What the Coroner's Court report reveals about domestic violence

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In NSW over the past ten years, "there were no cases where a woman was a domestic violence abuser who killed a male domestic violence victim".

We clearly understand the victims of child pornography are the children - but we are beginning to understand the ...

We clearly understand the victims of child pornography are the children - but we are beginning to understand the innocent families of abusers are victims too. Photo: Stocksy

Two more women were murdered in NSW last week, and, as is all too common, their partners are alleged to be the killers.

We know there will be more. This week, next week, soon, more women will die at the hands of men who claim to love them. And, although we don't talk about this as much, we also know that domestic violence is not just killing women, it's killing men and children too.

143 people were killed by their intimate partners between 2000 and 2010, just in New South Wales alone. In almost every case, even where a man was killed by a woman, the murder involved an abusive male partner.

This data is not from a fringe lobby group or the result of dubious statistical interpretation. It comes from the NSW Coroner's Court Domestic Violence Death Review Team.

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Coroner's Courts have no agenda or bias, they have one sole purpose - the investigation of death. They determine the facts about the events leading to various kinds of death, and provide recommendations on improving public safety. They also have special investigative powers that gives them access to detailed information no one else has. So when a Coroner's Court publish reports about domestic violence, they are reliable, credible and serious.

The Domestic Violence Death Review Team released their third annual report earlier this year, which analysed the 877 homicides reported in NSW between 2000 and 2010. To summarise their findings:

593 men and 283 women were killed in NSW over 10 years.

101 (17%) of male and 137 (48%) of female homicides were domestic violence related.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were significantly overrepresented in both male and female victims.

108 women were killed by their intimate partners.

  •   105 of those women were domestic violence victims.
  •   3 were killed by a partner where there was "evidence of violence and abuse used by both parties with no clear coercion and control".

35 men were killed by their intimate partners.

  • 6 of those men were domestic violence victims, all 6 were killed by male partners.
  • 25 men were identified as being the abuser of the woman who killed them.
  • 3 were killed by a partner where there was "evidence of violence and abuse used by both parties with no clear coercion and control".
  • 1 man was the extramarital intimate partner of a woman and was killed by her and her abusive husband acting together.

Over the whole ten years, "there were no cases where a woman was a domestic violence abuser who killed a male domestic violence victim".

53 children were killed by a parent.

  • Nearly 60% of them were boys.
  • Half of them were under 2 years old.
  • 75% occurred in a domestic violence context, but in just over half those cases, the child was not the direct victim of the abuse.
  • 80% of the fathers who killed their children were perpetrators of domestic violence.
  • 94% of the mothers who killed their children were victims of domestic violence.

22 adults were killed by family members.

  • 16 men were killed by sons, step-sons, brothers, daughters and fathers.
  • 6 women were killed by sons, daughters and a nephew.

The remainder of the victims did not involve a family relationship with the perpetrator. All of the victims were men, most were killed by their wife/girlfriend's former abusive partner.

That's just the numbers, but what about the stories?

Several key elements were identified in domestic homicide. Separation, either impending or complete, was a factor in many cases. Very few victims had Apprehended Violence Orders in place at the time of the murder, but in every case of intimate partner homicide someone outside the relationship was aware of the abuse. To be clear, this was usually not that the abuse had been reported by the victim, but that friends or family had seen clear signs of violence – bruises, bleeding and other injuries.

Looking at these numbers it would be too easy to ascribe all the blame to male violence. And, on the face of it, that is certainly true. But what that makes this report so terribly distressing is not the numbers, as shocking as they are. It's the case studies. They are a litany of intergenerational violence, substance abuse, mental health issues and trauma inflicted on so many people beyond just the one who was killed. Over and over again you see the pattern of women subjected not just to violence, but also financial abuse, enforced isolation, stalking, having their phones and emails and bank accounts constantly monitored and restricted. And too many children frightened and helpless in the face of violence committed by and against people they love.

The case studies don't just describe the lives of female victims. Too many of the men who were abusers had been abused themselves as children, either directly or just by living in violent families. Too many had untreated addictions and mental health problems. This is in no way justification, but it may be an explanation.

Punitive responses to domestic violence will never be a solution. No matter what we do to perpetrators, by the time they've made it to a Coroner's Court report, it's too late. Too many lives have been irredeemably damaged.

Prevention has to start much earlier.

I have argued before that men are only not a large proportion of domestic violence victims, which is born out by this report, but maybe it's time to widen the definition of victim.

How does a man become so terrified by the threat of his partner leaving him that the only solution he can find is to kill her or his children or himself? How do women become so terrified of their partner that they think their only way out is to kill him? Why is this something that only happens to men? What can we do for the men who feel so powerless that violence is their only option? Because if we do not find a way to help those men, we will never find a way to stop these deaths.

Many of the recommendations in the report deal with training police to recognise and address domestic violence. Police are the frontline agents for victims, so this makes sense in responding to a situation that has already become violent. As do the recommendations for training healthcare workers and other emergency services. And absolutely, we need much better resources available to anyone trying to escape violent situations. That these resources are so underfunded is iniquitous.

But what about prevention directed at the source of the problem?

We need strong services for children living with domestic violence. Boys growing up with violence need help to understand the damage done to them and to ensure they do not carry that violence on in their adult lives.

Family and friends of abusive men need help understanding what domestic violence looks like and how to access services for perpetrators as well as victims.

We need better counselling services for men who feel powerless or out of control. We need to accept that helping them without shaming them will ultimately save lives.

We need to increase substance abuse and mental health services for men and they must be an intrinsic aspect of the justice system's response to male violence.

We could (and should) fully fund a place for every person trying to escape abuse, but until we deal with the men who are so injured that they cannot stop themselves inflicting injuries upon others, we will never change the violence that takes the lives of too many men, women and children.

 

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) offers specialist trauma counselling as well as support and assistance for people who have experienced sexual assault or family violence.