Women] [People from CALD backgrounds] [Protection order]

Celina and David grew up in the same country of origin, however at the time they met through an online dating website, David had been living in Australia for 7 years, and Celina was still living in her home country with her mother. Celina also has a sister and family living in Australia. Both Celina and David have been married previously, are professionally qualified and aged in their thirties. David has a primary-school age child who lives with his former wife and spends regular weekend and holiday time with David. After Celina and David married overseas, David promptly returned to Australia and Celina applied to Australian Immigration for a joint visa for herself and her mother, with David as their sponsor. When the visa was granted, Celina resigned from her professional employment and travelled to Australia to live with David; Celina’s mother followed a few months later to allow them some time to settle in together.

Celina speaks fondly of her early days living with David. She described him as gentlemanly, respectful, loving and enthusiastic about showing her the sights of the exciting city she had moved to. Celina had experienced stigma in her own culture due to being a divorced woman, and felt that her marriage to David restored her dreams for a good life and a family. She was committed to supporting David in caring for his child, and believes she made a genuine effort to build a relationship. When the child was staying with Celina and David, Celina would take care of the child’s needs, prepare meals and do the housekeeping while David went to work. This was not a lifestyle Celina was accustomed to having been employed and independent for many years. Celina was unable to get employment while on a temporary visa and was therefore entirely financially dependent on David.

One evening, around a month after Celina arrived in Australia, David’s behaviour towards her changed abruptly. It was the child’s birthday and they had planned to collect the child from the mother’s house and go out for dinner. Celina had prepared and wrapped presents. David refused to allow Celina to travel in the car on the basis that it would upset the child’s mother. Instead, she was dropped somewhere close to a big junction on the way and was pushed out of the car by force. In the middle of an unfamiliar area, she walked down the street and stopped at a supermarket and decided to wait there as it was getting dark and she didn’t know where else to go being still new to Australia. She was left for several hours until David eventually collected her. Celina found herself highly distressed, at night in unfamiliar surrounds, and confused and hurt by David’s inconsiderate treatment. Not knowing what to do, she rang his parents and her own mother (all living overseas) seeking their advice and comfort. She pleaded with David’s father to contact David and ask him to collect her. David’s mother told her that David had a bad temper but he couldn’t afford to have another marriage fail. Celina’s mother advised that she must try hard to make the marriage work. When David collected Celina later that evening, he shouted abuse at her, claiming that she was trouble and had ruined the child’s birthday, and that he didn’t want a woman who wouldn’t obey him. Once home, David left Celina in the car crying for half an hour then returned and grabbed and shook her violently. Considerably smaller than David, Celina felt scared and weak and asked him to stop; he then dragged her out of the car and pushed her away. Celina fell and hit her head on the concrete driveway resulting in a painful bump to her head and wounded right foot. David dragged her into the house where she laid crying and shaking on the floor while he had a meal. Seemingly to revive her, David began slapping Celina repeatedly on both cheeks, and then tossed a bucket of water over her face. Some hours later, Celina managed to get to her feet and make her way to their bed; however, David had gone to sleep in the child’s bedroom, which Celina was shocked by so early in their time living together. In the days following, David apologised to Celina, but remained angry about her contacting the parents and sharing details of their marriage, which he believed should remain private.

Over time, David demanded that Celina take on more and more of the household duties and child caring responsibilities. David began scolding and verbally abusing Celina in the presence of the child who mimicked his father’s behaviour towards her. Celina was not allowed a phone of her own; instead, David would give her his personal mobile while he was at work and he would use his office mobile to call her incessantly through the day, principally to tell her what he wanted done and to get details of the meals and snacks she was preparing for the child. When David returned home, he would check the activity and search history on his personal mobile and inspect the food in the fridge and cupboards. So demeaned by this suspicious conduct, Celina decided to document meals and activities through the day by taking digital photographs and loading them on David’s Dropbox so he could inspect and verify them. David only ever gave Celina small amounts of cash to cover public transport costs to and from the child’s school; otherwise, she had no access to any funds. He also accused her of secreting spare coins for her own use. They argued daily about David’s demands and Celina’s resistance to comply. David would often skype his parents and complain to them about Celina being a bad wife, aware that Celina was listening.

Not long after the incident on the child’s birthday, David had an argument with the child’s mother at a changeover occasion and, in full view of the child, tried to strangle her. The child’s mother called the police who subsequently issued a protection order against David. Celina believed that he was also charged with assault and the matter would go to a hearing. At the same time Celina’s relationship with David was deteriorating, David was putting pressure on Celina to provide a character reference (character evidence) for the court. He told her it was her chance to do something for him and to save the marriage. His lawyer told her that a strong reference from her as David’s wife would be highly persuasive to the court. Celina made a number of attempts to write a favourable reference, but felt conflicted and wronged given David’s ongoing abuse. She kept the reference to herself, unsigned, knowing that the hearing date was still some months away.

As planned, Celina’s mother travelled to Australia with David after he had been on a brief visit to their home country. They were to live together in the same house, and Celina’s mother was to share the child’s bedroom. David however insisted that the child sleep between him and Celina while the mother stayed in the other room. Celina tried to talk with David about alternative and more comfortable sleeping arrangements, but he wasn’t amenable. One night, Celina was left with so little room in the bed that she fell out and injured herself. David handed her over to her mother and went back to sleep. Celina and her mother were forced to sleep together in a very small bed. Thereafter, they spent most nights on the couches in the living room. The marital relationship soured and sexual relations ceased, yet Celina continued to make an effort to look after David’s child and keep the household going despite suffering diarrhoea, headaches, muscle and back pain, and feelings of stress and depression.

Another evening (in the presence of Celina and her mother), David skyped his parents, again complaining about Celina. During the conversation, Celina tried to correct David’s claims and explain her experience of his behaviour. David called her (in their first language) a prostitute and accused her of having sex with her mother because they slept together. He then wielded a coffee cup as if to throw it at her when Celina’s mother physically intervened. Later, as he became increasingly intoxicated, he told them both to leave the house before he turned into an animal; he said he would refuse them food and drinks and get rid of them if they caused trouble with his child. He threatened to separate them and send Celina’s mother back to her home country. When David was asleep, Celina and her mother went to a neighbour who called the police. Celina believed the police were sympathetic to her situation and could see that David was volatile and dangerous. While Celina and her mother were at the police station, David arrived and began arguing with the officers in an aggressive manner. The police returned Celina and her mother to David’s home as they were unable to find emergency accommodation for them due to their not being permanent residents; again, David began arguing with the police, whereupon the police told Celina and her mother to pack their belongings and leave David’s home as soon as possible. Soon after the police left, David destroyed the wedding photographs hung on the wall by smashing them in front of Celina. Celina and her mother were left totally helpless. Using the neighbour’s mobile phone, Celina contacted her sister who was living interstate and sought her help.  At that time, Celina destroyed the character reference she had written in relation to David’s assault proceedings.

The police initiated a protection order application on Celine’s behalf and, at the first mention date, secured a temporary protection order. Soon after, Celine and her mother relocated interstate to stay with the sister. A second mention date was set, however the police advised Celina that it wasn’t necessary for her to appear in person. When she contacted the police after the mention, she was told that the application had been withdrawn because she had moved interstate.

Celina and her mother began living with the sister, however it was soon apparent that the sister and her family didn’t have the financial resources to support them, and they were forced to leave and find alternative accommodation. Celina sought advice from a local domestic violence support organisation which she says provided them with advice and access to support when she and her mother were desperate and homeless. The service arranged refuge accommodation for them both, provided transport to the refuge and financial assistance to cover their ongoing needs, referred them to psychiatric counselling to cope with the stress and depression they were experiencing, and gave Celina advice and assistance in applying for a protection order on the basis of David’s abusive and threatening behaviour. Celina and her mother also applied for and were granted the Centrelink Special Benefit soon after they moved interstate. Celina obtained a temporary protection order, however service was delayed as David’s current address and whereabouts are not known. When eventually the matter was heard by the magistrate, Celina was unrepresented, whereas David had a solicitor and barrister acting for him. Feeling pressured, Celina accepted a written undertaking from David that he would not contact her, and would be of good behaviour and not commit any act of domestic violence towards her for one year. Celina and her mother sought advice from a community immigration lawyer, and have now been granted permanent residency status. They are now both housed, safe and supported, and Celina is studying. Celina is not sure of the outcome of David’s assault charge; however, she believes he pleaded guilty and was placed on a good behaviour bond.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Social abuse] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Systems abuse] [Myths] [Risk] [Women] [People affected by substance misuse] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Protection order] [Breach of protection order] [Parenting order]

Faith and Ryan were in a relationship for around 15 years, and have five children together ranging from early primary to high school age at separation. Faith also has an adult child from a previous relationship. Faith is tertiary educated and employed in a professional role. Ryan completed an apprenticeship following high school and has worked periodically during the relationship; however is currently unemployed and receiving Centrelink benefits. Ryan had a work accident some years ago and received a significant compensation payout. He continues to take medication to manage his pain. The five children live with Faith in the family home. Ryan has contact with the children about one day each week, supervised by his parents at their home.

Faith and Ryan met in a social setting and began dating. Ryan went with Faith on her first work posting away from their home town. At that stage, Faith noticed that Ryan could get angry and frustrated easily. It was when Faith was pregnant with their first child that Ryan became abusive towards her. The abuse started as name calling; he would call her a ‘fat ugly cunt’ and a ‘loser’ if he felt he wasn’t getting his own way or he objected to spending money. Initially, Faith would fire back her disapproval, but over time she became so diminished by the abuse that she said and did nothing, which would enrage Ryan even more.

Faith was employed through the relationship other than when the children were very young. She and Ryan had a joint bank account that her salary was paid into. Faith realised that if she didn’t pay the bills immediately, Ryan would clear out the account. She describes a constant juggle with money, making sure there was enough available for household expenses and the family’s needs. When Ryan was working, he would regularly spend his pay cheque at the pub on his way home, usually on alcohol and gambling. Despite mostly working full time, Faith looked after the children’s needs and took care of the house. Ryan was dismissive of the children.

As time went by Ryan’s abuse became physical. He frequently spat on Faith, pulled her hair, dragged her through the house, smashed her head into the wall, and threw drinks over her, on many occasions in front of the children. During another pregnancy, Ryan strangled Faith because she had discovered he had been cheating on her; she managed to kick him away from her, but miscarried afterwards.

Faith had tried previously to end the relationship. Ryan was staying with a friend because he didn’t want to be with the family; Faith was determined to stay in the house and keep the children together. At that stage, Faith’s adult child was still living with them and he was regularly the target of Ryan’s belittling and intimidating abuse. On one occasion, he kicked in the child’s bedroom door while the child was in the room and threatened to kill him. Faith rang the police who attended the house four hours later despite her distress over the phone and her expressed fear that Ryan was going to kill the child. By the time the police arrived, Ryan had long departed. Police were hostile to Faith and told her she should be protecting the children from the violence; they didn’t enter the house, inspect the damage, or advise her about protection orders.

Though Ryan wasn’t living with the family, he would visit and stay from time to time. Faith put up with this in the interests of preserving the family as Ryan had threatened to get a court order to take the children if they separated. Ryan had convinced Faith that she was the cause of his behaviour and the court would see it that way too. Ryan’s behaviour went through cycles: friendly and engaged followed by angry and violent. He claimed he had depression. He would kick Faith hard in the legs, or push her to the ground and kick her; she suffered extensive and painful bruising. Faith tried not to respond for fear that the violence would escalate. Ryan tried to isolate Faith from her family and friends, but they persisted in their support for her as they were extremely concerned for her wellbeing, knowing that she was struggling to make a break from the relationship. Despite their concerns Faith wouldn’t and couldn’t listen to their criticism of Ryan.

When Faith felt Ryan’s violence and abuse had become extreme, on her sister’s advice, she sought a protection order. The domestic violence support service at the court helped her prepare the application and explained the court process to her. Faith obtained a temporary protection order, but after pressure from Ryan, she failed to appear at the final hearing, and the magistrate dismissed the application.

Ryan told Faith he wanted a happy family life, and wanted them to try again to make the relationship work. Faith found Ryan beguiling when he was in this mood, and agreed to get back together. However, the physical and emotional violence started again immediately, as well as socially isolating behaviours separating Faith from her family and friends, and controlling the family finances. He also told her over the phone of his five-step plan to destroy her. The plan involved: reporting Faith to her employer and ensuring that she lost her job; taking the children away from her; causing her to lose title to the house; reporting her to police for offences she hadn’t committed; and destroying her name. Faith kept going, putting up with the abuse and focussing on the children’s needs. On one occasion, Faith’s sister rang her and could hear Ryan’s verbal abuse in the background; she was so horrified that she called the police and asked them to check on the house. When the police arrived, Ryan ranted at them blaming Faith, and then he left the house. The police questioned Faith; she told them she hadn’t called them, and that this was normal behaviour for Ryan. The police explained that it was domestic violence and suggested to Faith that she get a protection order. At that stage, Faith felt so controlled by Ryan that she was incapable of recognising his behaviour as domestic violence, and says perhaps it would have been better for her if the police had taken the matter over and applied for an order on her behalf.

