Our Director and family lawyer, Jacqueline Brown on 6PR with Chris Ilsley.
17th September 2020.
Chris Ilsley: The amount of domestic violence experienced among the most vulnerable in society is, and the word I’m using here is skyrocketing, which suggests increasing beyond all proportion and the West Australian justice system is finding it very difficult to manage the issue pre COVID-19. The estimates were the one in four women in Australia experienced some form of domestic violence with those figures increasing to one in two for indigenous women. Previously, there was some very, very interesting figures that came out because in some cases, the true figures may never be known. There was though a potential way to address the situation. And it was previously raised by Aboriginal family law services, chief executive Corina Martin, and that’s for the WUI government to follow a Northern territory lead and make it mandatory for police attending domestic violence incidents to wear body worn cameras. What they would do is lessen the need for witnesses to give evidence against perpetrators and may be a step in the right direction. Jacqueline Brown is a family lawyer, and certainly had experience in this situation, joins us on the program, Jacqueline as always. Thank you very much for your time.
Jacqueline Brown: Thanks Chris. Good to be here.
Chris Ilsley: Do we have a grip on this? Cause we do have areas. We do have groups, subgroups, I suppose, where these figures are disproportionately high relative to the rest of the population. The first thing we need to do is acknowledge that that is indeed the case don’t we
Jacqueline Brown: That’s right, Chris. As you mentioned in the indigenous population, the rights are really high in women with disabilities. The rates are higher than women without disabilities. And obviously, women, in general, have a much higher rate of domestic violence perpetrated against them. Men do men.
Chris Ilsley: How do we address this? Especially in those areas or cultures where secrecy or where the lines of demarcation for want of a better word are so much different to how they are in the mainstream.
Jacqueline Brown: It is a real issue that we are grappling with. And I don’t know that we’ve got a real answer on how to do that. But one of the suggestions that you’ve alluded to is that body cameras could really help because the problem that they are experiencing in the Kimberley region is that even when a case is reported, which we know there’s a huge under-reporting of domestic violence cases, even when they’re reported, often those cases are dropped because the witnesses don’t want to proceed because it’s pressure from family and friends. So the incidents of, matters actually being taken through to prosecution have increased in the Northern territory where body cameras are worn. When the police are called to incidents,
Chris Ilsley: It’s probably also good to make the point at this particular juncture Jacqueline cause on I paper watch American TV shows and they get the wrong impression. We have this notion that somehow you have to press charges. It doesn’t work that way in Australia. Does it? The police make that decision
Jacqueline Brown: That’s right, Chris. So it’s definitely up to the police to prosecute a matter that they do run into difficulties where if witnesses say that they don’t want to give evidence or if they won’t appear in court to do so.
Chris Ilsley: Do the cameras go a long way to a living mat or are they just a better solution than what we have now?
Jacqueline Brown: I think that is a better solution to what we have now. And a lot of the time the police will go to the same reported domestic violence incident. And the event may well be over by that stage. And they’re then only seeing the aftermath, sorry, you know, they won’t catch everything in all cases, but it will help where there is some ongoing violence still going on at the time that they appear at the same.
Chris Ilsley: How are we going to effectively deal with this? You’re obviously a family lawyer there. I suppose the two parts to this one part, my world play out in a family law situation. If you have a couple who are splitting, but I would imagine in the first instance, we’re talking about circumstances that result in the criminal justice system. So how do we effectively deal with it, especially when you have communities or subgroups where people are not going to be so willing to share what they’ve seen or to act as witnesses against people.
Jacqueline Brown: It’s really hard, to work out that the problem is endemic in our society in so many ways and COVID has made it even more heightened than what it was before that with the added stress and financial pressures that that’s brought to a lot of families, it’s just a problem that we have to keep being aware of, keep talking about and keep chipping away at the things that are working. We have to support that and fund that better. And the things that aren’t working, we have to move on and find something else to try
Chris Ilsley: Aside from what we’ve seen in the Northern Territory, which is obviously good for gathering evidence. And that’s what I’m guessing it is. It’s evidence gathering. If there is a case, then you say, well, okay, here’s the evidence, your honor, you’re not relying on witnesses, although I can still imagine that may well have some issues. For example, you could be photographed as having injuries, but in the case of a court case, you have to establish who was responsible for inflicting those injuries. And that sometimes can be a problem. Can’t it?
