Luke Foley Editorial: Fearful victims cower behind piece of paper

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Originally published: The Daily Telegraph, 21 January 2015.

By Luke Foley

WE don’t want any more murders. That was the plea by the chief executive of Domestic Violence NSW on the front page of Monday’s Daily Telegraph.

As leader of NSW Labor, and more importantly a husband and father of three young children, it’s a cry I’m determined to act on now.

When a woman is ­assaulted or killed by her partner, it is an unspeakable crime and affront against our society.

But when that woman has desperately sought ­safety through an apprehended violence order, and that order is wantonly breached, it represents a system failure that should compel our political leaders to act.

Fresh thinking on domestic violence is urgently needed. Already in this country, one woman dies in the home each week. Countless more cases of abuse occur behind closed doors and the effect on children is long-lasting.

Yet even where domestic violence is reported and a legal remedy sought, nearly one in two domestic violence orders are breached, a whopping 11,788 in the year to September.

I strongly believe that women living in terror are entitled to more than the ­illusion of safety provided by a piece of paper.

Most fundamentally, they are entitled to a safe roof over their head. They are right to demand an ­assurance that justice will be as close to immediate as practicable and that where a criminal case can be proven, their tormentor will be placed behind bars.

Let me take each of these issues in turn. Under the Baird government’s Going Home Staying Home cutbacks, the Killara refuge in Randwick, Erin’s Place in Marsfield, Blue Gum in the Blue Mountains and Katakudu women’s housing in Wyong are just some that have been forced to close.

I strongly believe that women living in terror are entitled to more than the ­illusion of safety provided by a piece of paper

Labor will untangle this mess as a priority if elected in March. With women facing life-or-death dilemmas of whether to stay in the home or leave, no shelter should have funding cut.

The second area I will overhaul is penalties. It’s shameful that NSW laws for breaching domestic violence orders are the nation’s weakest. Only 12 per cent of people receive jail time and that’s for an average of four months. The most common penalty is a bond without supervision, little more than a slap on the wrist.

The singular reform to which I commit Labor is the creation of specialist sexual assault and domestic violence courts.

If elected, Labor will begin a trial of these courts in Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra; and if successful, we will move to a comprehensive rollout across NSW. Women suffering abuse should no longer have to run the crushing gauntlet of our overloaded and impersonal local and district court system, where judges have their hands full dealing with everything from petty theft to traffic ­infringements.

What I’m looking at is a substantially streamlined and expedited court network whenever a domestic violence order is sought; whenever police are prosecuting breaches of those ­orders, and when alleged abusers are being tried for criminal offences.

For domestic violence survivors, the benefits are clear. Cases will be handled more efficiently.

Instead of alleged abusers roaming the community while they languish on court lists for months, Labor’s reforms will haul their cases to trial, reducing the opportunity for ­domestic violence order breaches. Victims will be able to tell their story in the safe care of specially-trained judges and staff.

We will offer specially designed waiting rooms, ­entrances and exits to ­ensure victims’ privacy, as well as the possibility of ­testifying remotely. My ­belief is providing domestic violence victims with these assurances will lead to ­higher reporting rates and therefore more successful prosecutions, convictions and sentencing. It’s time for a fresh approach on domestic violence.

Originally published as: Fearful victims cower behind piece of paper