It wasn’t until after their fifth child was born that Faith took steps to seek protection. Ryan’s violence and abuse had continued during periods of separation when Faith, having suffered a black eye, reached a point where she told him to leave and put his belongings in the front yard. Faith received legal aid funding and applied for a protection order, and Ryan responded with a cross application. The matters did not go to a hearing, and were settled by an exchange of mutual undertakings to be of good behaviour towards one another for two years. The legal aid lawyer had explained that if she breached an order, her job may be jeopardised. Faith believes she accepted this result because she wasn’t ready to cut off contact with Ryan, but also felt that she was given very little advice about her legal options or their ramifications.

Following the undertakings, Faith and Ryan got back together, but soon separated for several months. Ryan would continue to drop by the house to see the children, and occasionally have sexual relations with Faith who was starting to work on getting him out of her life as she believed he was going to kill her. She described Ryan then as her ‘heroin’; she couldn’t stop wanting him, yet she knew he would kill her. After telling Ryan that she couldn’t go on in the relationship, he convinced her to give him another chance promising her that he had changed, that he loved her and wanted to be together as a family.

It was only a matter of weeks before Ryan flared up. When they were separated and Ryan had begun a relationship with another woman, Faith booked a trip for herself, the children and her sister. When Ryan found out he became angry and verbally abusive. Faith locked herself and the children in a room and rang the police who took two or three hours to attend the house, by which time the children were asleep. Ryan had tried to get in and snapped the key in the lock; he then went to sleep downstairs. Though the police were friendly towards Faith, they did not try to speak to Ryan; rather they stood at the front door and told her to get a protection order. Ryan soon left again, however it took Faith a couple more weeks to realise that she must do something to protect herself. She describes the moment that both defined her resolve and caused her to break down: she had rung Ryan for a reason she can’t recall, and he put his new girlfriend on the phone who told her that she and Ryan had had sex in Faith’s bed. Not long after, Ryan rang and described to Faith how he was going to kill her: ‘I’m going to smash your head through the back door—it’s glass—until you’re all cut up. Then I’ll drag you by the hair down the stairs, put you in the ute, drive up to the Gateway Bridge, and push you onto oncoming traffic, and then I’m going to jump off the bridge.’ Faith notified the police and while they flagged her number so that she would in future receive a priority response, they didn’t make any attempt to charge Ryan.

Faith was so emotionally depleted and distraught that she had to take time off work to get some help while she continued caring for the children. She was able to access counselling and began learning about the cycle of violence she had endured for nearly 15 years. She realised that Ryan had manipulated her thoughts and her sense of self, and she had to retrain how to think and rebuild herself as a person.

Ryan was calling the children three times a week, and Faith was keen to get a parenting plan in place. She was referred to a solicitor through her union. She proposed supervised contact on the basis of the suicide texts she’d been receiving from Ryan and was able to show the solicitor. While a plan was agreed to it never became a consent order because the solicitor failed to have it signed and filed. Ryan never complied with contact arrangements, and his abuse towards Faith continued. One night he called Faith’s parents and said, ‘tell Faith she’s not going to make it to Christmas’, and then hung up. This was the prompt for Faith to obtain a temporary protection order; and pursue the matter through to a final hearing. Faith, self-represented, had a number of witnesses at the court ready to give evidence, however Ryan appeared without having prepared any material. The magistrate issued a final protection order against Ryan on the basis of his consent without admissions. Faith was devastated as she wanted Ryan’s domestic violence exposed and proven. The order is for two years with Faith and the children named as protected parties; Ryan is prohibited from coming near the house or school.

At the time the final protection order was made, Ryan applied to the Family Court for 50/50 shared care of the children and 75% of the value of the house property. He alleged in his material that Faith was using parental alienation tactics. At the interim hearing, with a great deal of help from a friend in preparing her material, Faith was granted residence, and Ryan was allowed weekly contact one day each week supervised by his parents between specified hours. The judge prohibited Ryan from making phone contact. Ryan and Faith were then required to attend mediation in relation to property matters despite Faith providing the details of the protection order in her material. Faith also tried to explain that Ryan had failed to disclose his financial circumstances as ordered, which would include the injury compensation payment he received and did not put in their joint account. Faith had applied for sole ownership of the house arguing that she’d paid for it and all related expenses, while Ryan had made no contributions. The mediator was initially hostile and uncooperative, but as the session proceeded, attempted to identify options. Faith and Ryan returned to the court, before the judge they’d had previously, however the judge didn’t appear to recall any of the details of the case, and urged them to talk and sort out their differences. The judge had also failed to read the family report, which he proceeded to read while they waited. Faith was shocked and despairing.

Faith noted that she, Ryan and the children were required to attend the court to be interviewed for the family report; they had to sit in the same waiting room as Ryan and his family before being relocated to a private area. There was no need to be present at the same time given that Ryan was interviewed first. The report recommended that Ryan complete an anger management program, undergo psychiatric assessment, not drink alcohol within 24 hours of seeing the children, and be supervised at all times with the children at his parent’s house, or a contact centre. Faith explained to the judge that Ryan’s parents had not adequately supervised in the past, and requested a contact centre. The judge declined stating that the family needed to be given a chance.

Faith tried to limit even email communication with Ryan. Her good friend assists with the children and contact logistics. Ryan has breached the protection order by turning up at the children’s school and sending abusive emails. Faith reported the breaches to the police, but Ryan was not charged. At no time have the police indicated to Faith that criminal charges would be appropriate in relation to Ryan’s repeated violence and threats. Faith believes however that the protection order has saved her life as Ryan is afraid of the police. She is beginning to feel stronger and more equipped to face the future now that she is receiving counselling support. She wants nothing to do with Ryan, and would prefer no changes to the current contact arrangements. If there is any contact with Ryan, Faith records it on her phone so she has evidence for the police and the court. The Family Court property matters have been finalised and she has been granted sole ownership of her house. Faith feels very fortunate that her workplace has been supportive throughout her long and traumatic ordeal. She is also grateful for the domestic violence court support service assistance she received, however believes that a greater effort needs to be made to keep victims and perpetrators separate in the court house. She has found the court processes frustrating and lengthy, not helped by Ryan’s deliberate attempts to delay proceedings. Sometimes Ryan pays around  $40 a fortnight towards support for their five children.


Key words: [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Social abuse] [Spiritual abuse] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Systems abuse] [Women] [People with children] [Children] [Pregnant women] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Legal representation] [Protection order] [Family law – parenting and property]

Felicity and Jason were in a relationship for two years, during which time they married and began living together. They separated soon after the birth of their only child who was diagnosed with Autism at a young age. Both are university educated and professionally qualified. Felicity now works part time and is studying to gain further qualifications. Jason is in highly-paid employment and is also retraining in another discipline. Their child, and Felicity’s two children from a previous marriage, live with Felicity in a house she owns. Jason has one child from a previous marriage; there are shared living and care arrangements in place with the mother, Jason’s first wife.

Felicity recalls when she first met Jason that he wasn’t a charmer, but intelligent and engaging, quite persistent, and even somewhat deceitful in his interactions with her. She found him interesting, and welcomed a male role model/father figure for her two children who she was pleased readily clicked with his child. While her children would have alternate weekends with their father, Felicity had been mostly sole parenting for some years while working in a demanding full-time job, and she felt they needed more adult support.

Felicity and Jason clashed from the start about parenting styles; Felicity put it down to the challenges associated with blending two families. Jason would often belittle his own child in front of her children, and early in the relationship he hit Felicity’s four-year old to the ground in the presence of his parents. Felicity told Jason never to touch the child again. Jason’s mother, who appeared to Felicity to be overly dominant in Jason’s life and their relationship, told her that she must leave Jason to discipline the children as he decided. The mother would ring Felicity daily.

Both Felicity and Jason come from strong religious backgrounds, however Jason insisted that Felicity and her children convert to his faith in preparation for the marriage. Felicity stopped going to the church she and her close extended family attended, and was required to attend Jason’s church where she felt uncomfortable and yet Jason and his family put pressure on her to participate. In his early interactions with Felicity’s family, Jason was so aggressive and confrontational in his views and behaviour that he alienated Felicity from them. Soon Felicity was no longer seeing or speaking to her family despite living only houses away and the cousins being close in age and friendship. They didn’t attend Felicity and Jason’s wedding.

Jason’s behaviour towards Felicity became more hostile and controlling. On an outing with the children, Felicity fell over in public and hurt herself; Jason laughed while others went to help her. When Jason travelled for work, as he often did, Felicity would ask Jason why he never called to talk with her and the children while he was away; Jason angrily accused her of checking up on him, and dictating when he must report to her. Jason’s mother told Felicity not to put demands on him.

On their wedding night, Jason complained to Felicity about every aspect of the day, he threw a drink at her, tore a necklace from her neck, and pushed her up against the wall. A wedding guest witnessed the incident and went to seek help from other guests believing that Jason was about to hit Felicity; they intervened and took Jason away and he didn’t return to Felicity for a couple of days.

Further conflict arose around Jason’s demands for a child; he argued that Felicity had given another man children, and he was therefore similarly entitled. Despite her hectic work schedule and both being away regularly, Felicity was pregnant within a month of marrying.

When Felicity reprimanded his child for inappropriate comments, Jason held a knife to Felicity’s face. She withdrew to another room to diffuse the situation, and refused to comply when he demanded that she eat a meal with them. Jason told her she was “a piece of shit” and to “get the fuck out of my house” by the time he was back from church. At the time, Felicity’s children were holidaying with their father. Felicity packed some belongings and left to stay with a girlfriend, then travelled interstate for work; she made no contact with Jason until days later she told him she needed to come home and collect more belongings. Jason lectured her about sabotaging the family by causing trouble and leaving.

Felicity had leased her own house out so it wasn’t available to move back into. She tried to talk to Jason’s mother about getting Jason to agree to Felicity taking over the lease on their current shared property so that when her children returned from holidays, they would be in familiar, settled surrounds; his mother refused, and told her she had to live with the situation she had caused. Jason told Felicity the relationship didn’t need to end; she should have tried to reconcile and now she needed “to fix her act up”. Jason then left for interstate to see friends. Felicity stayed on at the house as her children were coming home, she was pregnant, and she felt she had no other choices.

Felicity and her sister began having contact again. The sister commented to Felicity that every six weeks Jason would explode, then disappear for a week, then return in good and generous spirits, then the cycle would start over.

Around half way through Felicity’s pregnancy, Jason became angry and insistent about wanting a boy. He disappeared for a few days and arrived unexpectedly at the hospital where Felicity was having a scan. When told by the radiographer they were having a boy, he said “good” and left the hospital. Another argument soon followed about the baby’s name and christening arrangements. Felicity left to stay with her sister and, when she returned home, Jason threatened to shoot her (he had an unlicensed firearm), he threw her makeup and clothes out the window onto the concrete driveway, and again told her to get out of the house. Felicity managed to get to the car and drive away, then called the police, explaining the circumstances and that she was a government employee. When the police came to the house half an hour later, Jason had gone and Felicity’s sister had arrived. The police did not ask for any details about Jason or the incident, they gave Felicity no information about available protections, and, before leaving, simply asked her if she’d be “right”. With assistance from friends, Felicity moved all of her own and children’s belongings out of the house while Jason was absent, sent boxes to friends’ houses, and went to stay with her sister. This threw the family into chaos as they didn’t have access to what they needed, including the children’s school uniforms. Jason sent her abusive texts accusing her of ruining her children’s lives, and questioning her faith and who she worships.

Felicity and Jason kept their finances separate: he provided the house, and she paid for all other expenses, unaware of his earnings or assets. Some months prior, Jason had pressured Felicity into buying a block of land together that they could develop. When it came time to settle, he claimed he had no money. Felicity solely funded the purchase despite the land being registered in joint names. At that stage, one month from giving birth, Felicity was committed to the mortgage on the land, she had tenants in her own home, and she was facing the prospect of having to pay rent on another house for herself and children.

After a short time apart, Jason sought a meeting with Felicity, broke down tearfully, and promised to go to counselling organised through the church. Felicity said she wouldn’t see him again until he’d made some progress. Felicity soon agreed to joint counselling, during which Jason promised to change his behaviour towards her and the children. They returned to Jason’s house, but only unpacked the bare essentials as Felicity felt she couldn’t trust him. In separate sessions with Felicity, the counsellor alerted her to Jason’s cycle of violence, and asked her about safety strategies she had put in place with family and friends.

Just prior to the birth, Felicity’s mother came to help with the children as Felicity was stressed, exhausted and experiencing high blood pressure. The mother witnessed an explosive outburst from Jason, and tried to calm him down; Jason pushed her, then apologised immediately claiming he was “on edge”. The baby had symptoms of distress, and needed to stay in hospital for a few days. Jason wouldn’t allow any visitors. In the car on the way home from the hospital, Jason told Felicity she needed to lose weight; another argument ensued and Jason disappeared for a week. When he returned he, once again, yelling abuse, told Felicity to leave. By now accustomed to Jason’s behaviour, Felicity’s younger child rang her parents to alert them. Felicity locked herself in the bedroom with the baby and younger child for the night, and left the next morning when she heard Jason leave. Once more, friends and family helped her to move their belongings out of the house, for the last time. In the days following, Felicity received around 800 texts from Jason. He claimed that Jesus had appeared before him and told him he should forgive her for leaving him, and that she should be a submissive wife and come back.

