Hannah Clarke Vigil
Hannah Clarke Vigil

'HELPLESS': How women in fight for safety let down

FOUR domestic violence orders are breached every hour in Queensland, the most ever, which advocates say has left victims feeling "helpless in terms of their own safety".

Despite the total number of domestic violence orders made across Queensland decreasing every year since 2015, DVO breaches have increased every year since 2008.

Breaches across the state last year were 12 per cent higher than in 2018 and 129 per cent more than in 2013, police data shows.

It comes as The Courier-Mail revealed on Thursday that Rowan Baxter had been charged with breaching a domestic violence order in the weeks before he murdered his estranged wife, Hannah Clarke, and their three kids.

 

Parents Lloyd and Suzanne Clarke at the vigil for their daughter Hannah Clarke. (AAP image, John gass)
Parents Lloyd and Suzanne Clarke at the vigil for their daughter Hannah Clarke. (AAP image, John gass)

 

Red Rose Foundation CEO Betty Taylor said DVO breaches leave victims feeling helpless and afraid.

"Sometimes women really put their lives on the line to get a DVO or proceeding with police taking it out on their behalf," she said.

"They would have the expectation that if those orders are breached there is going to be some action and outcome. What are the outcomes when they go to court? Often some of them will get charged if it's a serious offence but a lot don't.

"I would be saying for every order where there is a breach charge there are many women that either give up reporting on them or they're not acted on. I've seen it multiple times and it leaves them feeling so helpless in terms of their own safety."

 

The Story Bridge is seen lit up in pink in memory of Hannah Clarke and her children. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)
The Story Bridge is seen lit up in pink in memory of Hannah Clarke and her children. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

 

Ms Taylor, who has worked in the sector for almost 30 years, said while spikes in breach charges may be indicative of better policing around domestic violence, she also thinks figures indicate perpetrators are ignoring court orders.

"To me, that's the bigger problem. Some of those breaches are repeat breaches, we have women continually telling us that they can't even get their partner breached," she said.

"Where there is a breach of an order, what is that actually saying? That the orders are being made and the perpetrators are ignoring them.

"They're not worth the paper they're written on."

Court data shows certain south-east areas spiked in DVO breaches last year. There were 136 per cent more breach charges in Cleveland in 2019 than the previous year, with a total of 776 contravene DVO charges lodged.

Charges were up 33 per cent in Pine Rivers last year, 29 per cent in Ipswich and 7 per cent in Brisbane. Last month, there were almost 100 DVO breaches a day in Queensland.

Experts say it's unknown whether spikes in breaches reflect better policing and reporting around domestic violence or a true increase in the number of breaches of protection orders.

 

Hannah Clarke and her son Trey were killed by her estranged husband who had a DVO against him.
Hannah Clarke and her son Trey were killed by her estranged husband who had a DVO against him.

 

"Without evidence about why this is happening, it's very hard to say," Professor of Law at the University of Queensland Heather Douglas said. "I think in some ways you can see an increase in breach charges as a positive thing. Of course there may be more breaches, but what may be happening is police are charging more breaches, that they are taking breaches more seriously.

"Since 2012 the legislation under the Domestic Violence and Protection Act has changed the definition of domestic violence to be quite a wide definition, so it includes things like coercive control and emotional abuse and so on, so we've seen I would expect an increasing understanding from police of that wider definition."

 

Hannah Clarke’s brother Nathaniel Clarke is supported by dad Lloyd during his speech at the vigil for her and her three children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3. (AAP Image/Sarah Marshall)
Hannah Clarke’s brother Nathaniel Clarke is supported by dad Lloyd during his speech at the vigil for her and her three children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3. (AAP Image/Sarah Marshall)

 

Professor Douglas said the solution isn't jail.

"We don't want to be in a society where people don't get a chance to improve their behaviour," he said. "So if we get into the attitude where anybody who commits domestic and family violence, no matter what the action is, goes to prison immediately and doesn't come out, do we actually want to live in that society?," she said.

"Criminal justice isn't going to be the thing that sorts all of this out. It might be part of the response but there's going to need to be so many more things that we do; early intervention through better housing for women so they can move out safely, better access to social security. There are so many social constructions that we need to change to make it safer for women to live independently."

Karyn Walsh, chief executive officer of Micah Projects which operates the Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, said perpetrators who breach protection orders should have their matters finalised in court as soon as possible to protect their victims from escalating behaviours.

She said shortening the time between when a person is charged with a breach and is dealt with in court would keep more Queensland women safe.

"When someone is charged with a breach, there is often a lag between when that breach is dealt with in the court process and we want that to happen quicker," Ms Walsh said.

She said a response to offenders that included mental health and other services should be considered.


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