Vanessa Fowler has taken over as co-chair of the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council.
Vanessa Fowler has taken over as co-chair of the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council.

‘Long way to go’ in fight to end domestic violence

PROGRESS has been made in combating the scourge of domestic violence in our communities in the nine years since Vanessa Fowler was thrust into the fight after the death of her sister, but there is "still a long way to go".

Educating young people to spot the early signs of domestic violence is "key" the Ipswich school teacher said, but an overhaul of the criminal justice system is required to address the alarming rates of women and children being killed across the country.

Mrs Fowler's sister Allison Baden-Clay was killed by her husband in 2012.

Vanessa Fowler, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Kay McGrath.
Vanessa Fowler, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Kay McGrath.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has appointed Mrs Fowler as co-chair of the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council to replace Kay McGrath, a role she has taken on alongside her position as chair of the Allison Baden-Clay Foundation.

Mrs Fowler has campaigned for years on domestic violence and through the foundation educates bystanders on the importance of recognising the signs of coercive control and how they can effectively intervene.

She said her late sister was probably not "aware of the level of control" her husband Gerard had over her in the years leading up to her murder.

"Over the last nine years I think that we have moved forward because I think since Allison's death we have highlighted the conversation," she said.

"We've brought it from behind closed doors and so people have begun to be more aware to know the signs, to look for changes in behaviour.

"I think we have come a long way but then when you hear of incidences of the recent deaths of women in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast you then realise that we still have a long way to go.

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"Even though I think we have made a difference these incidents still occur and so I think we then have to evaluate how we're sharing our message."

Mrs Fowler said law changes need to be made as women were still being killed by partners or ex-partners even after they turned to authorities for help.

"I think the priority is going to be training and educating our frontline services," Mrs Fowler said.

"So QPS, magistrates, judges, those people that are in the domestic violence support services … training of those where people reach out is key.

"(Domestic violence orders) are issued but there's no record of the pattern of behaviour of coercive control so I think it's very important that we ensure that our frontline services are aware of how this coercive control builds up over time.

"At the moment, the only crime is the physical act of violence and in many, many cases that physical act of violence which ultimately could end up in murder is the final act of a long history and a long pattern of coercive control.

Vanessa Fowler (middle) at the vigil for Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month in Ipswich in May.
Vanessa Fowler (middle) at the vigil for Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month in Ipswich in May.

"Through the Queensland Government's Women's Safety and Justice Taskforce I'm hoping that we can continue the conversation around criminalising coercive control."

The busy Domestic Violence Action Centre, which covers Ipswich, Toowoomba and the rural areas in between, reported a significant spike in demand for its services last month, with a 27 per cent increase in police referrals for the Ipswich area in recent years.

Mrs Fowler said the number of people reaching out for help dropped considerably during COVID-19 as victims were confined in their homes with perpetrators.

"Since we've come out of our lockdown we've had a surge in people that are wanting the services and going to police and going to frontline DV agencies," Mrs Fowler.

"Now we're not sure whether that's because there's an increase of incidents or whether people are feeling more comfortable because the conversation is now more prevalent and people are feeling like they're going to be believed and they're not going to be judged and they're going to get some help."

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Ms Palaszczuk said Mrs Fowler would bring a "whole new perspective" to the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council.

"A lot of the council have been working in this space for a lot longer than I have," Mrs Fowler said.

"I'm definitely going to be drawing on their knowledge as I move forward.

"For us as the foundation and now as co-chair of the council that is all around education and training and talking to young people and talking to teenagers, high schoolers and university students around gender stereotypes, respectful relationships and gender equality.

"It's very important for them to know what DV looks like and what abuse looks like and to recognise that for their own safety.

"That's my message and my goal as co-chair of the council.

"That's where we need to start. It's in middle school and high school. I think that's the key."

*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. 

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