Jason pressured Felicity to see the baby, however Felicity declined on the basis that they had no parenting plan in place. Jason threatened to take the baby. They saw a relationship counsellor and agreed on two-hourly contact visits. At changeovers, Jason would taunt Felicity, asking her whether she was happy that she’d destroyed the marriage and the family. One evening, Felicity’s mother was helping at home while Felicity was out briefly with friends. Jason arrived at the house to deliver back the baby, but angrily refused and drove off; meanwhile, Jason’s child witnessed the incident from the back seat of the car. Felicity called the police who initially declined to be involved due to no parenting orders. Felicity had to explain that the baby was at risk of not being fed because the baby was still an infant, allergic to dairy, and breast milk was the only suitable option. She also explained that Jason had previously threatened to kill her and that the police had done nothing to assist or protect her. On this occasion, the police agreed to intervene, retrieved the baby from Jason, and advised Felicity to apply for a protection order, which she promptly did.

Police failed several times to serve Jason at home, so Felicity’s mother tried, unsuccessfully, to contact his work for an address. Soon after, Felicity was served with Jason’s cross application on the basis that she had threatened him at work and had access to guns through her work. As a result, strict protocols dictated that Felicity be placed on restricted work duties, which she felt humiliating given her seniority, so instead she took annual leave. Her boss made submissions to the court that Felicity was not a risk, had never received a complaint in her work, and Jason’s application was vexatious. Eventually, Jason was served with Felicity’s application. She engaged a lawyer, and obtained a temporary protection order; a hearing date was set to deal with Felicity’s final order and Jason’s application. Felicity engaged a solicitor and barrister for the hearing; a final order was granted in her favour, and Jason was found guilty of wilful injury and malicious damage however Felicity is not aware of the sentence he received. The order prevented Jason from coming within 500 metres of Felicity for 2 years; the baby and her children were not named as protected parties. Felicity describes the order as very effective and a great relief as Jason didn’t come near them and they were given a chance to get on with their lives.

Prior to the expiration of the protection order, Felicity applied to the court for an extension. Jason tearfully told the magistrate that he still loved Felicity and that he just wanted to see his child. The magistrate told them to go outside and sort it out because Jason had clearly changed, and in any event it was a matter for the Family Court. The magistrate refused the extension, but told Felicity to come back to the court if there was further violence.

Immediately, Jason’s abuse started again, including harassment about seeing the baby, and repeated daily emails making offensive religious references. Felicity needed to sell the jointly-held property as she found the financial burden too great. Jason had lodged multiple child support assessment appeals alleging that Felicity earned a high income and was receiving additional cash through out-of-hours jobs. Jason forced a Centrelink investigation of Felicity, and arranged for her to be put on airport watch claiming she was a flight risk with the baby. Meanwhile, the baby was diagnosed with Autism. Eventually, Felicity had no choice but to give up her career and find employment that allowed her to care for the baby’s special needs and her other children, although her financial resources were significantly diminished. Jason’s claims proved to be false in the child support and Centrelink matters.

Having not had any form of contact with their child for nearly four years, Jason applied for an urgent Family Court hearing to determine 50/50 shared residency on the basis that he was soon to be sent on an interstate posting. On advice, Felicity immediately offered supervised access pending the court’s decision. Suspicious of his motivations however, Felicity subpoenaed Jason’s employment file and it was revealed that Jason was relying on the application to avoid his posting, and that he’d told his employer that the child had been in his part care since infancy. The judge ordered a family report, and a complex process ensued involving assessment of the child’s special needs, mediation, Jason contesting medical and health worker professional opinions, and Felicity having to spend significant sums of money on reports relating to the child’s Autism and its impact on capacity and quality of life.

Felicity also applied to the Family Court for property settlement to deal with the proceeds from the sale of the jointly-held property, which had increased in value due to subdivision. Jason had received half the profits despite Felicity having paid all costs and outlays. She was therefore claiming reimbursement for her share. In this process, Jason was forced to disclose his salary, which was in the order of $250,000.

In both the Magistrates’ Court and Family Court, Felicity was subjected to scrutiny as to why she didn’t act earlier in response to Jason’s abuse. She feels that there was little understanding of the range of issues she had to manage in order to protect herself and her children, care for a newborn and later a child with special needs, maintain her employment, and preserve her financial resources. Felicity has tried to deal with a range of matters with Jason—protection order application, child support appeals, Family Court property and parenting applications—and each time, she believes he has obfuscated the process and caused her to erode her resources. In later proceedings, she could no longer afford legal representation, and was forced to prepare for and conduct the matters on her own behalf.

Felicity is now only able to work part-time due the child’s Autism, however she is studying to gain a further professional qualification and eventually wants to work in an area she feels she can make a contribution, having given up her former profession which she loved. She expects that Jason will continue his abusive behaviour through the court system while the parenting and property matters remain unresolved.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Emotional abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Systems abuse] [Myths and misunderstandings] [Risk] [Women] [People with children] [Children] [People with disability and impairment] [People affected by substance misuse] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Protection order]

Francis and Mark were together for 23 years. Francis has been significantly hearing impaired since birth and wears hearing aids. She grew up in a loving but strict family environment, and met Mark when she was still a teenager, having had little experience with intimate relationships or independent living. They both completed year 10. Francis has limited TAFE qualifications and has worked periodically throughout the relationship when her child rearing responsibilities permitted; Mark ran his own one-man business for a time. For a number of years their income was derived predominantly from social security benefits. Mark has a history of misuse of alcohol and drugs, however Francis observed that he had developed ways of minimising its influence. The couple has three children at separation.

Mark began controlling and demeaning Francis early in the relationship. He became verbally abusive and aggressive when she was planning to go out with friends, he called her a “slut”, and would punch the walls or doors or damage household goods. Francis says she “would pay for [her outings] for a long, long time after”. While Francis had few friends and had moved away from her home city and family to be with Mark, over time she decided a night out wasn’t worth the humiliation and fear. And yet these things came to characterise her experience of the relationship over many years and were made worse by a pervading feeling of insecurity due to her poor hearing. She describes crying every day, despairing at her situation.

Francis had thought often about leaving the relationship, and would at times tell Mark that she wanted it to end, however Mark would express remorse for his behaviour and plead with her to stay. Francis says her main reason for continuing in the relationship was a growing fear of what Mark may do if she were to take steps to get away. It was also the reason Francis denied the occurrence of domestic and family violence to family, friends and police for so long. Mark became more violent towards Francis once they began having children. His abuse would always build from a verbal rage to wanton household property damage that would sometimes result in physical injury to Francis. This was the repeating pattern, and for Francis the occasions were too numerous to fully recount. There were however some incidents that were so concerning to neighbours that they called the police, but Francis felt too frightened to disclose the details of the violence knowing that Mark was nearby and likely to retaliate. Instead, she made up an account to shield the reality of the violence. Francis recalls that one night she locked herself and the children in the bathroom, and Mark punched the door in and smeared blood across the wall, in a rage about having to cook dinner.

Francis told police Mark had thrown a saucepan and didn’t show them the blood or damage to the bathroom; she had tried to ring Mark’s parents but couldn’t go ahead with the call because she was worried her voice may be too loud and Mark would hear her. Police offered Francis little or no opportunity to make a proper statement and blamed her for fighting with Mark in front of the children.

On another occasion, when the couple was out with the children, Mark and his friends tried to pressure Francis into taking drugs, which she had never done or been prone to. Mark began calling her names, and on the way home he smashed the car interior while Francis drove. Once home, Mark damaged the guard at the front of the car and punched the laundry wall so violently he broke his hand. The following day Francis told him she would leave, but he pleaded with her not to and promised a special holiday, which never happened.

Not long after, Mark was arrested on charges unrelated to violence at home, of which he was later convicted. Although he avoided imprisonment, Francis believes, to some extent this was due to a favourable reference she felt she was pressured by Mark and his lawyer to provide to the court. Due to the nature of the charges Francis changed to part-time work so she could be with the children outside school and daycare hours, and continued to put up with Mark’s violence and abuse. Later, Mark was charged with another serious offence. Pending his trial, a child protection order issued requiring that Mark move out of the family home and that he have no contact with the children for several months. Mark reacted angrily to these conditions, repeatedly demanding to see the children and continuing the violence.

Following another violent incident that involved Mark hitting one of the children, Francis told Mark to leave the holiday house the family were renting and get counselling. Initially, Mark complied. Four months later, after he was acquitted, he returned to the family home at midnight without Francis’s consent, attacked Francis, and tried to throw her off the upper storey of the house when their young son physically intervened. Francis threatened to call the police but Mark pursued her around the house while the youngest child became more and more distressed. By this stage, Francis could see that the two older children were profoundly affected by their long exposure to the violence. Francis also discovered that Mark had access to a gun, and he began making threats to shoot her and a police officer.

After confiding in a friend and her local doctor, Francis decided to apply for a protection order, and for Legal Aid to assist with the application. Appearing to give little weight to the long history of violence and abuse, the magistrate declined to include an exclusion order. However, after further submissions by her solicitor, Francis did manage to secure a temporary order with the minimum condition that Mark be of good behavior and not commit domestic and family violence. Francis believed this was of little or no protection to her and the children, and was terrified that service of the order would precipitate further violence by Mark.

Following advice from police, and with the assistance of a local service, Francis and the children were immediately resettled at a shelter. Multiple adjournments (at Mark’s request) occurred before Francis obtained a two-year final protection order.  Mark’s ongoing harassment of her parents about access to the children and car resulted in Francis having to reapply for Legal Aid to seek a variation of the order to include her parents as protected parties. This process took months longer because Mark evaded service.

The current protection order prohibits Mark from having contact with the children until a Family Court order is in place stipulating the terms of any contact. At this stage, the children have told Francis they don’t want to see their father. Francis has begun talking with her Legal Aid solicitor about a Family Court application. Francis acknowledges that she did not disclose the domestic and family violence to police on a number of occasions, but feels her fears and perceptions of future risk of harm were justified. She believes police did not provide her with a safe and receptive opportunity to give her account of the violence. Francis also observed the difference in attitude of the magistrate who failed to recognise the nature of Mark’s violence, and the magistrate who demonstrated an understanding of her circumstances and its impacts.


Key words: [Sexual abuse] [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Systems abuse] [Risk] [Women] [People with children] [Pregnant women] [People with mental illness] [People from CALD backgrounds] [People affected by substance misuse] [Victim experience of court processes] [Questioning witnesses] [Protection order] [Breach] [Parenting orders][Weapons][Family Law]

Ingrid and Scott met overseas in Ingrid’s home city. Scott was taking a break from a job that he said had caused him post-traumatic stress disorder and a persistent back injury, for which he received benefits and self-medicated using marijuana and medicinal painkillers. Ingrid has post-graduate qualifications and was working in a well-paid position at the time. The relationship developed quickly and Ingrid was soon pregnant.

During the pregnancy Scott resigned from his job while Ingrid continued to work. Ingrid found that she often had to ask Scott and his friends not to smoke marijuana near her. After the birth, they lived with Ingrid’s mother who helped with the baby. Ingrid received part-paid maternity leave, which she used to support the family. Scott refused to make any contribution to rent or other living expenses and, when asked, would angrily yell and throw things, including a computer on one occasion. Ingrid felt fearful of these early behaviours, but didn’t react, trying not to hurt Scott’s pride or add to the damaging effects of his job.

Scott persuaded Ingrid to move to Australia where he grew up. He went ahead alone to prepare for the family’s arrival, and Ingrid and the baby were to follow when Ingrid’s visa issued, and the baby was around nine months old. Scott did very little in that time: he lived off friends, failed to look for a job and eventually sought help from his father to find accommodation. Scott then insisted on returning overseas to collect Ingrid and the baby.

Once back in Australia, Scott pressured Ingrid into paying off his credit card debt, which she was not liable for. Ingrid’s maternity leave money soon ran out. Ingrid also understood that Scott had or was due to receive a significant lump-sum compensation payment from his employer for his post-traumatic stress disorder but he kept the detail from Ingrid. One day Scott fell in the kitchen, further injuring himself, resulting in his increased use of marijuana and painkillers, which Ingrid observed made him angry and depressed.

Increasingly, Scott would verbally and emotionally abuse Ingrid and damage household property. Ingrid felt isolated with a very young child, no family or friends nearby, and no car licence. Scott made frequent sexual demands of her that she found distressing and painful.

In time, Ingrid was employed again, Scott enrolled in a university course, and the child went to day care. Scott also began rehabilitation for his injury and psychologist appointments for his post-traumatic stress disorder. Ingrid felt that life had become more normal and bearable until one day Scott threw a piece of furniture around the kitchen in a rage about medical expenses that had to be paid to treat a condition Ingrid had developed. Ingrid took the child into the bedroom and locked the door. Scott never struck Ingrid or the child, but would raise his hand menacingly in anger. Scott was well over double Ingrid’s weight.

When not at university, Scott spent more and more time during the day and night drinking and taking drugs with his friends while Ingrid worked and cared for the child. Without asking Ingrid, Scott invited a female friend to stay because she needed somewhere to live. Scott’s drug taking made his behaviour more abusive and irrational. He would accuse Ingrid of lying about her whereabouts, and, despite her resistance, his sexual violence towards her escalated. He wrote her a letter complaining that the child was taking up too much time and that she was not paying him enough money.

