Mother of three calls for stronger measures to protect victims of domestic violence
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Mother of three calls for stronger measures to protect victims of domestic violence

As she answered the phone, Kate* was surprised to hear her mother in a blind panic on the other end of the line. Her mother had just heard the news that a 28-year-old Canberra mother of three had been allegedly murdered by her ex-partner.

It was the second time in a month Kate had received such a call from her mother, and the similarities between her own situation and that of the two dead women wasn't lost on her. Kate, like hundreds of other Canberra women, lives in constant fear of being harmed by her violent ex-partner.

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According to crime data, police are attending an average of nine cases of family violence a day in Canberra. More than half of those appearing before the ACT Magistrates Court for breaching violence or protection orders from 2012 to January this year were given a good behaviour order, while another 18 per cent were sent to prison.

Mark became abusive shortly after the birth of their first child. At first everything was going well, but soon he became jealous and banned her from talking to other men.

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"He decided that I was going to cheat on him, so he'd monitor me. If I went to do the grocery shopping he'd call me three or four times and if he could hear a male at the checkout in the background he wanted to know who the bloke was."

The irrational jealously spiralled out of control until one night, while carrying her baby on her shoulder, Mark punched Kate from behind, her head colliding with the baby's.

It was at that point that Kate sought help from the legal system, applying for a domestic violence order. Five weeks after seeking that protection, abusive text messages started to arrive. Mark was trying to find where she had moved to and was also hurling abuse at Kate's family.

"At one point I had a police officer with me in my living room monitoring the texts as they were coming in, telling me he was going to kill me."

Mark was arrested and given a fine and a good behaviour order.

Having convinced her he had stopped drinking and appealing to her to see his children, Kate took Mark back in, but problems soon began to reappear. One night she was trying to comfort her crying baby when the two got into an argument and he suddenly picked her up and threw her into a wall, cracking open her head and injuring her back.

"One of the biggest things for me and why I kept going back was his ability to convince me he'd changed. He'd tell me he'd stopped drinking, how much he missed the kids, how much he loved me.

"But you also live in constant fear, you're just waiting for them to crack. He used to always say if he couldn't have me no one could, so my thought was at least if I'm with him he won't kill me."

When he's in my house with an axe? Will you come and get him then?

Kate

Further breaches of the domestic violence order, including trying to bash down her front door one night, resulted in a partially suspended sentence and weekend detention for Mark, who Kate says has continued to threaten to kill both her and her new partner.

A frustrating oversight on court paperwork saw her new address left on a document handed to Mark, meaning she is again living in fear of what he might do. While police have acted to help her, she says every minor breach of a protection order needs to be viewed as part of a larger picture of threats and intimidation.

"He's quite clever, he got someone else to contact me for him. The police said it's a minor breach, if it happens again, let us know. Well if that's a minor breach, I want to know, what constitutes a major breach? Do I have to be Tara Costigan when he's in my house with an axe? Will you come and get him then?"

Kate says neighbours also need to be more willing to call police when they hear a disturbance, to help keep women safe. She was also placed in emergency accommodation at short notice and she would like to see public housing made available more quickly to women with children fleeing from violent partners.

"A DVO is just a piece of paper he's walked through before, and he'll walk through again. The only reason I got one is it makes it easier to charge him if he pesters me."

She hopes speaking out will help raise awareness of family violence and keep other women in her situation safe.

"The longer I haven't heard from him the safer I'll feel. But him being quiet worries me too because I don't know if he's worried about getting in trouble or if he's scheming something."

*Details have been changed to protect individuals.

Scott Hannaford is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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