Jacqueline Brown: It can be, especially if you’ve got people who don’t want to talk or who feel that there’s pressure from other groups in their societies, not to talk about things that can become very difficult.
Chris Ilsley: Can people be compelled to talk? Not, that’s not saying that they’re going to give anything useful, but in that basic premise, can we turn around to somebody and say, well, you obviously saw what happened and you need to give evidence and we can subpoena you to do it.
Jacqueline Brown: We can, but in cases of this nature, the police are very reluctant to put people into a position where they’re issuing a bench warrant for their arrest to turn up in court or issuing a subpoena for them to turn up in court. Because often it’s the victims who are going to be the witnesses. And sometimes that can just victimize them further.
Chris Ilsley: Mm. What are some of the other areas you think we should look at, or know as a family lawyer, you deal with this, what are some of the better ways that we could approach this, in your opinion, aside from what we’re talking about in the Northern territory, because even though that obviously is having an impact, it is really ambulance at the bottom of the cliff kind of stuff. Isn’t it
Jacqueline Brown: Look for decades now we’ve asked how do we solve this problem? I think one of the best things that we can do is talk about it more openly and more freely. We were all aware of what happened with the handbags to the case earlier this year, which was a terrible tragedy, but people need to be aware of what some of the trigger points are when people are separating. That’s often when there are heightened emotions. And that’s when people who are going to be a victim of domestic violence are often at their most vulnerable. So offering support in those at those times can be really important.
Chris Ilsley: So y’all can imagine there would be circumstances where it could be particularly dangerous because if you have ongoing violence from somebody and eventually the person gets out of a relationship, it’s probably a given that the person who’s been violent is going to continue to attempt to be violent. So we can address that. But if you have a relationship that simply comes to an end as relationships often do, but there is no history of violence. And there previously hasn’t been any history or evidence of violence. That’s when it can be quite insidious, isn’t it? Because somebody could possibly react in a very, very bad way, but there’s no previous history. There’s no reference point that suggests they might.
Jacqueline Brown: Yeah. Although that is really a rare occurrence. If even if there hasn’t been any physical domestic violence, there usually have been other signs of violence, whether it’s emotional, social, economic, Doris types of abuse have usually been present in the relationship. Although a lot of people might not recognize that those are part of domestic violence. They certainly are and usually, there is a pattern, before there is a big gap.
Chris Ilsley: So you would say that it’s not something that lands out of the blue or let’s put it this way. It would be extremely rare if it did.
Jacqueline Brown: That’s correct. Yes.
Chris Ilsley: Are we getting a better handle on this in your opinion, Jacqueline?
Jacqueline Brown: No, I think we act Chris, definitely. There’s a lot more talk about it than there ever has been. And I think the more we’re open about what’s happening and the more we’re prepared to talk about it, the more services are out there for people, you know, the better equipped we are as a society to be able to deal with it. It’s just a matter of, you know, the right people going to the right places to get the help that they need.
Chris Ilsley: How willing do you find people are to seek help now? Is it something that they’re willing to do? Is there a still, or a reluctance? We know certainly in some areas there are, but I’m talking generally now.
Jacqueline Brown: Yeah. Look, it’s very mixed. Often it’s women, but occasionally it’s men who are the victims of domestic violence. I think for men, it’s much harder thing to deal with them than for women.
Chris Ilsley: Well, not nobody believed them for a start with that.
Jacqueline Brown: Well, a lot of the time they have that hurdle to overcome, but there’s a lot of shame involved in it from their perspective as well. So even if they think that someone might believe them, they really don’t want to be telling people about what’s happened.
Chris Ilsley: I would imagine life and men that were tight place in a different way. Whereas a lot of abuse towards women would be simple physical cause you’re putting physicality up against the other person. It probably wouldn’t work that way. If it was female to male, it would work in a different way. It would be more psychological.