Ingrid reached emotional breaking point and sought psychological help through her employer. She moved into another bedroom and they began living separately under the one roof. Scott discovered from reading Ingrid’s emails that she had made a male acquaintance. He became very aggressive, repeatedly texting her (and the male friend), demanding that she leave without the child, reminding her of his weapons licence, and threatening suicide. Ingrid could not afford other accommodation and refused to leave the child in Scott’s care. While she had no intention of leaving her job and uprooting the child from day care – and in any event had no funds – to return overseas, Scott had hidden her passport, which she managed to retrieve before finally leaving.

With the help of support services, Ingrid and the child were housed temporarily in a motel then moved to a shelter. Inevitably this caused upheaval with work and day care, but Ingrid was grateful for the assistance she received with visa matters and an application for a protection order. Initially acting for herself (while Scott had a lawyer), Ingrid was unable to obtain a temporary order and the matter went to trial, for which she was granted Legal Aid. Ingrid describes an intimidating courtroom experience where: during cross-examination, she was yelled at by Scott’s barrister, and the Magistrate was unable to respond effectively; she was not allowed to give evidence of the sexual violence because she was told it could no longer occur due to separation; and she was told that because there was no physical violence or harm, the texting, suicide threats and reference to a weapons licence were minimised and not considered sufficiently abusive to establish domestic and family violence. The court dismissed Ingrid’s application and she was denied a protection order.

Despite strict security controls, Scott was able to locate the shelter where Ingrid and the child were living. Concerned about the risk to the shelter and its other residents, and the complications associated with moving to another shelter, Ingrid decided to stay with friends. Again, Scott revealed to Ingrid an address in the vicinity. Distraught, Ingrid searched for an explanation, and then discovered Scott had sewn a GPS tracking device in the back of a doll that he’d insisted Ingrid take for the child. Ingrid went immediately to the police and gave a statement. Initially police told her she couldn’t get a protection order because there was no physical violence, but she persisted and the court granted a temporary protection order. At the final hearing, Ingrid was unrepresented and Scott’s lawyer offered a protection order without any admission of facts. Ingrid resisted because she knew that Scott’s behaviour was abusive and he should be held responsible. The Magistrate declined to make a final decision on the basis that Family Court matters were pending; and instead extended the temporary order. While an interim parenting order was put in place for shared care, there are multiple problems regarding changeover and other arrangements and Scott flouting the order. The matter was referred to mediation, however precluded from proceeding due to risk of domestic and family violence.

Scott soon sought a cross order against Ingrid fabricating evidence of her beating and raping him, which at the final hearing she was able to resist using audio and social media records she had diligently gathered, and ultimately was granted a final protection order, however the child and others are not listed as protected parties. Before the hearing, Scott had also tried to run Ingrid over in his car. Scott continues to breach the good behaviour provision of the protection order and the terms of the parenting order. Scott has never been charged with breach, or with any criminal offences relating to the stalking and monitoring, attempting to run over Ingrid, or the false affidavit evidence.

Ingrid agreed to settle final parenting orders with Scott, avoiding a trial. Ingrid finds changeovers distressing and demeaning: Scott yells commands at her. She is concerned about how they will jointly manage ongoing parenting decisions and arrangements in the best interests of the child while she endures ongoing abuse. Scott is still unemployed and demands that Ingrid pay him child support. Ingrid would like to visit her home city with the child, but expects that Scott will take any steps to prevent them from going. They were together for only three years, and yet Ingrid feels she and the child will live with Scott’s abuse and its harmful consequences for many years yet.


Key words:[Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Systems Abuse] [Women] [People with children] [Children] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Legal representation] [Family law]

Jane and Richard met at university and later married. They had two children together, and finally separated after 25 years. Both are tertiary educated, however Richard assumed the primary earner role early in the relationship and priority was given to his professional advancement. Jane supported Richard’s career pursuits—which involved a number of relocations, here and overseas—and became the primary carer of their children who are in their mid to late teenage years. The children live with Jane and have limited contact with Richard who continues to live and work overseas and returns periodically. There are no Family Court parenting orders, however there are consent orders dealing with the settlement of marital property between Jane and Richard and access to children during school holidays. Jane had completed a Graduate Diploma whilst raising the children, and had been in unrelated paid employment for brief periods when the family was based in Australia.  However she had not attained any significant experience or career progression as caring for the children was her main priority.   Just prior to separation Jane accepted a full-time job that for the first time utilized her degree.  She supports herself and the children from her modest income; and under the terms of the consent orders, Richard is discharged from any responsibility to pay child support. The property settlement entitles Jane to funds from the sale of a house property, which she intends to use to purchase a home for her and the children.

Marrying so young, Jane had little experience of relationships or what to expect. Richard always earned a high salary and from the outset took charge of their finances and purchases.  As a couple they bought a number of real estate properties, which he referred to as his own, despite their being registered in Jane’s name and clearly shared assets. Without the qualification and experience she’d hoped to obtain, Jane could only work in low-paid positions; and, after having children and living as expats overseas, was unable to work at all. Richard belittled Jane for her lack of financial contribution, and regularly monitored her weekly spending against the allowance he had allocated that was often insufficient for essentials. She was required to show Richard receipts for all of her expenditure. Richard could become enraged when he believed Jane had overspent or acted without his approval, and would often throw and break items precious to Jane to show his displeasure with her and to intimidate her.  Early in the relationship when Jane freely expressed her opinions with Richard, he threw a coffee cup toward her head which flew out an open window and travelled 5 metres before smashing on the neighbour’s brick wall. On another occasion he ripped up certificates of her achievement in music. If she went out he would call her regularly to check on her movements and who she was with. Over time Jane tried to follow his instructions so as to avoid his angry outbursts; however she found herself becoming increasingly isolated, anxious and depressed, diminished by Richard’s abuse, and lacking in self-esteem. Meanwhile, she was caring for two children, for the most part by herself, and coping with the additional challenges of establishing a home and friendships, and raising a family in various overseas locations. Despite Jane’s ‘anything-for-peace’ approach, Richard repeatedly criticised her mothering and homemaking abilities; and the children would often express concern for how she was feeling after Richard had finished his abusive rants.

Jane became distressed about how one of the children was coping and behaving and managed to get Richard’s approval to spend money on therapy on the basis that it was about the child. It was during this time that Jane realised that she needed help herself, and began attending therapy sessions in secret, knowing that Richard would be outraged and refuse to pay if he found out.

Jane describes an emotionally traumatic separation that was prolonged over five years as she struggled to find ways to persuade Richard to address the problems in their relationship together. Jane felt she had to try hard to do what she could to save the marriage, but at the same time was learning to understand and deal with the fact that Richard had controlled her behavior for so many years. She decided that it was best to return to Australia, settle the children into their final years of high school, retrain, get a job and try to rebuild herself while Richard remained in his overseas position. When he visited from time to time, Jane tried to arrange couple counselling, but Richard would either get angry or disengage.

Eventually Jane felt the marriage was over and she engaged solicitors to take the necessary steps to deal with issues relating to the children and property. In the years that followed Jane spent $100,000 of her own and family funds on legal fees, an outlay that has significantly eroded her financial resources. She reports having competent and supportive advisers, however believes that they were unable to effectively deal with Richard’s evasive, manipulative and dishonest conduct in relation to disclosure of income and assets, preservation of assets, child support, mediation, and settlement of consent orders. She reports that Richard would send numerous emails to her solicitors based on the assumption that her solicitors would read them and then charge her.  She feels that it perhaps would have been preferable to take the matter to trial where Richard’s conduct and credibility could have been assessed by a court, but concedes the merits of her legal advice that the financial and emotional cost of this option would have been prohibitive. Richard continued to humiliate Jane through this process by cutting off services and insurance, cancelling the children’s school enrolments, and reneging on agreements.  In particular he reneged on a signed Mediation agreement for settlement. Richard also systematically used the Child Support system to continue the emotional and financial abuse.  For instance, despite several international flights and maintaining business interests and assets overseas, Richard was able to convince Child Support that he had no income.  Richard has also driven onto the property Jane is renting after she asked him not to. She finds him intimidating and at one stage considered applying for a protection order against him. Jane reflects that at no point has Richard ever been held accountable or borne any consequences for his abusive behaviour.

When the consent orders were finally put before the court for approval, the judge acknowledged they were unjust and inequitable to Jane, but the reality of her situation dictated that she would be unable to afford the cost of having the multiple contested matters adjudicated on by the court. While Jane knows that she did not receive the share of the marital assets that she was entitled to, she feels fortunate that her settlement funds will be sufficient to be financially comfortable provided she continues working and spends prudently.  She is finally able to work toward full registration in her chosen career, which she was unable to pursue previously.


Key words: [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Damaging property] [Animal abuse] [Myths] [Risk] [Women] [Older people] [People living in regional, rural and remote communities] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Protection order] [Police-initiated orders] [Sentencing]

Jennifer and Frank are in their sixties and were in a relationship for five years. They have both been married previously and have adult children. Jennifer has always worked in various skilled positions, and entered retirement well self-funded, with superannuation savings and an unencumbered house property. Frank did not complete high school, however Jennifer believes he is highly intelligent with good commercial sense, and runs a seemingly successful business. Their relationship progressed quickly, and before long Frank had moved into Jennifer’s house. Frank had told Jennifer that he was divorced, but she learned much later, after having contact with his first wife with whom she became friends, that Frank had lied about this. Frank ran his business in a rural town a few hours’ drive from where Jennifer had been living for many years. Given the uncertain economic climate, Frank convinced Jennifer that it would be prudent to move to the town and keep a better eye on the business. Jennifer believed Frank was envisaging a 12-month plan, which she embraced as a welcome change from city life. With Frank’s strong encouragement, Jennifer bought an acreage property on the outskirts of the town, funded by a mortgage using the equity in her house, with Jennifer and Frank as joint borrowers.

While Jennifer very much enjoys the rural setting and lifestyle, she describes signing the contract on the property as ‘signing her death warrant’. Having moved in—along with Jennifer’s two much-loved, blind and aging dogs—Frank became immediately violent. Jennifer is a confident and capable person, and thought Frank respected her for this; and yet if Frank didn’t get his own way, he began damaging the flooring and woodwork, breaking things, and throwing objects across the house, including coffee cups past Jennifer’s head, into the wall. One winter evening, having urged Jennifer to have a shower upstairs, Frank propped the pool gate open allowing one of her dogs to wander in and fall into the pool, leaving it to drown. At Jennifer’s inconsolable distress, Frank said aggressively ‘he’s dead, fucking get over it’. Jennifer believes that Frank resented her self-confidence, and relished trying to ‘bring her to her knees’. When they bought identical smartphones, their accounts were synchronised inadvertently, and Jennifer became aware that Frank was having relationships with other women, as she was able to read the incoming and outgoing text messages. Frank quickly arranged for the accounts to be desynchronised. The situation was intolerable to Jennifer, and she felt she had to bring an end to the relationship; with the help of her family, she managed to get Frank to move out of the house.

Frank’s intimidation and abuse of Jennifer escalated on separation. Jennifer was forced to make the total monthly mortgage repayments on the property as Frank refused to contribute. Her retirement income could not sustain this substantial outlay; and soon she had no choice but to sell her city property, and apply the funds to discharge the mortgage, taxes and other outstanding expenses. Jennifer is unable to sell the acreage property due to a depressed real estate market, and even if she could, she would not have sufficient funds to buy where she had lived previously. She feels trapped and vulnerable in a small town where Frank also lives and runs his business. And yet she felt that in order to function in that environment she must adopt a cordial attitude to Frank, or life would be unbearable. Frank is a tall, extremely heavy man, with an aggressive demeanour. Initially after separating, Frank would come around to the house and offer to help with the pool and other jobs; however the situation would often deteriorate quickly and, if Jennifer didn’t accede to his various demands, Frank would yell profanities at her, and take the pool equipment or the car, returning them only when he decided Jennifer was behaving properly. Frank then began stalking Jennifer by coming to the house at night, peering into and rapping on windows, and going through the garbage bins and letterbox. Jennifer became increasingly fearful of Frank’s behaviour, and called the police on a number of occasions.

For the most part, Jennifer feels the police were approachable enough, but ineffective in advising her of her rights or available protections; one officer referred to an incident as ‘just a domestic’. This was the case until one day Frank arrived at the house demanding that he and Jennifer resume living together; he threw a coffee cup over the balcony, and when Jennifer tried to close the automated swing door as he was storming out of the garage, he stopped the door in its tracks, buckled and broke it, and told her, ‘I’ll get you, you fucking bitch’. That night, once police were alerted, they took charge of the matter, and obtained a temporary protection order on Jennifer’s behalf and charged Frank with intimidation and criminal damage to property. Jennifer recalls feeling dumbfounded by their heavy-handed turnaround, and terrified of how Frank would react, most particularly towards her, given the comprehensive and damning statement she had provided the police. She also didn’t realise she would end up in court.

