VIOLENCE against women hasn’t taken a break locally since Phillip Island mother of three, Samantha Fraser, was murdered two weeks ago.
Last Friday was magistrates’ court day in Wonthaggi, and typical of these hearings, it was a day dominated by family violence cases and applications for family violence intervention orders.
In one of these cases, a 48 year old local man with convictions for assaulting the same women during an on-off, four-year relationship cried out about injustice and a poorly run case when he was handed an immediate jail term of two months for his latest assault on the woman while heavily intoxicated in November last year.
“You are kidding me,” he said, standing to his feet in court, prompting officers from the Wonthaggi Police Station to be called.
The court heard an argument between the pair escalated when he chased his partner out into the street, threatening her with an implement and later pushing her up against the bedroom door.
Magistrate David Starvaggi said it would have been four months without a guilty plea.
“This sort of behaviour is completely horrible no matter what the explanation is. The courts have a responsibility to send a message to the community that this behaviour is intolerable. I’m going to impose an immediate term of prison for two months,” he said.
It’s the same right across the court system in Victoria with major hubs such as Latrobe Valley and Dandenong dealing with hundreds of crimes and family violence applications weekly, most involving violence by men against their female partners.
Also at Wonthaggi last Friday:
• A man who broke the kitchen window of a female neighbour, with whom he was having a relationship, at their block of units, and abused her through the window was fined $200 without conviction and ordered to pay $63 for window repairs.
• A young woman who was at home alone with her four children when her ex-partner turned up in breach of cross family violence orders and started making sexual advances towards her was facing charges for damaging a car jointly owned by the pair so the man couldn’t drive it away. Her lawyer Anthony Rosenhain told the court his client felt threatened and wanted her ex out of the house but didn’t want him to take the car she needed to ferry the kids around in. The charges were nonetheless found proven and she was placed on a good behaviour bond for four months without fine or conviction.
• A man who assaulted his wife while she was doing house work and tried to push his way into a bedroom she had barricaded with a wardrobe and herself, allegedly threatening to kill her, was placed on a community corrections order with programs, a step away from jail. He was also convicted of driving in a manner dangerous for rear-ending another car on the South Gippsland Highway seven times in September last year. His lawyer denied these circumstances saying the other driver crossed into his path. He didn’t however stop to exchange contact details.
• A local woman applied to the courts to have an intervention order varied so her ex-partner could pick up his children from the same school attended by her own children. But Magistrate David Starvaggi spelt out that the man was still not to go within 200 metres of the woman’s home or work, damage her property, commit family violence or publish anything about her on the Internet.
Those cases were dealt with before lunchtime, interspersed with applications for out-of-home care for impacted children and intervention or personal safety orders not associated with intimate partner relationships.
A veteran local police officer and magistrates’ court regular, who declined to be named while the investigation into Cowes mother Samantha Fraser is progressing, called it the biggest issue to confront police and the justice system during his time in the force.
“I don’t think there’s more of it going on than there was but more women are calling it out and rightly so. There’s a major social adjustment going on and in many respects I don’t think we’re keeping up with it.”
Commenting on criticism that police and the justice system could do more by locking up those accused of rape and other violent crimes against women he said there were thousands of such cases in the system.
“How do you know which ones are going to flip?” he said.
Professor of Social Work at University of Melbourne, Professor Cathy Humphreys, an expert on domestic violence and child abuse said there was clearly more reporting, however while the response was being ramped up, parts of the system were lagging behind and there continued to be little understanding of the root causes.
“It’s pretty clear we’re not making any inroads into the heart of the matter. We’re making inroads into the response system overall, particularly the Labor Government has made a massive investment in trying to tackle this law and order issue but we’re not making any inroads in terms of these violence-supportive attitudes.”
The Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Natalie Hutchins said last Saturday while visiting Cowes that the government was working on an innovative assessment tool that police could use to better assess the risks that existed in each situation and take action accordingly.