What would you do?
Domestic violence is a massive problem in Australia. Written below, you will find just one other case. This is a true story that is still ongoing at time of writing. Names, locations and dates are not included. Should you choose to read through it, I would ask that you consider the questions that follow at the end….
They met in a Southern City – She was from an Eastern City, He from a Western City. It wasn’t long until She fell pregnant, and He proposed to Her. Beforehand He had asked Her father for permission, but that’s just a thing you do, right? A show of respect. A baby boy was born, a family began. It was decided that they would move to the Western City, where He had grown up, and where His family and friends were. It’s a tough decision for any couple, when each has a different city they call home – but the work opportunities and house prices were seemingly much better in the West. Her family was excited, but sad to see Her living so far away.
The move is complete. Another year passes. A wedding is organised, and both of their families reunite in the Western City to celebrate their union. But that’s not all – there is another baby on the way. A further nine months pass, a second son is born, and things begin to change. Seemingly out of the blue, He says He doesn’t love Her anymore. He grows distant and stays out drinking for days at a time. He hasn’t held down work as He had promised when they decided to move to the Western City. Her family is saddened, but living so far away in the Eastern City, there is only so much support they can offer.
She discovers He has been having an affair, cheating on Her while She was pregnant with their second son, and a mere few months after their wedding. Her family is as shocked as She is. It has to be confronted, but how on Earth can one summon the strength to encroach such a heartbreaking topic? Still, She manages to tell Him – She knows. They decide they cannot continue. Their first son is three. Their youngest is one year old.
What could She do? She had moved to the Western City with His promise – He would work hard and provide a living for the family. She was at home with the children, and unable to work and look after them at the same time. He earnt all the money. She had no friends or family in His home city. As He remains absent, out for days drinking and still intimate with another woman, She decides She would like to return home to the Eastern City. She would like Her sons to move with Her – and why not? He had shown little interest in the children and continually neglected them with His absence and alcoholism. But then… He found out She wanted to return home.
It is late one weeknight. He shoves her. He threatens to bury Her in the backyard. He rings His mother and proceeds to rant about His wife and shout any number of expletives and names. He has become violent, and She is scared. Their sons are scared too. With little else to do, She calls the police, and is escorted to a women’s refuge shelter. Little did She or the boys know at the time, this was to be their home for four months. He was not told where they were living. She wanted to come home, more than anything else, She wanted safety, and for Her and Her sons to be surrounded by family in the Eastern City. But such is the nature of parenthood – there are two voices making one decision, and He does not permit them to leave. If She left with the boys, She would likely be charged with kidnapping. They would have to go to court to resolve this.
The police escort Her back to the house, so that She might gather a few possessions. He has trashed the place. Her belongings are strewn about, and the toys and books belonging to their sons have been boxed up and shoved into storage. Beer bottles are strewn all over the place, yet a new flat screen television hangs upon the wall. How had things turned so bad? Little did She know, there was much more to come.
During their time at the refuge, Her eldest son shows strange behaviours, saying and doing things that are unusual for a three year old. It would appear that the boy had been sexually assaulted, and that his grandfather was the likely suspect. Distraught, She realises evermore that She must return home to the Eastern City, to Her family – and get as far away as possible from Him and his family. But the courts are a slow process.
She is assigned a flat for her and the boys to live in. It is a relief to at least be out of the refuge, and in a place She could comfortably call home. But there comes a caveat – the court allows the boys’ father some visitation rights – and perhaps rightly so, as their father, was He not deserving of a chance to mend the damage He’d done? Some might say yes, He does deserve another chance. Others might say that the two sons were entitled to time with both parents. Either way, the boys live with their mother and visit their father once a week.
But the visits aren’t as smooth as they should have been. The eldest son continues to show aggressive and confused behaviour. Despite his mother’s requests, the court allows His grandparents to remain in contact with the two boys, despite the sexual abuse allegations against His own father. The eldest son returns home from a visit one day. There are knuckle-shaped bruises on his arm. “Dad hit me twice,” he says. She demands answers from Him. He denies hurting his son. The police are called, and the three year old tries to explain what happened. But he is too young – and his statement wasn’t taken seriously. The visits are allowed to continue.
What of their youngest son? Now a little over one year old, he returns from a visit to his father’s. He is still wearing the same nappy that he wore when his mother dropped him off – nine hours earlier. His father had bought presents for the eldest son, but not his youngest. He pays attention to one son, but not the other.
The court case drags on. She is still insistent on returning home, by this stage She hasn’t seen her family in the Eastern City for some time, and a pandemic has halted any flights between the two cities. The court allows more time for the father to see His sons. He is allowed to call them once a week on a Sunday. The day arrives, He doesn’t call. And each subsequent week, he fails to call them. The eldest son continues to talk about ‘dad yelling’ when he returns from visits. An expert witness is called in, someone trained in childhood psychology and family disputes. This person interviews all parties; Him, Her, and the two boys.
By now eighteen months have passed since She fled from her home in the middle of the night. The expert witness returns with her report. She is not permitted to return home. The children will be given more time with their father. At present, there is no resolution in sight.
- What do you think should be done in this situation? If you were an expert witness, a court judge, a police officer, a lawyer, or a child psychologist, what would you have done?
- Do you think He and She are being treated equally? Why or why not?
- Does She deserve to live with her two sons wherever She chooses?
- Does He deserve any further leg-ups given His behaviour?
- What do you think is best for the two sons?
- If a three year old showed you a bruise, and said that ‘dad hit me’, would you do something about it?
Domestic violence is rampant in Australia. And it is stories like the one above that only hold us back as a nation. The slowness and inaction of Australia’s family courts has meant the woman and her two sons have had to remain in contact with the abusive man. How much is too much? Do you think enough was done to ensure the safety of the woman and the two sons? What is the extent of abuse required before the police, or a court, do something about it? In Australia, a woman is killed every nine days by their partner. Each time it happens, we talk about how awful it is; something should have been done. Consider the story you just read. What needs to be done?