Jennifer felt frustrated and diminished by the court process. She was cross examined by Frank’s lawyer for a lengthy period, and subjected to attacks on her character and behaviour. The prosecutor did not interview Jennifer prior to the hearing, and therefore had little or no understanding of the facts and context of the matter, most importantly the history of Frank’s domestic and family violence towards Jennifer. Frank behaved inappropriately in the courtroom, and the (visiting) Magistrate threatened his removal from the court room. He also gave inconsistent evidence, which on the criminal damage charge wasn’t believed, and ultimately he was fined, and a conviction recorded. He was acquitted of the intimidation charge as the Magistrate found there was a lack of evidence. Jennifer believes that had she been given an opportunity to provide a full account of the facts and context to the prosecutor, this would have been conveyed to the Magistrate. When she walked out of the courthouse, Frank yelled abuse at Jennifer and told her he was going to get her. Frank has recently successfully appealed the conviction, and successfully contested the issue of a final protection order.

Frank has never paid for the damage to the garage door, and while the Magistrate said the civil matter could be dealt with at a courthouse located in another town, the legal, travel and associated costs would have been prohibitive to Jennifer. She was also unable to claim on insurance without bearing a disproportionate penalty. There is some prospect of Jennifer claiming victim compensation; however she has not felt strong enough to begin this process.

Jennifer believes that she has done all she can to secure her home with cameras, lights and locks, and yet she feels profoundly unsafe.  He has continued to intimidate her from the neighbours’ fence line and from the street and elsewhere in the small town. Frank has also ingratiated himself to some of her children and their partners undermining her own relationship with them in his efforts to hurt and distress her emotionally. Despite having obtained the order on her behalf in the first instance, the police have now told her there is nothing more they can do for her. At this stage, Jennifer fears for her life and future, and can see no legal recourse for her protection. She has also discovered that Frank has had similarly violent relationships with other women in the past and also that Frank has told neighbours that Jennifer is mad and unbalanced.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Sexual and reproductive abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Cultural and spiritual abuse] [Social abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Forced marriage] [Children] [People with mental illness] [People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds] [Protection order] [Family Court order] [Family Law Watch List]

Leyla is 15 years old.

Leyla moved to Australia from Iraq when she was 12 years old. Leyla lives with her parents, siblings and uncle.

Leyla’s mother told Leyla that arrangements had been made for her to marry an older cousin in Iraq. In preparation for the marriage, Leyla’s family travelled to Iraq and paid a dowry. Leyla’s parents told Leyla that after the end of the next school term, she would no longer be going to school. Leyla’s older brother told Leyla she didn’t need to go to school now because soon she would be married. Her new role would be to look after her husband and their home.

Leyla did not want to get married. Leyla wanted to keep going to school. She likes school. For Leyla, it feels very important to her that she finishes her education.

Leyla told her mother that she did not want to get married. In response, Leyla’s mother told Leyla that she was bringing shame on her family. Leyla’s mother slapped Leyla in the face and pushed her, causing her to hit her head against the wall. Leyla’s mother took away her mobile.

Leyla told her teacher about her family’s plans to force her into marriage. Her teacher made a report to the child protection agency, who contacted the Australian Federal Police.

Leyla left home with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police. Leyla now lives in youth supported accommodation.

Once Leyla left home, she also disclosed that her uncle had been sexually inappropriate towards her, including exposing himself to her. This allegation was investigated by police and child protection.

The Australian Federal Police referred Leyla to Legal Aid. With the representation of Legal Aid, Leyla made an application to the Family Law Court for orders placing Leyla’s name on the Family Law Watch List and restraining her family from removing her from Australia or from forcing her into marriage.

Leyla’s family have made ongoing threats to Leyla. Leyla’s brother sent Leyla a message over Facebook saying “If you don’t come home soon, then Dad will have you killed”. With the assistance of Legal Aid, Leyla reported this behaviour to the police. Police applied for a protection order to protect Leyla.

Living in supported accommodation, Leyla feels very isolated from her religion, culture, family and friends. Leyla has struggled with her mental health; and at times, has felt suicidal.


[Physical violence and harm] [Sexual and reproductive abuse] [Emotional abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Social abuse] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Myths and misunderstandings] [Risk] [Women] [People with children] [Children] [People with disability and impairment] [People affected by substance misuse] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Protection order] [Parenting order]

Julia and Adam were in a relationship for three years, during which time they had a child who was just under 12 months old at separation. They both completed secondary education and apprenticeships in different fields. Julia was employed until the child was born and is now the primary carer and in receipt of a Centrelink sole parent pension. Julia and the child live with Julia’s mother. Adam is employed and required to travel often as part of his work. They have an informal arrangement where Adam has supervised contact in a public location with the child (and Julia present) for a couple of hours one day a week, or as his work permits; Julia has been happy to accommodate his changing schedule. However when Adam threatened to apply for residence of the child, Julia began investigating Family Law orders. Adam is a frequent user of cannabis, and suffers from memory loss, depression and mood disorders as a result of a brain injury he received several years ago in a car accident. While Julia doesn’t believe Adam would do anything intentionally to harm the child, she has observed that his attention span is limited, he forgets to watch the child, he smokes in the child’s presence and leaves dangerous items within reach. Julia is also concerned about the unhealthy influence of Adam’s family. Julia is consulting her doctor about the anxiety she is experiencing from her abusive relationship with Adam.

Since Adam’s brain injury, his mother has held power of attorney over all of his affairs and otherwise dominated his recovery, rehabilitation and decision making. Julia believes that this loss of control over his life led Adam to assert control over Julia. She was also made to feel responsible for Adam’s emotional care, even though she felt that the brain injury was used as a ready excuse for Adam’s abusive and dysfunctional behaviour. He objected to her working in a male-dominated industry, she wasn’t allowed to continue dancing, and restricted her from spending time with her family and friends. He threatened to turn up at Julia’s workplace and make a scene so she would lose her job. During her pregnancy, they moved into and renovated a house Adam had inherited from his deceased father. Adam would dictate who could visit and when. At least every second week, and increasingly so through the pregnancy and after the child was born, Adam would rage out of control, and throw Julia’s belongings out the front of the house and tell her to leave. By this stage, Julia had discovered that Adam also had a serious drug problem, and became very concerned about the potential effects on a newborn. Once Julia stopped work to have the baby, Adam would regularly tell her that he was the only one working, and she needed to shut up and do as she was told. Julia would respond by saying that she was entitled to her own opinion regardless of whether agreed, but realised that there were times that this would produce an explosive reaction in Adam involving his screaming in her face and standing on her feet so she was unable to move. Adam gave Julia money only to buy groceries and nappies, and refused to pay for new clothes for Julia who had lost a considerable amount of weight due to stress. They had a joint account, but Adam would withdraw any available money denying Julia access to funds; he would mostly spend the money on cannabis. Julia’s mother would often pay for items Julia and the child needed. Adam also insisted that Julia not take contraception as he wanted another child; Julia was forced to comply, but did not want to subject another child to Adam’s violence.

The control exercised by Adam’s mother extended to their relationship. They were unable to pay bills without her approval and, soon after the birth, Julia was forced to put the baby on formula milk so Adam’s mother could have the baby for overnight stays. Adam first hit Julia when she was holding their six-week-old baby. Yelling, dragging Julia through the house and throwing her out the front of the house became the norm in the relationship. Julia would regularly have bruising that she tried to conceal from friends, or she would simply not go out to avoid the embarrassment of having to explain her circumstances and justify staying with Adam so that the child had the care of both parents. Julia believes Adam was oblivious to the consequences to her and the baby; he would become so blind with anger that there were no boundaries to his violence. Adam’s mother often witnessed Adam’s violence and made no attempt to stop him. Julia regularly felt her own life was in danger, however always left the house to stay with her own mother if she believed the child was at risk. Julia has noticed that the child is now fearful around men, and cries at the sound of a deep voice.

Julia attempted to leave Adam on a number of occasions, however Adam threatened that the court would punish her for taking the child away from him. Julia’s greatest fear is losing the child. As he’d done previously, when Julia indicated that she would like to return to work, Adam threatened to sabotage her chances. While Adam didn’t harm Julia’s two cats, he did threaten not to allow her to take them if she left. Julia felt she could no longer deal with Adam’s manipulation so, for her own preservation, acquiesced to his behaviour and didn’t bother pursuing any of her own interests. Julia’s mother was concerned for her wellbeing and tried to talk to Adam, which resulted in a terrifying road rage incident. Adam repeatedly tried to exclude Julia’s mother from their lives.

On one occasion following Adam’s violence, Julia rang the police from her mother’s house. She was very reluctant to send the police to interview Adam as he had always told her that if she involved the police, he would say that she was the perpetrator, and would make sure she lost care of the child. Julia reports that the police were reasonably supportive; they gave her information about available counselling, and suggested she move in with her mum and keep away from Adam. They did not however encourage her to seek a protection order as they indicated that it may jeopardise her relationship with the child. At the time, Julia was confused by this approach and, in hindsight is dismayed, as she believes that a protection order would likely have prevented more violence and suffering.

Julia did leave the relationship and took the child to live with her mother. While Adam’s physical violence stopped, his abuse continued in the form of threats in text and voice messages including that he would send people to get her, that he would take the child, and that she deserved to be put in the gutter and kicked in the back of the head. Julia found these threats particularly frightening as she was often at home alone at night with the child while her mother worked night shifts. Again, she contacted police with the detail of Adam’s behaviour and they urged her to attend the station and have a protection order taken out. When she arrived, with the text and voice messages on her phone, she was told Adam’s threats weren’t sufficient to justify an order or to charge him with any offence such as stalking, and she would have to make an application for a protection order on her own behalf at the court. Julia felt embarrassed and distressed when she left the station, believing they thought she was simply trying to get attention. Julia then rang a police information line as she needed advice on the application process, and remarkably they told her to try another police station. When she did this, the police were more interested in Adam’s involvement with illicit drugs than the immediate threat of Adam’s violence and referred her to the court to obtain a protection order.

Julia downloaded the relevant forms and sought assistance from the court’s domestic violence support service. She appeared before a magistrate and obtained a temporary protection order against Adam. Julia felt that the magistrate had read her file carefully, took her circumstances seriously, and reassured her that she was doing the right thing for the right reasons. It was explained to Julia that she would be notified of a return date once Adam had been served; she was also aware that service may be delayed given Adam’s frequent absences for work.

Julia is also preparing a Family Court consent order application proposing that she have residence of the child and Adam have contact on similar terms to the current informal arrangements.

Adam has Julia’s mobile number so he can make contact in relation to arrangements for the child; however he is not aware of where Julia and the child live. Adam’s abusive behaviour continues in texts and phone calls when he unreasonably demands to see the child at short notice and Julia doesn’t comply. His anger escalates quickly, his language is profane and threats of violence continue. Julia has blocked Adam on Facebook, but believes that he posts on his own Facebook page long tirades accusing Julia of preventing him from seeing the child, and as a consequence she has been verbally attacked online by his followers.

Julia feels her life is starting to get back to normal now that she is dealing with the domestic violence and parenting matters, and she and the child are living away from Adam and in a safe and supportive environment with her mother. She is seeing friends again who she was cut off from when she was with Adam; Adam would either disallow visits or make them feel uncomfortable when they did visit. Many of Julia’s belongings including furniture were damaged from Adam throwing them into the yard, so when it came time for her to move to her mother’s house, she was left with very little. While Julia’s experience of the court support service is very positive, she remains concerned that the police disbelieve her, and she is therefore unlikely to seek their help in the future. Julia is keeping copies/recordings of all text and voicemail messages from Adam, and she has applied for legal aid to fund legal representation for the protection order hearing. Adam has transferred his accounts and assets to his mother and told Julia that she won’t get a cent. Julia has applied for a child support assessment.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Sexual and reproductive abuse] [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Social abuse] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Animal abuse] [Systems abuse] [Myths and misunderstandings] [Risk] [Women] [People with children] [Children] [Pregnant women] [People with disability and impairment] [People affected by substance misuse] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Legal representation][Protection order] [Breach of protection order] [Parenting orders]

Lisa and Sean were in a relationship for four years, and had a child together who was aged around two years at separation. Also living with them was Lisa’s primary school aged child from a previous relationship. Both of these children have disabilities and special needs. Lisa has adult children too; they have families of their own and live independently. Sean was still married to someone else when he and Lisa met through work. Lisa did not complete high school; however she has spent some years studying to gain qualifications that will enhance her employment prospects. Sean qualified in a trade and has held a well-remunerated position for at least as long as Lisa has known him. Sean has an illicit drug habit and misuses alcohol.

When Lisa and Sean moved in together, Sean wanted Lisa to stop work and be a stay-at-home mum. This was unfamiliar to Lisa as she had always worked to support herself and her children through years of mostly single parenting. Initially, she was thrilled by Sean’s generosity and the prospect that they could establish a happy, stable family life together without the pressure of her having to earn money. Over time however, Lisa realised that this was Sean’s way of asserting his control over her. Details also emerged about Sean that she hadn’t previously been aware of, in particular his history of serious drug use and ongoing use. In the first year of their relationship, Sean expected Lisa to support him through the difficulties he was experiencing in divorcing his wife and then with the illness of a close family member. Despite also having to study and care for a child with disabilities, Sean insisted that Lisa’s focus be on him. This was an intense time for Lisa; she miscarried, and then later successfully conceived.

