Domestic Violence – Fact or Fiction?

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Domestic Violence – Fact or Fiction Domestic violence in Australia is one of the most prominent issues of our lifetime. For a long time, women were treated as possessions by men and the law did not legally recognise occurrences such as rape of a wife by her husband. More recently though, societies beliefs and attitudes in regards to the subject of domestic violence has changed quite considerably. Previously the only avenue that existed for victims of domestic violence was through criminal law, now all states of Australia have enacted various forms of domestic violence legislation, to deal with this type of growing problem. (Dosen, et al., 2013) The Family Law Act 1975 defines family violence as: “violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family (the family member), or causes the family member to be fearful.” (Familylawcourts.gov.au, 2014) As stated in the book Investigating Legal Studies for Queensland, there are many different forms of domestic violence and this can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse and social abuse. Physical abuse refers to the traditional ideas of domestic abuse. This is the pushing, grabbing, slapping, and kicking in a domestic relationship. Sexual abuse refers sexual assault of a person in a domestic relationship, as well as sexual acts carried out against a person’s will. Psychological abuse is when a person in a domestic relationship is yelling, swearing, or criticising a person’s personality or looks. Financial abuse refers to when a person in a domestic relationship is controlling all the money in the household, or making a person hand over their money, and social abuse is when the person is controlling who a person sees; for example, not permitting contact with family or friends. (Dosen, et al., 2013) These different forms of domestic violence can be seen within the model on screen. The most recent statistics and information on domestic violence come from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey. This was a national survey that included 16, 400 Australians over the age of eighteen, and was conducted in 2005. This showed that 64.1% incidences of physical assault against women that were recorded within the twelve months prior to 2005 were committed within a home. (Dss.gov.au, 2012) This survey found that 443, 800 women (5.8 percent of the population) in Australia reported that they have experienced either physical or sexual violence within the last 12 months, and that more than a million women had experienced physical or sexual assault by either their current or ex-partner. (Dss.gov.au, 2012) The same survey showed that the majority of domestic violence that happens in Australia is committed by men against women, or men against men. This is shown as it is important to recognize about the survey that much of the violence against men was shown to have been committed by other men. Of the men that had reported to this survey that they had been physically abused within the 12 months before the survey 73.7% said that their attacker was a male. (Domesticviolence.com.au, 2014) Within the years 1996 – 2005 the amount of sexual assaults reported to police rose from 14.9% to 18.9%, and during that time frame there was also an increase of reporting physical violence to the police from 18.5% to 36%. (Domesticviolence.com.au, 2014) When comparing the men and women in this survey, it showed that by the age of fifteen, 12.4% of women had been sexually abused. This compared to 4.5% of men within the years of 1996 – 2005. (Domesticviolence.com.au, 2014) And although the statistics show that most domestic violence is committed by men, it is a misconception that domestic violence only affects women, as many victims of domestic violence are actually men. The Australian Bureau of Statistic’s 2005 Personal Safety Survey revealed that approximately 1.3 million women and nearly half a million men had experience some form of domestic violence by a previous or current partner. (Dosen, et al., 2013) Other statistics that were taken from a Queensland Crime report shows that in Queensland there was a 9% increase in breaches of domestic violence protection orders. According to Queensland Courts, “a domestic violence order is a civil order made by a court that imposes conditions to protect a person from future domestic violence.” (Domestic and family violence, 2013) This protection order is a final long term order that states that a person cannot commit domestic violence against any person that is named in the order. This order can also state that the person must stay away from the victim’s home or workplace. (Domestic and family violence, 2013) Penalties for domestic violence are a highly debated topic. Many people believe that the sentences for domestic violence aren’t high enough, whereas others believe that the penalties should stay as they are. In the Domestic Violence and Family Protection Act 2012 it states that the penalties for domestic or family violence is forty penalty units ($40 000) or imprisonment for one year for a first offence. (Alrc.gov.au, 2014) If in the three years before the current offence the offender has been convicted of breaching a domestic violence order at least twice, the maximum penalty is two years imprisonment. (Pottslawyers.com.au, 2014) According to the law at this time, in some instances when the victim fights back against their attacker, the victim becomes the perpetrator. (Dosen and Ballantyne et al., 2013) As stated by Amy Corderoy in her article Push For defence for women who kill violent men “Women who kill their partners often end up pleading guilty to manslaughter or murder, which experts say shows the legal system may be failing domestic violence victims.” (Corderoy, 2014) There are few defences in which women may use in a domestic violence case. The most relied on defence for a domestic violence victim is that of self-defence. This defence relates to the acts done upon compulsion, provocation or in self-defence. (Dosen and Ballantyne et al., 2013) Another one of the most prominent defences is the defence of ‘battered woman syndrome.” Battered woman syndrome is a mental condition that is suffered by the victim as a result of the domestic violence. In the case of R v Runjanjic and Kontinnen (1992) 56 SASR 114, the victim was killed while asleep. The defendant in this case was told by the victim before they went to sleep that he was going to kill her and their son when he woke up. (Dosen and Ballantyne et al,. 2013) The defendant had suffered quite severe sexual, physical, and mental abuse at the hand of the victim. Although psychologists did testify that the defendant had suffered from battered woman syndrome, the court acquitted the defendant not on this defence, but on the defence of self-defence. Another case that is extremely prominent in regards to battered woman syndrome, and is a landmark case in Australia in relation to domestic violence is that of Robyn Kina (CA No 221 of 1993). In this case an aboriginal woman was given a life sentence for murdering her husband. The initial case lasted half a day which is the shortest murder trial in Queensland’s history. After five years in prison, Kina’s case was taken to the court of appeal and upon investigation it was shown that her husband had been abusing her for years and that on the day of his murder, he had made a comment about Kina’s fourteen year old niece which in Robyn Kina’s words made her ‘snap’. Robyn Kina was then released on the defence of battered woman syndrome. (The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 2004) In 2010 there was another major amendment made to the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) which made the defence of ‘Killing for preservation in an abusive domestic relationship’. This is a defence that goes beyond self-defence and allows ‘genuine victims’ the appropriate legal protection. (Dosen and Ballantyne et al., 2013) In the article Queensland’s domestic killing defence an Australian first by Courtney Trenwith, Attorney General Cameron Dick states that “research reviewed during the development process found that victims of seriously abusive relationships often commit offences in circumstances that fall outside existing defences, such as self-defence and provocation.” He also stated that the defence “… doesn’t excuse victims, but it does broaden the court’s sentencing options.” (Trenwith, 2010) This means that the defence will not be misused by court to acquit cases in which defendants would otherwise be guilty of murder, but it would provide some legal protection for victims of serious domestic abuse. (Trenwith, 2010) The media represents domestic violence in varying ways. There are times when how it’s represented can be questioned, and other times when it’s shown that the media coverage of domestic violence is helping domestic violence victims to save themselves from violence relationships. One way that media covers this subject is through the use of movies. One movie that is quite well-known is called Safe Haven. In this movie is shows the life of a victim of a violence relationship escaping her abuser. This is a clip from the movie. Particularly in Australia, this clip shows not only how domestic violence is being targeted by media in Australia, but also shows how many people are becoming more and more aware of the issue, and the amount of people are victims of domestic abuse and how they can get help. In conclusion domestic violence is one of the most important social issues of our time, and it is our responsibility to help protect domestic violence victims, and make sure they know that they have a voice in our society.

Bibliography

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