Jacqueline Brown: It can be, but it can come in the form of physical violence as well. I’ve seen that in a number, number of instances.
Chris Ilsley: Yeah. See, those are the things I suppose, that we probably have to come to grips with going back to, for example, the Kimberley, is that going to be a much more difficult situation to overcome because there is also a cultural barrier there as well.
Jacqueline Brown: Yes. In instances where there are cultural barriers, it definitely makes it more difficult. The Kimberly’s such a remote area. There you have a lack of services in general. So that’s going to make it harder. There are some really close-knit kinship groups in that area as well. And in those circumstances, there can be a lot of pressure exerted on people not to report things,
Chris Ilsley: Then be an additional backlash. When I say backlash where the person actually brings on greater problems with themselves because they report it. So they’re not only now having to cope with the backlash that they might get from the perpetrator. They might get backlash from the rest of the community at the same time. Can that sometimes be worse than the incident itself?
Jacqueline Brown: It definitely can be. And that’s why they’re experiencing the problem that they are up in the Kimberley’s that someone in my have had the courage to report what’s happened. But then before it comes to trial, they’re having pressure exerted on them from friends and family members to not go ahead and give evidence. And you know, those cases in prosecuted,
Chris Ilsley: Is there an argument to suggest there might be ways to deal with this that don’t necessarily involve the justice system? Cause I suppose in some respects we have an outcome that we can argue as criminal. We’re not going to dispute that, but are the problems the root causes behind it? More social
Jacqueline Brown: There definitely are very many social causes and it needs to be addressed at a number of different issues. I mean, violence in any form, shouldn’t be accepted in society and we do have to have consequences for it, but we have to be able to be trying to address some of the root problems as well, to try and, you know, get rid of these issues.
Chris Ilsley: It strikes me one of the great things is communication that we are not taught to communicate. And one wonders if one of the issues that may come out of the fact that we don’t communicate now to the extent that we once used to that problem like this may in fact get worse before they get better, simply because people can’t communicate. And you often say that if you see, for example, two Blake’s at the pub, having a fight, it inevitably comes about because I can’t communicate. If they actually could talk about whatever it was, it was backing each other. It probably wouldn’t escalate, but that’s, that’s a communication issue. And I wonder if communication, isn’t going to be an ongoing problem until we learn to better communicate, to better articulate how we’re feeling to better articulate why we’re feeling that way and to be able to do it without the other person, deciding the punch in the mouth is going to be the result.
Jacqueline Brown: Definitely communication is a big factor in it. Control can also be a big factor. There are so many things that play into these areas of domestic violence. There’s constantly new research coming out about the root causes of it. But communication is certainly one of them.
Chris Ilsley: Jacqueline Brown. Thank you very much for joining us on the program. Your time is always much appreciated.
Jacqueline Brown: Thank you very much, Chris have a great day.
Chris Ilsley: Jacqueline Brown is a family lawyer. So would have seen all this stuff at the coalface. And I know that our own family lawyer, John Butler has often talked a bit. The fact that communication is a big thing and he believes that we need to be taught to communicate. And you tend to think of, I suppose, that some of these things, there are some things innovator, commerce that supposedly come naturally. There are other things that supposedly we get taught when it comes to communication. John has always argued that we actually need to be taught how to do it. In other words, it’s a specialist subject in and of itself. This is how you communicate. And if you think about it, think about people unite. It’s one thing that’s always stuck out to me very much. So the people who, regardless of when it was even when we were younger, all the way through lives, the people who were liable to lash out, uh, people who don’t have the ability to articulate what they’re thinking to be able to sit down and have a chat with somebody about what’s getting out there nice, or to be able to put forward their argument.
Chris Ilsley: So what happens? They found other otherwise to do it, you can do it physically. You can do it simply by literally smashing people verbally. There are all sorts of ways that you can do it, but maybe it does come back to that fundamental thing. If you communicate, you understand people better and possibly some of these problems could be avoided. Not saying it’s perfect. Not saying I’ve got the solutions, but let’s have some ideas. Nobody can complain about our ideas. Surely.