During Lisa’s pregnancy, Sean’s behaviour towards Lisa became violent and abusive, and his drug use increased. He objected to Lisa making contact with her former work colleagues (especially males), and monitored her Facebook activity. The reception on Lisa’s phone network was so poor that Lisa was mostly unable to call friends. Sean, on the other hand, was in regular phone and Facebook contact with female friends, one of whom sent him provocative photos of herself. When Lisa suggested this was inappropriate, Sean got angry and told her she was jealous and paranoid. When Sean was coming down from a drug bender, he would anger easily, and shout at and belittle Lisa’s other child. This infuriated Lisa and she tried to stand her ground with him; Sean told her she wasn’t allowed to shout. On one occasion, Sean returned home, smashed his phone in front of Lisa, and then flung a heavy jacket and zipper across her pregnant stomach resulting in bleeding and long-term injury to the child. She spent over a week in hospital and was distressed knowing that her other child was in Sean’s care while he and friends had long sessions of alcohol and drug taking.

After their child was born, they moved to an isolated regional town so that Sean could take up a higher-paid position. Lisa only had access to the Centrelink family allowance payments to buy groceries, clothes and other household expenses. Sean made the mortgage repayments on the house and spent the balance of his wage as he wished. When Lisa asked him to supplement the family benefit payments, which were insufficient to cover the family’s needs, he would become aggressive and argumentative. Lisa was blamed for living costs and anything else that Sean refused to take responsibility for, including falling asleep at the wheel while driving, with Lisa and the children as passengers. Lisa has an ‘inside’ dog that she and her other child remain very close to. Sean made the dog live outside with his own dog, which inevitably resulted in fights. Sean told Lisa she needed to put her dog down; she resisted and kept the dog.

Sean made no effort to help with the care of the children, the dogs or the home. Lisa attended to all of these things even when their child was an infant and awake through the night with feeding and teething troubles. Early one morning, Lisa asked for help with the baby; Sean told her she was lazy, and went back to Facebooking his friends. Again, Lisa was exasperated by his response and kicked a large, empty water bottle along the floor towards him. Sean grabbed and threw her against the wall, dislocating and disfiguring her shoulder. While Tina screamed in pain, Sean yelled abuse at her for an hour before driving her to the hospital. He then apologised profusely, begging that Lisa not pursue charges. The hospital gave Lisa the name of a local domestic and family violence service, and referred them both to joint counselling, which they attended briefly. Sean refused a recommendation to attend all male counselling.

It was six months before Lisa was given an appointment for surgery to correct her serious shoulder injury. Meanwhile, she endured significant pain, and Sean subjected her to further violence. A particularly frightening incident involved Sean lifting Lisa up and throwing her through a door frame. She managed to head butt him and knock out two of his front teeth. She later suffered another miscarriage and prolonged bleeding. When it came time for Lisa’s surgery, a family member came to help out. This angered Sean too. When they left, Lisa was exhausted, managing her post-operative pain with medication, looking after the baby and older child, and sleeping on the couch to avoid confrontation with Sean. One evening, he demanded that Lisa have sex with him—as he always had—and, for the first time, she refused. He followed her around the house obsessively, and when in the baby’s room, punched his fist through the wall beside her head. The next morning, Sean left for work as if nothing had happened. Lisa packed up the children and her belongings, contacted the local domestic and family violence service and organised a Centrelink support payment, and drove to another state. Lisa arranged for her other child to stay with the child’s father with whom she has a healthy and constructive relationship; and Lisa and the baby went into temporary crisis accommodation until she could get set up in a rental house. She asked Sean to send money to assist as she knew he had extra cash.

Lisa had settled the children into their new home when Sean arrived wanting to see them, and seeking a reconciliation. Lisa agreed on the basis that they live in a city location. They moved into Sean’s former marital home (of which he was now the sole owner under Family Court orders) and resumed an intimate relationship. Lisa insisted on a lease in the event that things did not work out with Sean. She paid the rent and utilities bills, and Sean made the mortgage repayments. Before long, Lisa experienced further serious health problems, and required extended hospital treatment. Sean refused to take leave from work to care for the children, so she was forced to take them with her to the hospital. At this point, Lisa told Sean to leave the home as she’d had enough. She asserted her rights as lessee of the property. Periods of making up and breaking up followed, however they continued sexual relations.

Sean’s lawyers served an eviction notice on Lisa claiming that the property was to be sold. She vacated, and Sean moved back in; he had no intention of selling the property. Sean would often stay over at Lisa’s new address, and she agreed to informal and regular overnight contact arrangements. When she refused further sexual relations, and soon after her hospital treatment, Sean made an application for 50/50 shared residence of their child, notwithstanding the child’s very young age and special needs. Lisa applied for a protection order against Sean, but he persuaded her to withdraw it before service claiming that he would otherwise lose his job.

Over the following twelve months, the windows in Lisa’s house and car were repeatedly smashed, and her house was broken into on multiple occasions. She is certain that Sean and his friends were the offenders. Sean also parked out the front of the house from time to time in different vehicles, and publicly abused and demeaned her on Facebook. On police advice, Lisa obtained a temporary protection order against Sean, at the final hearing she was granted a 12 month protection order. Sean has made a cross application falsely alleging that Lisa misused alcohol during her pregnancy causing long-term harm to their child. Both applications were heard together. Lisa reported a breach of the temporary order involving Sean and others throwing rocks through her car windscreen and into her house near sleeping children. Police told her they were busy, and a photographer would attend in 24 hours. The current order allows Sean to ring the children at certain hours over the weekend. He is often stoned or drunk when he calls, and Lisa can never predict whether he’ll be cooperative or aggressive.

Family Court parenting and property proceedings resulted in Sean having fortnightly access, there were two family reports prepared but the findings were not followed by the court. Lisa suspects that the protection order hearing was deferred pending the outcome of the Family Court matters, which were scheduled for a later time . Sean was told by the judge at the interim hearing that he will not succeed on his shared residence application; he persisted regardless.

Sean was legally represented, Lisa was not. She has been unable to access Legal Aid, and continues to do her best to manage these legal matters herself, with considerable difficulty. Lisa is however appreciative of the understanding and practical help she has received from local community legal services, domestic and family violence services, and court support. Lisa is still concerned for her own safety and the safety of her younger child. She believes that Sean is incapable of taking proper care of the child who often returns home after contact visits with cuts, bruises and rashes. Lisa felt frustrated and intimidated by the delays in the resolution of the protection order and parenting and property matters, and Sean’s contribution to that delay.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Sexual and reproductive abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Myths] [Risk] [Women] [People with children] [Pregnant women] [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people] [People affected by substance misuse] [Victim experience of court processes] [Protection order] [Breach] [Sentencing]

Melissa and Ben were in a relationship for 17 years and had five children together, aged from toddler to early teens at separation. Melissa identifies as Indigenous. She has post-secondary qualifications and has been employed in a professional role for many years, apart from when the children were very young. Ben has always earned a high income from his trade job when not serving jail sentences for various convictions. Their combined income enabled, for the most part, comfortable material living circumstances. Melissa describes Ben as having been both generous and irresponsible with money. Their relationship was characterised by Ben’s regular absences for work; and a number of periods of separation due to Ben’s violence towards Melissa or his imprisonment as a consequence.

Early in the relationship, when they were living together, Ben began calling Melissa offensive and demeaning names, hitting and spitting on her, and forcing her to have unwanted sex; during some of these occasions, he would also be using illicit drugs. After three months, Melissa moved out and lived with family, returning briefly one evening with a (non-intimate) male friend who Ben assaulted. Ben was charged with and convicted of assault, and the police obtained a protection order on Melissa’s behalf. Over many years Melissa had a number of protection orders.

Having spent a considerable period away from Ben, Melissa reinitiated contact as she wanted to have a child. Ben’s violence towards Melissa escalated during her first pregnancy, as did his drug use. He would hit Melissa in the head, try to strangle her, and threaten her with knives. While Melissa knew these were breaches of the protection order, she was too afraid to contact police as Ben would smash the phone and hold his hand over her mouth when she screamed.

Melissa left Ben again after the birth of their first child. When the child was three weeks old, Ben came to Melissa’s residence, took the child out of her arms, and bashed her badly. A witness alerted police and Ben was charged with and convicted of assault. On another occasion, when Melissa and the child were not home, Ben broke into the residence and viciously damaged and wrecked her furniture and appliances, and sliced her mattress. He also kicked in the door of her friend’s house and smashed household items. Ben went to jail for these offences, and Melissa moved elsewhere with the child.

Melissa was a single mother, working part-time and studying, and didn’t see Ben for two years. During his jail term, Ben wrote to Melissa threatening to ‘get her’ on his release. Melissa took the letter to police, and believes that Ben’s jail term was extended as a result, however she is not sure whether it was treated as a breach or parole matter; the police didn’t advise her.

When Ben was out of jail, Melissa contacted him to ask if he wanted to see the child; she also wanted a second child. She says she’d felt lonely and longing for love, and Ben responded positively and warmly. However, soon after they resumed living together, and Melissa became pregnant, Ben’s sexual violence started again. There were times when Melissa ran up the street naked and hid at a neighbour’s house to escape Ben’s force. He also continued the abusive name-calling, and told Melissa he hoped she got cancer and her body was maimed.

After the birth of their second child, the child safety services were briefly interested in the family’s welfare. Melissa believes it was likely the police who alerted them to Ben’s violence. Aware of the risk of the children being removed by child safety, Melissa stopped reporting the violence and abuse, notwithstanding its increasing severity and danger. Ben had once pushed her down the stairs while still pregnant and she’d sustained extensive blood loss from her injuries. On another occasion, he raped her while menstruating; and police arrived after being alerted by a neighbour. Police took a statement from Melissa and questioned her as to why she was still living with Ben. They expressed irritation that they’d been through this multiple times before with her, yet offered her no referral to support services. Melissa was shocked and distressed when she learned that child safety had visited the school and daycare to question her children without first speaking with her.

This pattern of violent and abusive behaviour—and police and child safety responses—continued for years. When Melissa was pregnant with their fifth child, Ben came home in the early hours of one morning, in the aftermath of an intense drug bender, and began sexually assaulting Melissa. She physically attacked him, terrified of how he would react, fled the house carrying her own injuries. A family member returned to take care of the children and call the police. Melissa made a statement to police, and advised child safety of the incident. She and the children went to stay temporarily with a family member before returning to the home where Ben had stayed on. Child safety visited on a number of occasions, but never suggested the children would be removed. Melissa felt that they were more interested in hygiene than safety, and because she kept an immaculately clean and tidy house, they didn’t appear concerned. The police did not charge Ben with breach of the protection order.

After the birth of their fifth child, Melissa left hospital early so that Ben could depart for his regular work stint away. On her return home, Ben spat in her face. Melissa says this was the point at which she snapped. She decided she would no longer tolerate Ben’s behaviour, and rang the police. Ben left the house for an extended period, during which Melissa understands he got into trouble with his job and the law.

Ben continued working and contributing to the mortgage and family living expenses. Melissa was on leave from work following the birth of their fifth child. Given their combined incomes, she had never been on welfare benefits; however she became increasingly concerned about the violence and volatility in the family and applied for Centrelink assistance to protect herself and the children. She was also worried about how the children had been affected by their long-term exposure to Ben’s violence and abuse, and sought counselling from a local service, which she found very supportive and helpful.

Ben returned after nearly twelve months. Melissa believed it was an attempt to reconcile, which she briefly and regrettably allowed. She was also aware that Ben was due to go to jail again, and could appreciate that he wanted to see the children. Melissa has Family Court residence orders for the first child, and no orders in relation to the remaining children. They have never lived with Ben other than when he and Melissa were residing together, and Ben never sought contact during his many absences from the family. Melissa is now considering the merits of seeking orders for her other four children.

Melissa believes the periods of separation imposed by Ben’s terms of imprisonment and working away from home probably gave her the time she needed to recover from the acute impacts of Ben’s violence and abuse, and to get on and work and care for the children. However, these circumstances also prolonged the violence and abuse over 17 years. Melissa says it is unlikely that Ben would reform if required to undertake behaviour change courses as part of his sentencing.

Reflecting on her involvement with the court system, Melissa believes that domestic and family violence isn’t treated with the seriousness it deserves, that perpetrators can avoid service or attendance and matters have to be constantly adjourned, and that penalties are often fines or ‘a slap on wrist’. Ben would taunt her that ‘DV was just a piece of paper’, and recklessly breached his protection orders on countless occasions. As to police and child safety, Melissa feels she received very little constructive support, and at times felt that she and the children were treated as a burden and frustration to these systems.


Key words: [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Risk] [Women] [People with children] [People from CALD backgrounds]

Mira and Thomas met overseas through their work. Mira was born overseas, with English as her second language; and Thomas is an Australian citizen. They married and had their two children overseas. From Mira’s perspective they were together for approximately fifteen years, however Mira says that Thomas is likely to believe that they are still together. Mira now lives in Australia with the children who are in high school. Mira arrived in Australia on a spousal visa and is now on a bridging visa, awaiting the issue of a spousal visa. Early in the relationship Mira  stopped working to enable Thomas to pursue his career, which then required significant relocations to other countries so he could upgrade his qualifications; and has always involved Thomas travelling regularly and being away from home for lengthy periods.

