Women's Domestic Violence Peak Fears an Increase in Domestic Murders

WESNET Media Release
30 July 2004

The proposed changes to the Family Law system will result in even more deaths of women and children, unless the new Family Relationships Centres to be established across the country prioritise safety of women and children above all other considerations, according to WESNET the Women's Services Network, peak body for domestic and family violence services across Australia.

"We are horrified at the risks inherent in the current proposal. The Commonwealth government must insist on the safety of women and children as the highest priority when awarding tenders, and failure to do this demonstrates that they do not understand the true nature of domestic violence" said Maria Hagias, National Chairperson of WESNET.

"Domestic violence relationships are relationships of unequal power and control, of threats to harm and destroy and research tells us that when a women leaves a relationship like this she is at the highest risk of all" said Ms Hagias. "Perpetrators of violence and abuse have cleverly used the family court system to cause further harm to their victims in the past and this must be taken into account" said Pauline Woodbridge, Queensland WESNET representative. "A non-specialised system which focuses on visible or "evidenced" physical injuries to determine whether domestic violence exists for a separating couple will fail the women and children" she said. "They are the less powerful voices. How many more women and children have to die?" she said.

"This proposal towards the presumption of shared responsibility is entirely going the wrong way. Rather than presumptions towards the so-called rights of the parents to share the child, we should be following in New Zealand's footsteps and have a presumption towards the absolute safety of the children. Why is this so hard for the Australian government to understand?" said Ms Woodbridge.

According to Ms Woodbridge, "it took the very public deaths of three small blonde blue eyed children in New Zealand for the NZ family law legislation to err on the side of the children's safety. What do we have to do? Just in one week while I was studying this topic at university, Anna and Gracie; Roxanne, Luke and Grace; and Amanda; were all murdered by the intimate man in their lives. This was two weeks ago. These women and children have names. Let their deaths not be in vain. We note that the government will consider implementing useful family law initiatives from other parts of the world. We must follow New Zealand's family law changes in this respect.

The current proposals of the Howard Government appear to have been captured by the men's groups, who prioritise their 'ownership rights' over the safety of women and children."

"We must put in place a 'safety first' system" said Ms Hagias. "One which ensures the safety of women and children, especially post-separation because of the volatile and high risk involved when couples separate".

For comment please contact:
Maria Hagias, WESNET National Chairperson 0408 896 xxx
Pauline Woodbridge, WESNET QLD Representative 07 4721 xxxx

Sira Nicholas
Secretariat Coordinator
WESNET - The Women's Services Network
GPO Box xxxx, Canberra City ACT 2601
Ph 02 6247 xxxx Fax 02 6247 xxxx