The year Australia opened its eyes to domestic violence

Tara Brown died after her ex-boyfriend drove her off the road. Photo / Supplied
Tara Brown died after her ex-boyfriend drove her off the road. Photo / Supplied

Counting the toll

GOLD Coast women Tara Brown died shortly after being beaten by the side of a major Brisbane road.

Karina Lock was gunned down at a fast food restaurant on the Gold Coast.

Toowoomba woman Kris-Deann Sharpley and her seven-year-old son Jackson were shot in the head.

Kirralee Paepaerei was killed despite being seven months pregnant.

The tragic death of AFL footy coach Phil Walsh.

These are just some of the more than 70 women, children and men allegedly killed by estranged partners or family members in Australia this year.

As you read this article, police across the country will have responded to about 231,580 calls for help from DV victims. That's 657 pleas every day this year.

Yet, no matter how beaten, how battered or how bruised they were, many domestic violence victims chose 2015 as the year they would tell their stories.

From social media giants Facebook and Twitter to radio, television and newspapers, victims used a range of mediums to shine their light on the epidemic.

2015 Australian of the year, Rosie Batty.
2015 Australian of the year, Rosie Batty. Warren Lynam

AUSTRALIANS of the Year will come and they will go, but very few of them will stay in our minds like this year's recipient Rosie Batty.

Both humble and passionate, Ms Batty spent 2015 helping to combat the country's family abuse scourge by telling and retelling the sad story that thrust her into the spotlight.

Ms Batty's former partner beat her son to death with a cricket bat in February 2014.

While many Australian's admire the Melbournian's grace, dignity and courage, she faced unwarranted criticism for her advocacy work.

Key among the critics was one-time PM hopeful Mark Latham who was outraged that Ms Batty occasionally charges for public speaking duties.

News Corp columnist Miranda Devine also blasted her as "the untouchable expert on domestic violence" in a column questioning who the real victims of domestic violence were.

Palaszczuk delivers on Not Now Not Ever report

With MP Billy Gordon spousal abuse allegations nipping at her heels, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had a rough start to the year.

The pressure mounted even more as former Australian governor general Quentin Bryce handed over a shocking report into the state's domestic violence epidemic to the state's new leader in February.

Inside the bulky document was a whopping 140 recommendations from Bryce's expert DV taskforce.

Ms Palaszczuk promised victims and frontline workers the report would not become another dusty paperweight. In August, the Premier said her government would act on each of the recommendations. 

Ms Palaszczuk got the ball rolling with funding for two new emergency refuges, the trial of a domestic violence-focused magistrates court, a commitment to respectful relationship programs in schools and tougher sentencing options for offenders.

APN Australian Regional Media, the parent company of this newspaper, had campaigned for these two moves. In 2015, the Queensland State Government pledged more than $66 million to supporting survivors and lowering the epidemic.

Premier Mike Baird.
Premier Mike Baird. Marc Stapelberg

Baird targets perpetrators

PUTTING $60m into their state's domestic violence war chest, NSW Premier Mike Baird and Prevention of Domestic Violence Minister Pru Goward this year promised to roll out six specialist police squads targeting repeat domestic violence offenders and forcing perpetrators to complete behaviour change programs.

"...offenders are now on notice, the government is targeting your unacceptable behaviour and crimes," Ms Goward said when revealing the government's financial commitment.

Ms Goward's government also flagged 24 new domestic violence liaison officers at local policing commands and $20 million for women's refuges and homelessness services to help provide extra emergency accommodation and around-the-clock on-call services.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a mental health announcement at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
"Disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women." MICK TSIKAS

New PM digs deep

FRESH from ousting Tony Abbott as Australia's PM, Malcolm Turnbull knew he had to address the community's growing disquiet over domestic violence.

In September the seasoned politician promised to spend $100 million on the problem. Among the key commitments was more help for indigenous women and communities tackling family violence and millions of dollars for technology including CCTV equipment and mobile phones to help keep victims safe.

While the funding commitment was vital, Mr Turnbull's words were even more valuable.