Thomas’s controlling and obsessive behaviours were apparent to Mira from the outset. He repeatedly pressured her to go out with him; and despite her telling him that she needed time following the end of a previous serious relationship, he persisted. Thomas would regularly send Mira gifts and deposit money into her account. She told him she did not want these inducements and he must stop. Undeterred, and knowing how important Mira’s faith and traditions are to her and her family, Thomas announced to Mira that he had converted to her religion. Mira was shocked by Thomas’s preoccupation with her, and urged him to back off. He told her he would kill himself if she didn’t marry him and sat in the cemetery for hours brooding. Mira felt worn down by Thomas’s fanatical efforts to win her over and yet was impressed by his religious conversion. Eventually she felt obliged to marry him, and hoped that over time she may grow to love him.

Mira committed to helping Thomas advance in his career and to raising their two children, however their relationship was constantly fraught. Starting with their wedding, Thomas insisted on organising their shared life as he wanted it, and demanded Mira’s support for his obsession with extreme sports training and competitions. Events and holidays were meticulously planned without consultation with Mira. She and the children were expected to comply and if Mira expressed an objection she was bullied and intimidated, and on one occasion Thomas strangled her in front of his friend who was staying in their home. Thomas controlled the couple’s finances and required Mira to account for her spending and produce receipts. Thomas would then be away from the family for weeks at a time, with no contact, and Mira was left to parent alone. It was during these extended breaks that Mira felt she must tell Thomas that she was unable to continue in the relationship and that it was best they divorce. Whenever she tried to raise the issue with Thomas, he became angry and morose, and would lock himself in a room threatening to kill himself and accusing Mira of bringing harm to the family. On two separate occasions, Thomas wielded a knife at Mira, again threatening to kill himself. Mira was terrified of what he may do, including harming her and the children. The first time, acting on the advice of Thomas’s family, Mira rang the local domestic violence support service, and they arranged accommodation for her and the children until Mira knew Thomas had left the country. The second time, they relocated to a friend’s house.

After living in various overseas locations for a number of years, Mira decided that it was in the children’s best interests to settle in Australia. They have been here for a few years, and in Mira’s mind, the relationship with Thomas is over, though she believes that he does not want it to formally end so as to avoid any adverse financial consequences to himself. Thomas stalked Mira and the children whenever he returned to Australia. She has told him not to come near the house, but he now harasses Mira’s family by telephone. They jointly own two house properties, in Australia and overseas. Mira knows that if she were to apply for a protection order or to seek property orders in the Family Court, Thomas would be enraged and she could not predict what he might do. She fears he would become uncontrollable and be arrested. Thomas currently pays for the children’s education and living expenses; she would rather defer addressing her own legal issues than risk losing his financial support, though she remains fearful of him. Mira does what she can to encourage the children’s relationship with Thomas despite his minimal genuine interest or involvement in their lives. Mira is aware that for as long as these matters are unresolved, she and the children will continue to experience Thomas’s obsessive control over them.


Key words: [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Cultural abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Social abuse] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Risk] [Women] [People from CALD backgrounds] [Interpreters] [Protection order] [Parenting order]

Rosa and Ken were both born overseas, and have completed tertiary education. English is Rosa’s second language and she requires the assistance of an interpreter for other than basic communications. Ken is in highly-paid professional employment. They first made contact through an internet dating website, and then met in Europe for a holiday. The relationship developed quickly: Rosa arranged a tourist visa for Ken to stay for a few months with Rosa in her home country where they married and Rosa became pregnant. Ken’s work then took them to another country where they settled briefly—together with Rosa’s high-school aged child from a previous marriage—and their baby was born. Less than a year later, they all moved to Australia, again for Ken’s work. Ken came on a temporary work visa with Rosa (as his wife) and the children as dependents. They separated only two months after arriving in Australia, when the infant was aged six months. Rosa advised Australian Immigration of the separation and related circumstances, and was granted a visa extension. While Rosa was in full-time work in her home country, she has not been employed since her departure.

Rosa explains that she noticed problems with Ken’s behaviour during his first work posting (prior to coming to Australia). Ken began getting angry and upset, they argued often, and on one occasion he smashed a computer. He told Rosa that if she didn’t trust him, the relationship was over. Once a week he would tell her she had to go back to her home country. After their arguments, Ken would tell Rosa he cared for and looked out for her. Yet during her pregnancy, Ken forced Rosa to do various activities that were not comfortable for her. Rosa was reluctant to disrupt her older child’s schooling and opposed the move; it proceeded nonetheless, and the child experienced considerable educational difficulties as a result. Meanwhile, Rosa was having great difficulty learning English as the course Ken made her attend was at too high a level. Once the baby was born, Rosa believes that Ken misled her about citizenship matters so that the child could be granted citizenship of Ken’s home country.

When the family relocated to Australia, Ken began calling Rosa demeaning names, he told her she was stupid, and insisted that she learn and speak English rather than her native language. Again, he regularly told her she had to go back to her home country, but that she must leave the baby in Australia. He said he didn’t want Rosa, only their child. Ken often used the child’s citizenship as a threat to Rosa, asserting that there was no point in her seeking help from police because she had no legal rights in relation to the child. Their first month in Australia was spent in a motel while they waited for their belongings to be shipped. They then moved into an apartment, and Ken soon departed interstate for work. Unexpectedly one evening he arrived home, giving Rosa a fright. He told Rosa he was missing the baby. Rosa says, without thinking, she handed Ken the baby and they went out into the garden while she continued cooking. When dinner was served, Rosa and her older child realised that Ken had left the apartment with the baby. Rosa contacted Ken on his mobile; he told her he wanted a divorce, he was posting her a document, he had paid a year’s rent on the apartment, he would pay her a minimal amount per week, and he was taking the child. Rosa called the police immediately. The police attended and stayed for approximately 20 minutes and tried to reassure Rosa as she was very nervous, upset and concerned because she was still breastfeeding the baby. They told her the child would be okay and could have a bottle. She did not find them helpful and later called the police again. Different officers attended and told Rosa the father had not stolen the child, and the child would be okay with him. Rosa became increasingly distressed, and rang the police a third time, and throughout the following day and night, pleading with them to find the child. She also tried to track Ken down without success.

Eventually, three days later, a police officer advised Rosa to go the Family Court and seek an order authorising that a PACE alert be put on the child’s passport, which meant the child was placed on the airport watch list. A duty lawyer assisted Rosa; it was discovered that Ken had already filed an application for divorce and residence of the child. He alleged in his affidavit material that Rosa wasn’t feeding the child and she tied the child down. Later, when the child was returned to Rosa, both child safety and a psychologist interviewed her and provided reports that found Ken’s allegations were unsubstantiated.

Rosa was granted legal aid to fund legal representation in the child proceedings. Rosa was seeking residence. Rosa saw the child for the first time one and a half months after Ken had taken the child from the apartment; initially she had supervised contact, which had been delayed due to problems locating an interpreter. After a number of Family Court appearances, the child was returned to Rosa’s full-time care and Ken was granted weekly unsupervised contact. Both parents were prohibited from taking the child out of the country and Ken was prohibited from entering the apartment.

With the assistance of a local support service, Rosa obtained a one year protection order; Ken is required to be of good behaviour. Rosa represented herself as she was not entitled to legal aid on that application. She is entirely financially dependent on Ken as she is unable to receive Centrelink benefits and cannot find appropriate work given her limited English and childcare responsibilities. Rosa would have to text Ken weekly to ask for money to cover her living expenses. In response, Ken would repeatedly taunt Rosa by threatening to cancel her visa and take the child. Rosa also discovered that Ken had hired a private detective to follow and watch her.

Australian Immigration contacted Rosa after receiving notice of the divorce querying her intentions. She has sought advice from a community legal service about her visa status, and the implications of her older child turning 18. A student visa for the older child is an option; however a course of study would require funds that Rosa does not have access to.

Ken regularly breaches the contact orders, returning the child to Rosa late. Rosa attempted to photograph his arrival on her phone and he became verbally abusive. Further, in breach of the protection order, Ken bangs noisily on the door to Rosa’s apartment demanding that she open the door and give him the child. On one occasion, the child was sleeping, and Rosa told him to wait until the child was awake. Ken persisted and Rosa rang the police. During his angry outbursts, Ken often slaps himself in the face and pushes himself against railings; he also asks Rosa to hit him. Rosa believes he may have a mental illness. Rosa feels frightened by Ken’s behaviour, and continues to feel highly vulnerable given her financial dependence on him. She is not sure if Ken’s work visa will be renewed. If his visa is not renewed the family will have to leave Australia, most likely to different countries. This is very distressing for Rosa as she fears she may be separated from her youngest child.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Sexual abuse] [Emotional abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Myths and misunderstandings] [Risk] [Women] [People with children] [People with disability and impairment] [People affected by substance misuse] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Protection order] [Parenting orders]

Sally and Carl were in a relationship for around fifteen months, though they never lived together. They both have children from other relationships. Sally has an intellectual disability that affects her comprehension, communication and general coping skills, and she takes medication to help her manage anxiety and stress. She never received a diagnosis for her disability but has difficulty reading and writing, concentrating and remembering things.  Sally has however completed secondary schooling and was employed prior to having children. Sally and the father of her children have a good and workable relationship as parents, and have Family Court consent orders that accommodate their circumstances and capabilities, and ensure that their children’s best interests are served. Sally says that the children more often live with their father than with her, and she feels that this is best for them. Carl has, over the years, experienced problems with his mental health, misuse of alcohol, anger and self harming. He has been employed in unskilled jobs briefly, from time to time.

From early in the relationship, Sally recalls Carl wanting to control when and how often they saw one another. While Sally was pleased to have found companionship in Carl, she also values her privacy and being able to live in her own home. Carl would insist that she travel at night to see him, which she found frightening as she would have to use public transport. When she refused, Carl would become angry and repeatedly call and text her (often tens to hundreds of times in a single day), or arrive at her home unannounced. Carl would press Sally to take and send to him (via smart phone) highly personal photos of herself, which, sometimes, she did, and Carl would then threaten to share the photos publicly with others if Sally didn’t comply with his demands. Carl also appeared jealous of Sally’s relationship with her former partner and father of her children, complaining to Sally whenever he was present at her home caring for the children.

Carl’s behaviour worsened and became more violent and intimidating to Sally when he was drinking alcohol. There were two occasions a couple of months apart where Carl injured Sally badly around her head, face and chest by pulling her hair and throwing her against walls and cupboards, resulting in her admission to hospital. On the first occasion, a social worker spoke to Sally at the hospital about her options, and the police were alerted. At that stage, Sally was not prepared to apply for a protection order as she felt she could cope with the situation, and she still wanted to make her relationship with Carl work. On the second occasion, as well as severely bashing Sally, Carl stole money from her purse, and demanded that she participate in sexual acts, which she refused. Sally telephoned the police who, on the strength of her complaint and her injuries as evidenced by the hospital records, initiated a protection order application on her behalf.

A temporary order was granted by the court, however Carl made service difficult and contested the order, resulting in Sally having to obtain Legal Aid assistance and return to the court on three occasions before a final order was granted requiring Carl to be of good behaviour towards Sally for a period of six months. Carl was at all times unrepresented. Sally’s lawyer had initially tried to pressure her into an exchange of mutual undertakings with Carl where they would both agree not to be violent towards the other, however Sally was not satisfied with this option, and the final order (as granted) was offered by way of compromise. Sally felt that six months wasn’t long enough, and that she needed protection for two years. She was however happy with the “good behaviour” condition as she still wanted ongoing contact with Carl.

Following the protection order, Carl did at times, though less often, text and ring Sally repeatedly, however he no longer made physical contact. Sally changed her phone number more than once, but would forget and would call or text Carl using her new number resulting in Carl learning of her new contact details. While the protection order has expired, Sally feels very safe and settled now, having received financial help from Victim Assist to change the locks on her home and attend regular counselling. She no longer has any contact with Carl.

Through this process, Sally has had a positive experience with police and support services; however she feels that the Legal Aid lawyer could have better represented her needs. Sally is often confused about the nature, effect and origin of the various orders that have affected, or continue to affect, her and her children, and she will need ongoing support to ensure that she understands and her interests are protected.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Sexual abuse] [Emotional abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Exposing children] [Animal abuse] [Systems abuse] [Myths and misunderstandings] [Risk] [Women] [People with children] [Children] [People with disability and impairment] [People affected by substance misuse] [Victim experiences of court processes] [Protection order] [Breach of protection order][Family law]

Sandra and Gary lived in a defacto relationship for some six years, though not continuously due to Gary’s violence towards Sandra. They have two children together, both boys, aged approximately three and one on separation; the younger boy has a serious genetic disability with limited life expectancy. Sandra had previously been in an abusive relationship, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a physical assault by a stranger. She completed secondary education and is employed in a sales position. Gary is on a disability support pension, earns little or no additional income, and has an alcohol and drug dependency. Gary has had protection orders made against him in two different states as a result of his perpetration of domestic and family violence in two separate prior relationships.

Gary’s violence towards Sandra began around six months into their relationship. He would strike out at her physically, splitting her lip; emotionally abuse her, diminishing her self-esteem; and be forceful in his sexual demands, which Sandra would strongly resist rather than acquiesce to. Sandra has a horse she has cared for and been emotionally attached to for many years. Gary would threaten to shoot the horse, or slit the horse’s throat; he also threatened to kill Sandra’s parents. The violence continued after their first child was born when, for example, Gary karate kicked Sandra in the leg while she was holding the young child. Both Sandra and the child were hospitalised, and Child Safety formally intervened and arranged for their temporary safe accommodation. Sandra has not ever fully recovered from her leg injury, which requires expensive surgery.

