As matrimonial lawyers, we are often exposed to and hear stories from our clients about the incidents of domestic violence within relationships that have gone wrong. We hear stories and witness firsthand accounts about how children are witness to such violence and the detrimental effect this has on their upbringing.
Recently, Brett Hartley was interviewed by the Queensland Law Society's Proctor magazine and expressed his concerns about the plight of women who suffer domestic violence in Australia being a major human rights failing in modern day Australia.
Most of us go about our daily business and are bought up now in an educated and tolerant manner. However, most of us do not appreciate the following three factors in relation to domestic violence:-
- The prevalence of domestic violence is a lot higher than most would think;
- Societal attitudes to domestic violence are still poor and very concerning; and
- The number of children being exposed to domestic violence is increasing and the adverse effect on their upbringing and behaviour in later years is becoming even more pronounced.
If you are one of those who think that domestic violence is under control and think that children are well educated and shielded from it in today’s modern society, then think again.
Statistics tell us that one in four women experience family violence and one in three women experience family violence by a former partner. 50% of those women had children in their care and 34% said that their children had witnesses the violence. Almost one woman is killed each week by her current or former de facto partner. Family violence costs Australia 1.1% of its GDP and by 2021/2022 family violence will cost $15.6 billion to the Australian economy.
Community attitudes are not getting much better. Australian’s continue to believe that family violence can be excused if a man’s partner makes him look stupid or insults him in front of friends.
If a female partner ends or tries to end the relationship, the violence perpetrated upon her is often understood by many to be just a temporary loss of control and the male perpetrator regrets it; such behaviour seems to be acceptable. Respondents to surveys still remarkably hold to believe that most women can leave a violent relationship if they really want to and even more disturbing is the statistic that most people find it hard to understand why women stay in a violent relationship. Many believe that women fabricate violence allegations to improve their financial prospects in family law proceedings; this is of course nonsense. It is disturbing that today’s community still holds such arcade beliefs about violence against women.
Of even more concern to all of us (especially those of us who are parents) is that one in four children in Australia have witnessed violence against their mothers or step-mothers. Children often witness or are exposed to incidents of family violence. It is not an isolated incident that occurs every day in so-called “normal” families. Close to three quarters of all people who report violence in their relationship say that the children were exposed to it or witnessed it in some form or another. Police statistics confirm that children are often present at family violence incidents and when emergency services attend.
The incidence of violence in both children proceedings and in property proceedings before the Family Court has direct relevance and an impact on outcomes. However, the signs to legal implications and consequences which we as family lawyers deal with every day, shows there is a broader and more concerning impact that on our young children and on those women in our society who deserve recognition and help.
Family violence in any form (including non-physical abusive behaviour such as emotional or psychological abuse, financial abuse, and social abuse) can never be tolerated by modern day Australians. We all have a duty to educate and be vigilant about this ever growing dark blotch in our human rights record.