"Let me say this to you: disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women," Mr Turnbull said to wide acclaim in September.

END THE VIOLENCE: Quentin Bryce, leader of the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence.
END THE VIOLENCE: Quentin Bryce, leader of the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence. Contributed

A FEW months after handing the Not Now Not Ever report to the Queensland Government, Quentin Bryce told APN Newsdesk she was determined to end the epidemic.

Speaking during APN Australian Regional Media's year-long Terror at Home campaign, the 73-year-old icon of Australia's political and social landscape said a united approach from all sectors of the community must stand up to bring down the abusers. "We must get across a very strong message," Ms Bryce said.

"Don't be a bystander. Take action when you see something that makes you feel uncomfortable, concerned, worried."

Spare a moment for the victims

FROM sporting heroes to TV stars and politicians, household names across Australia voiced their anger at Australia's domestic violence problem.

One of the most poignant messages came from a man who has seen the enemy at its worst - former army chief David Morrison.

The retired lieutenant-general urged the nation to recognise victims in the same way it honours soldiers who lost their lives at war. "We will honour the courage of those men and women," Mr Morrison said in the lead up to Remembrance Day.

"And yet we don't do that for the millions of women and children who throughout that century have been the victims of domestic violence." 

Among those lending support to the fight were footballer Steve Renouf, Today show co-host Lisa Wilkinson, The project's Waleed Aly, former politician Natasha Stott Despoja and current Senator Nova Peris.

Michelle Bridges.
Michelle Bridges was one of the celebrities who spoke out about domestic violence in 2015.

War of the genders

VICTIM. Perpetrator. Gender.

These three words became synonymous with the family abuse debate in 2015.

We saw media commentators, men's rights activists, academics, experts and pretty much anyone with an opinion and social media access battle over who exactly the epidemic's real antagonists and real sufferers are.

Many social media feeds were hijacked by male activists expressing their anger at the focus governments and support organisations were giving to female victims. Their arguments that women are overlooked perpetrators and men the hidden victims were helped along by household names like The Biggest Loser's Michelle Bridges and columnists such as Miranda Devine and Bettina Arndt who all weighed into the debate. 

But think-tanks like Our Watch and the Australian National Research Organisation for Women's Safety returned the discussion to a level playing field by delivering well-researched reports showing domestic violence victims are primarily female and their abusers are primarily male.

Researchers and academics said these findings showed support funding should primarily go to female and child services and prevention funding should be directed at male perpetrators.

Research hits home

THERE were a number of ground-breaking domestic violence research documents released in 2015.

Among these was the Australian National Research Organisation for Women's Safety paper which found one in four Australian women is suffering at the hands of a violent intimate partners.

Previous to the October release, statisticians and experts had believed the rate was one in six. Building on data collected in a 2012 Bureau of Statistics survey of 17,000 Australians, the study's author Peta Cox also found more than 400,000 women were attacked during pregnancy and more than 500,000 children have witnessed domestic abuse.

Meanwhile, a NSW gay and lesbian community survey found domestic violence perpetrators were exploiting homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism in their partner's social networks as a form of control.

About 55% of the survey's 813 respondents said they had been in an emotionally abusive relationship while about 35% said they had experienced sexual or physical violence.


Abusers locked out of Australia

BOXER Floyd Mayweather and singer Chris Brown were banned from Australia in 2015 on the back of their domestic violence histories.

Brown was found guilty of assaulting his former partner, singer Rihanna, in 2009. When the Federal Ggovernment in September refused to let him into the country he pleaded for a reversal on the grounds he should be allowed in to raise awareness of domestic violence.

"My life mistakes should be a wake up call for everyone. Showing the world that mistakes don't define you. Trying to prevent spousal abuse," Brown said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, fellow American Mayweather in February promised to donate money from his Australia tour to local charities if his visa was approved.

"The government takes very seriously its role in protecting the Australian community from the risk of harm by non-citizens who engage in criminal conduct and/or conduct that is of serious concern," then Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash said about Mayweather's visa being rejected.