Sandra confided in close friends about the violence she was experiencing and her concerns about bringing up children in that environment. Whilst she was alert to their advice to leave the relationship, she also believed that doing so was likely to escalate Gary’s violence. Sandra sought counselling during the relationship, intentionally without Gary’s knowledge, to develop strategies to cope with the violence. Sandra had attempted on numerous occasions over the years to leave the relationship and relocate to areas a considerable distance away from Gary to ensure her own and her children’s safety. On the birth of the second child, Sandra and the first child moved into a refuge while the newborn was being treated in intensive care at a nearby hospital for his disability related problems and before relocating the three of them to another city. On each occasion, Gary would track down Sandra and the children and seek to re-enter their lives. Focused on acting in the best interests of the children, Sandra would allow Gary to return provided he could be a responsible father towards the boys, not get into trouble with alcohol or drugs, not be violent, and not attempt an intimate relationship with Sandra.

However Gary’s violence and dysfunctional behaviour continued. Sandra reported the violence to police in a range of locations, and obtained protection orders either on her own behalf or police-initiated. Following instances of attempted strangulation, stalking and telephone harassment Gary was convicted of breaches of these protection orders, resulting in brief periods of incarceration in the local watch house and suspended sentences. Gary was never charged with criminal assault or stalking.

When Sandra and the children finally left, she obtained a temporary protection order against Gary stipulating email contact only between them, as well as Family Court parenting orders stipulating that Sandra have residence of the children and Gary have contact with the first child every second weekend, and the second child for 8 hours of every second weekend. Gary paid Sandra negligible child support; Sandra was supporting the children almost entirely from her own resources. Sandra had been concerned about Gary’s veiled threats not to return the older child to her, when this in fact transpired and the child remained with Gary for 28 days without attending school for eight of those days. Sandra qualified for Legal Aid and, after some delay, succeeded in child recovery proceedings against Gary. Whilst Sandra believed that Child Safety was diligent in its conduct of their part of the proceedings, she expressed frustration that police did not intervene immediately due to a belief that they have no powers in Family Court matters.

Subsequently, Gary sought a variation of the Family Court parenting orders to alter changeover from a supervised contact centre to parent-managed arrangements. In time, Sandra agreed, hoping that this would help the children feel more normal and relaxed about moving between parents; she also acknowledged that the contact centre was expensive and involved lengthy car trips, which weren’t good for the children. During these negotiations, Gary succeeded in securing repeated adjournments of the final protection order hearing on the basis that the Family Court orders ought be finalised first. Once finalised, on an occasion when she felt too intimidated by Gary to be present for the changeover, Sandra asked a male friend to be there on her behalf; he was intoxicated and an altercation ensued with Gary and his new partner. Soon after, the final protection order hearing took place, and while Sandra obtained a two-year order against Gary, with the children named as protected parties, Gary applied for and obtained an identical order (commonly referred to as a cross order or mirror order) against Sandra.

Sandra reported that on the many occasions she’d had contact with police, she experienced understanding and supportive officers who were focused on ensuring that she and her children remained safe. There was only one occasion she recalled when an officer doubted the veracity of her account that Gary had arrived angry and intoxicated at her home at midnight while she and the children were asleep then escaped without trace; and queried why she hadn’t taken photographs of Gary trying to enter the house. Sandra also believed that her experiences of the legal and court processes were generally positive, and despite not having perpetrated violence against Gary, she felt safer overall for having the final protection order, and confident that she would never be in breach of the order against her.


Key words: [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Following, harassing and monitoring] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Women] [People with children] [People from CALD backgrounds] [People with poor literacy skills] [Engaging interpreters and translators] [Protection order] [Breach] [Parenting orders]

Sara and Victor were born and married overseas, and had a child together before coming to Australia, initially on refugee visas. It was a 12-year relationship that ended around a year after their resettlement, when their child was in primary school, and they’d been granted permanent residency. Sara worked as a qualified professional overseas and plans to study in Australia to have her qualifications recognised here. However, she must first study to improve her English proficiency as she currently needs an interpreter for other than basic communications. Sara believes that Victor was not educated beyond primary school. Neither has worked in Australia, however both have commenced studies.

Before their move to Australia, Sara was supporting the family financially and running the household while Victor refused to contribute his welfare benefits (received while in their country of origin). Victor became suspicious and jealous of Sara and the child’s interactions with Sara’s work colleagues and friends. Sara felt that Victor would improve once they came to Australia, however the situation worsened. When Sara was at home, Victor would lock the house and watch her from the outside; and when she went out, he would follow her. When Victor began hurting their child with household objects, Sara feared for his and her own safety, and took steps to end the relationship. Victor would send members of the local cultural community to which the family belonged around to their house. They would tell her that Victor felt sad and rejected, which she found very distressing given Victor’s behaviour towards her and the child.

After a couple of attempts, Sara and the child left the house, and, with the help of local support services, they relocated and Sara was given advice about her legal options. She obtained the necessary forms from police. The police were not willing to assist Sara to obtain a protection order and she was not successful in obtaining legal aid. Despite this, with the assistance of a local non-legal support agency she represented herself and successfully applied to the Magistrates’ Court for a protection order against Victor with the child named as a protected party (after a series of adjournments over three months). Victor has not attempted to follow or make any contact with Sara since, and she has been careful to ensure that her address is not disclosed to anyone who may be in contact with Victor. Sara received Legal Aid and interpreter assistance to apply to the Family Court for child residence and contact orders, which she obtained following a mediation process.  Victor is only allowed restricted weekly telephone contact with their child, however he does this less and less often.

Sara struggles financially as she is unable to work until she completes her studies, and a significant portion of her welfare benefits is spent on private rent as she is currently not able to access public housing. She reports however that Centrelink and the local support services have been very helpful. While, importantly, Sara feels that she and the child are safe, she also feels very isolated and somewhat concerned about the conduct of some members of the local cultural community who she believes continue to convey misleading messages to Victor on her behalf without her consent.


Key words: [Physical violence and harm] [Sexual and reproductive abuse] [Economic abuse] [Emotional and psychological abuse] [Cultural and spiritual abuse] [Social abuse] [Exposing children] [Damaging property] [Myths] [Risk] [Women] [People from CALD backgrounds] [Victim experience of court processes] [Legal representation] [Protection order] [Parenting order]

Yvonne and Emir were in a relationship for around 13 years, and had four children together. Emir was born overseas; he did not complete high school, he is multi-lingual, English being a language acquired later in life, and he has periodically run small businesses. Yvonne was born in Australia, is university educated and runs her own business. They met in Emir’s home country when Yvonne was in the early years of her professional training. Within a year, they married and had their first child, and decided to resettle in Australia, Emir on a spousal visa. The children now live with Yvonne and her new partner in a home they own. The youngest child has contact with Emir pursuant to Family Court orders. The three older children have declined any contact.

When Yvonne first knew Emir he was gentle and quiet, but also strongly committed to his faith and spiritual beliefs. He followed a rigorous daily worship practice, and over the years required that the children strictly comply. In the early years Yvonne found Emir’s faith and dedication captivating, and was happy to participate even though she never felt like she really belonged. When they moved to Australia, Emir was drawn to a philosophy that aligned with his beliefs, and began attending places of worship. Soon he became very involved in his new-found faith community, following their ascetic lifestyle regimes, and volunteering. Meanwhile, Yvonne had three more children over six years; and worked full-time when she wasn’t caring for young children. Emir was opposed to contraception as he believed it was unnatural, and he refused to have a vasectomy as he felt it would diminish his masculinity. Rather ironically, it was the women from the faith community who urged Yvonne to consider contraception; she did so and never disclosed to Emir because she knew he would vehemently object.

Yvonne describes feeling a great deal of tension around multiple issues that Emir had strong views about and that Yvonne was unable to discuss with him without heightening the risk of conflict and his expression of hatred towards her. Emir exercised a high level of control over the daily lives of Yvonne and the children. The children were made to do hours of prayers in the mornings and evenings, which made them late for school and behind with their homework. Emir would dictate how prayers should be performed, and then often change the rules without explanation. If the children did it incorrectly, Emir would hit them across the face, or swing them around on one arm. While Yvonne experienced some physical violence, she says the children were frequent victims and subjected to the constant threat of more severe harm.

When Yvonne was heavily pregnant with their second child, Emir had insisted that she attend worship with him. They had to travel by train; Yvonne was tired and asked him whether it was necessary for her go. Emir became angry and pushed her towards the train line. Yvonne was terrified and walked kilometres to a family member’s house and stayed overnight. On another occasion, soon after Yvonne was home following the birth of their youngest child, a friend called to offer to look after the other children to give Yvonne and Emir a break. Emir declined, and Yvonne questioned him. He slapped her across the face twice while she was holding the baby, and told her never to question his authority especially in front of the children.

Increasingly, she felt unable to communicate with Emir about any difficult issue, so she shut down completely. Yvonne became even more isolated as a result of Emir excluding Yvonne’s family from the home as they didn’t adhere to the rules of his faith. Emir did not allow the children to attend an important family wedding despite Yvonne being a bridesmaid. Yvonne says she felt constantly strained and under pressure; she didn’t have any friends other than a small number in the faith community, nor did she believe she should.

Yvonne and Emir had separate bank accounts, but shared resources, although Emir would accumulate cash amounts from Centrelink payments or odd jobs and hide them from Yvonne. Finances were always tight for the family; Emir reprimanded Yvonne for even modest spending despite the fact that he earned little or no money and Yvonne was the consistent wage earner. Yet, Emir insisted on family trips overseas which were related to faith, these were expensive and required many months of saving to afford. Yvonne found these trips distressing with young children, and especially when pregnant, as the living standards were poor and public spaces generally unsafe. An incident that was particularly disturbing to Yvonne and the children occurred while they were on one of these trips. Emir believed that his younger relative had infringed a sacred ritual, and punished the child by burning an imprint deep in his hand. Family looked on, horrified. Since then, when Emir believed his own children to be disobedient, he would threaten similar punishment. The level of fear experienced by Yvonne and the children grew in increments over time; eventually Yvonne believed she would be killed. Her sister had expressed the feeling to her that she would arrive one day and they would all be dead.

Yvonne had tried to leave the relationship twice before final separation when she arranged for a family member to call a friend in the faith community and pass on a message to Emir that she and the children were leaving. Shelter accommodation was organised through a local domestic violence support service. From there, Yvonne worked with a lawyer to obtain a protection order and with a psychologist to try to identify and understand her experiences over the past many years. Yvonne received critical support from the shelter and these professionals. On the first mention date, Emir appeared with his lawyer and supporters from the faith community. He denied any domestic violence but consented to a two-year protection order without admissions. Yvonne’s lawyer guided her through the process and ensured that she felt safe in the court and protected from any direct approaches from Emir or his lawyer. Yvonne felt the order was important to have because she was fearful of how Emir would react to her taking the children away.

Again, with the assistance of her lawyer, Yvonne participated in mediation with Emir over the telephone in an effort to make arrangements for the children. This process failed as Emir denied all of the circumstances surrounding the breakdown of the relationship. Ultimately, Yvonne made an application to the Family Court. A separate representative was appointed for the children, and a psychologist was consulted to ascertain the children’s wishes. The three older children, who were then aged in their early to mid-teens, made it clear that they did not want to see their father. Orders were made by the court granting Yvonne residence and Emir, contact only with the youngest child once a fortnight at a supervised contact centre, gradually moving to overnight contact. Yvonne was required to email Emir to keep him generally updated about the children, and to facilitate email contact between the children and him. There was to be no phone contact. Yvonne believes that the psychologist could identify serious risks in Emir’s behaviour, particularly towards the children, justifying a highly protective approach to contact conditions.

Three years elapsed between separation and the Family Court orders. After the shelter, Yvonne and the children stayed in various forms of accommodation, and sought the help of multiple services for financial, legal and emotional support. Once the orders were settled, Yvonne and the children moved further away, necessitating a change in handover arrangements for the youngest child who, by that stage, was having overnight contact with Emir. On one occasion, Emir’s relative contacted Yvonne telling her that Emir and the youngest child had been crying together for hours. Yvonne knew this was out of character for the youngest child and became very concerned when the handover time passed at the agreed location. Emir returned the child late to a different location very close to their new home resulting in one of the children becoming extremely anxious about what Emir might do and needing significant counselling help in the aftermath. Yvonne observes how profoundly affected the three older children are by Emir’s prolonged abuse.

Yvonne is seeking further assistance from her lawyer to have the original contact orders reinstated as she believes the overnight contact is potentially detrimental to the youngest child. Meanwhile, the child is not having contact with Emir. Yvonne believes they have a good relationship, and Emir considers the child to be his favourite.

Property matters remain unresolved. The couple have land and money in Emir’s home country, but Yvonne has insufficient resources to take the necessary legal steps to facilitate a settlement of joint assets. She has received legal aid funding for past applications, but no longer qualifies, and has limited capacity to personally fund further actions. Yvonne is in a new relationship now, which she feels is going well, however she is cautious and on alert for any signs of the abuse she was subjected to for many years. She and her partner are building a business together, and caring for Yvonne’s four children. Yvonne feels she and the children are through the worst of their ordeal, though she believes there is always a risk that Emir will snap.