Rally against domestic violence
Hundreds of Victorians rallied in Melbourne on Tuesday night calling for an end to family abuse after a series of high profile domestic violence cases. Nine news.PT0M36S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-372z9 620 349 April 23, 2014
The biggest policy tools to combat family violence - intervention orders and men's behaviour change programs - are failing to prevent women and children from being killed.
The dire warnings from family violence experts come as relatives of murdered Sunshine mother-of-four Fiona Warzywoda accuse Victoria's overwhelmed justice system of failing to protect their family.
Ms Warzywoda, 33, of Melton West, was allegedly stabbed to death by her abusive de facto husband Craig McDermott at a busy Sunshine shopping strip last Wednesday, just hours after taking out a family violence order.
Family members and friends of Fiona Warzywoda at a vigil in the very spot she was allegedly killed by her de facto in Sunshine. Photo: Jason South
Ms Warzywoda's step-mother, Simone Warzywoda, said the justice system failed their family.
''It's been time and again with domestic violence … the justice system continues to fail women and children.''
The number of people arrested for domestic violence homicides has jumped astonishingly. In 2011-12 there were 13, in 2012-13 there were 45. Police figures obtained by Fairfax Media also show there were 44 family violence-related homicides in 2012-13, claiming the lives of 28 females and 16 males. (The 45 arrests included at least one for a homicide from an earlier year.)
Jocelyn Bignold, chairwoman of the Western Integrated Family Violence Committee, said the deaths of Ms Warzywoda and alleged murder of two young girls at Watsonia on Easter Sunday needed to be a ''catalyst for change''.
''Family violence is preventable. If it was a dangerous rail crossing we'd be fixing it. We've done it with road safety, we've done it with quitting smoking, and family violence is another epidemic in our state that needs funding,'' she said.
While the government committed an extra $16 million to family violence in 2012, services in the west have seen 35 per cent increases in client numbers over the past year, Ms Bignold said.
''It's clear that this issue is not going away. If we are to learn anything from this death, it's that an over-stretched system will struggle to pick up those who are falling through the cracks. Long-term funding and tightening the accountability on violent men are overdue.''
Domestic Violence Resource Centre's Dr Debbie Kirkwood said the police response to family violence had improved over the years, with many more women reporting family violence and applying for intervention orders. But she said many of the people who breached intervention orders were still not charged for doing so, leaving women and children vulnerable.
''Intervention orders are limited in the sense that we still find women can be killed while [they are] in place so they're not providing the level of protection we need. The problem is often breaches of intervention orders aren't effectively responded to.''
Data from Victoria Police reveals major flaws with enforcement of intervention orders, with 820 offenders, mostly men, breaching orders at least three times in the past financial year.
Of these, 200 individuals violated orders more than five times and 15 committed more than 10 separate breaches in one year.
Rodney Vlais, chief executive officer of No to Violence, said there were inconsistent levels of support for victims and perpetrators alike across Victoria.
Police typically only monitored the most high-risk offenders in the community, leaving the rest to under-resourced men's behaviour change programs, he said.
Most magistrates courts in Victoria did not have the power to issue ''counselling orders'' which required men to attend such programs, in a similar way to a community corrections order, Mr Vlais said. Magistrates could make a men's behaviour change program a condition of an intervention order, but the programs are usually not contacted themselves, and police tend not to prosecute those who fail to attend.
''So he can decide not to attend or start the program and then drop out. There are no consequences,'' he said.
Law reforms in 2005 created ''family violence court divisions'' in Heidelberg and Ballarat, which enabled magistrates courts there to have resources to assist perpetrators to understand and co-operate with the process. Despite two evaluations of the pilot since then, no other areas had been added to the reforms.
Police Association secretary and former Homicide Squad detective Ron Iddles conceded there was still a lack of communication and co-ordination between police, government agencies and social services.
He said there was often a community reluctance to intervene in domestic disputes that were spiralling out of control.
''Of all the jobs I've done where a child has lost their lives, in 99 per cent of cases there is a warning sign. Why, as a community or as a friend, have we not done anything about it?'' Mr Iddles said.
The number of ''threat to kill or injure'' offences has also soared in the past decade, making it one of the fastest-growing crimes in the state. Victoria Police crime statistics show 1559 threats to injure and 4893 threats to kill were reported in the 2012-13 financial year.