Asking far too much of abused
The following is an article published in The Australian following their initial article on the prosecution of women who had retracted allegations in relation to cases of Domestic Violence. Written by the brilliant Aboriginal Criminal Lawyer Louise Taylor.
REPORTS of the prosecution of women who retract domestic violence allegations has exposed tragic ignorance of the dynamics of intimate relationships characterised by violence.
When a woman lives her life through a prism of violence — perpetrated by a current or former partner — that violence is overwhelming. For many it is a time bomb, ominously ticking away on the kitchen bench.
Many women speak of the responsibility they carry to keep the peace, calm tempers, appease demands, cater to the emotional manipulation and manage the controlling behaviour. They speak of the secrets they ask their children to keep and the silent war they wage in their heads when they love the person who abuses them.
The criminal justice system, when and if it intervenes, asks much of these women. It demands their co-operation and damns them when it falls away. Underlying these assumptions are the loaded questions society poses. Why don’t they leave? Why can’t they help themselves? What sort of mother must they be? Rarely is it asked, Why don’t the abusers just stop abusing?
Charging women with a criminal offence for recanting allegations of domestic violence amounts to hanging them out to dry when they buckle to the relentless pressure of abusive relationships.
Yet when a woman finally makes the decision to contact police (often at a crisis or emergency point) she is rarely contemplating all the consequences that flow from that contact. Rarely does she imagine that she will give police a statement, have sometimes intimate photos taken, neighbours questioned, be summonsed to attend court and, finally, be required to give evidence and be cross examined by a skilled defence lawyer.
Quite simply, she is contacting police because she wants the violence to stop. But that desire is often trumped by the pressures of everyday life. Many face lifelong co-parenting association with their abuser coupled with significant financial dependence. Most are fearful of the violence of which he is capable. The impact of these factors is profound on the willingness of victims to co-operate with an intervention that might see her abuser jailed.
For Aboriginal women, these complexities are compounded by a historically fraught relationship with the justice system that requires them to sit in a courtroom (often filled with white men) and be cross examined on the most intimate details of their life. A system that jails Aboriginal men (their brothers, fathers, sons) disproportionately and increasingly in some jurisdictions apparently imposes harsher sentences on Aboriginal people.. Sometimes these women have little desire to play a role they see as complicit in this flawed and oppressive system.
Then there is the added pressure of living in a regional or remote community. In the absence of significant support systems, demanding co-operation is a rather ridiculous notion. And the outcome is predictable.
Since becoming aware of the cases reported by The Weekend Australian, my thoughts keep returning to the Aboriginal women in remote towns in western NSW whose prosecution for retracting domestic violence allegations may have left them forever cut off from the support from police to which they are entitled. The danger this poses to these women who may now think twice about seeking crisis intervention is real. When they just want the violence to stop, who will they call? A blanket approach to criminalising women who recant is lazy and simplistic.
I urge the adoption of practices that support all victims of violence without alienating them from the system charged with protecting them. Government representatives must assure these vulnerable women this practice will cease.
Louise Taylor, a Canberra-based Aboriginal criminal lawyer who once specialised in family violence, is Convenor of the ACT Women’s Legal Centre and a member of the Law Council of Australia Indigenous Legal Issues Committee.