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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13352

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (18:50): I rise this evening to support the member for Fowler's motion and I commend him for bringing it to the attention of the House. Violence against women is one of the most insidious crimes that we as a society are confronted with, and the statistics reveal a disturbing situation. One woman is killed every week by a current or former partner, one in three women over the age of 15 report physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives, in 50 per cent of households where domestic violence occurs child abuse also occurs and one in four young people have witnessed violence against their mother or stepmother. These are the terrifying realties that confront women experiencing violence in my electorate and right across the country.

In fact, the very term 'domestic violence' is one that is often seen as inaccurate. For some years there has been a growing debate about whether we should be distinguishing between private and public forms of violence. It is more commonly, however, used to refer to violence generally against women. Domestic violence does not only constitute physical violence. It can take many forms, including forced isolation, verbal abuse, financial abuse and emotional abuse.

Statistics are one thing but the human face is, of course, another. I saw first hand during my time as a pro bono duty solicitor for female victims of domestic violence what this really means. In approximately 10 years of my former life as a lawyer, I was a volunteer duty solicitor for the Redfern Women's Domestic Violence Advocacy Service. I would front up to the Downing Centre at least one Wednesday a month, usually more, to assist representation in mentions and apprehended violence order hearings for female victims of domestic violence.

There are a few cases that really stick in my mind. I saw a lot in those years. The one that sticks out to me more than anything was of a young Lebanese woman who had met in Lebanon an Australian man whom she decided to marry. She married him in Lebanon, came to Australia pregnant and had the baby in Australia. It was decided for some unknown reason that her new husband's family no longer wanted her. She was subjected to just about every form of violence—not just physical but emotional, mental, and financial. She was literally thrown out of the house with her infant. She could not speak a word of English, and she was continually threatened by this man and his family. She ended up being accommodated in a refuge when I was representing her.

Here was a first-time mother with an infant, in a foreign country, having been subjected to every form of violence you can imagine. That is one that to this day sticks out in my mind. Every now and then I think of trying to find out what happened to this lady, but, as I have been counselled by other people, it was my job to represent her. I did, I managed to obtain an order against the perpetrator and his family. But that poor woman and what she went through will always stick with me. I also saw a disproportionate number of Aboriginal women and their children who were victims of domestic violence. Even though this was a couple of years ago and social media has certainly taken off a lot since my time practising, the amount of electronic stalking of young women was absolutely alarming. I want to mention the support workers and the lawyers Gilbert + Tobin, who gave many years of support to advocacy services and continue to do so, because, without these non-government agencies stepping in, female victims of violence would have much less support than they currently do. I particularly mention the Outer West Domestic Violence Network, which held its White Ribbon breakfast at Blacktown two weeks ago. It was attended by hundreds of business and community leaders who all took the White Ribbon oath. I represent a large proportion of the Blacktown local government area, which, unfortunately, has some of the highest rates of domestic violence in Australia. The local area commander of Blacktown police, Superintendent Mark Wright, told us that domestic violence kills about 36 people each year in the Quaker's Hill, Mt Druitt and Blacktown local area command. It is a disturbing and shocking figure that no-one in the public should put up with.

One of the major issues of violence of this nature is the silence that often occurs in an abusive relationship. Two out of three victims do not go to the police. Whilst I would say it is important for us to raise this as a parliament, we should also remember that not only must we raise this but also we cannot tolerate silence when it comes to violence against women.