Police overrun with ‘staggering’ home violence numbers

13th October 2020 5:00 AM
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Senior Sergeant Dave Bradley's desk is hidden under a mountain of paperwork.

He receives endless calls from Sunshine Coast courts and spends his days surrounded by the most horrifying cases in our community.

After more than 20 years of trying to decrease domestic and family violence, his fight still isn't over.

The Sunshine Coast Police Prosecutions officer-in-charge says the region's "staggering" home violence statistics are outnumbering the resources available to make a difference.

Sen-Sgt Bradley has dedicated most of his policing career to reducing domestic violence, including postgraduate studies on the subject and running the Coast's first domestic violence-only unit - the Vulnerable Persons Unit.

He said while there was more dedication to the topic than ever, we still had a long way to go.

"It's really only been in the last decade (that) we've got our heads around just how much of a public safety issue this actually is," he said.

"The tools available to us and the level of training and what we put into the very first points of contact to try and turn those families around and make them safer, we're doing much better but we're still early days."

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According to the Federal Government's 2016 Personal Safety Survey, one in four women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner, and one in five women has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

Queensland Police statistics indicate there were 1364 breaches of domestic violence order offences in the Sunshine Coast Police District from October 2019 to July this year.

A domestic violence order (DVO) is an official document issued by the court to stop threats or acts of domestic violence.

Sen-Sgt Bradley said from Caloundra to Noosa, at least 100 protection orders were being processed each week.

But he said a DVO was simply a "piece of paper", and the amount breaches going through Sunshine Coast courts represented a "failure".

"That is a staggering amount of orders out in our community that have to be enforced," Sen-Sgt Bradley said.

"The reality is a protection order is a piece of paper. Yes, on very low-level points of contact it does the job. The vast majority of cases … it's simply not enough.

"Evidence tells us the programs we're doing now don't really work."

Senior Sergeant Dave Bradley. Photo: Patrick Woods
Senior Sergeant Dave Bradley. Photo: Patrick Woods

The Daily sat down with Sen-Sgt Bradley and current Vulnerable Persons Unit officer-in-charge Kate Teasdale as part of the HerStory campaign to examine the role police play in keeping families safe from home violence and abuse.

Senior Sergeant Teasdale said the ultimate aim was to determine the contributing factors, behaviours and cultures to eliminate domestic violence.

Whether that's by focusing on mental health struggles, coercive control or drug and alcohol abuse, the Vulnerable Persons Unit reviews all domestic and family violence matters on a case-by-case basis.

Sen-Sgt Teasdale said in a 24-hour period on the Coast, police could attend anywhere from five up to 20 different incidents of domestic violence.

She said too many people still don't understand what's considered as domestic violence.

"There can be a stigma that it can affect a certain group within the community, when in actual fact it can affect everyone," she said.

"It can be definitely physical violence, but it can also be emotional abuse … financial abuse, coercive control.

"There's all these other elements of what domestic and family violence is."

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Sen-Sgt Bradley said there was a dangerous cycle of perpetrators finding their next victim, and victims finding their next abuser.

"We never victim blame - it's not the fault of the victim," he said.

"The next perpetrator has simply found them, but there is a quality about their vulnerableness that (perpetrators) find attractive."

He said more education was needed for children and people who had already been victims of home violence to recognise dangerous behaviours and be able to spot the "next perpetrator".

"You want to stop DV globally? I'd be sitting in those pre-natal classes engaging with every family that comes through there cutting the head off the snake before it even happens," he said.

In a statement earlier this month, Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said domestic violence was unacceptable, no matter what form it took.

"We know that hidden violence and controlling behaviour is a major problem in our community," she said.

"We've seen first-hand the devastating effects of DV, and we need to stop it in its tracks.

"We must continue to do everything to stop the loss of one more life, or see one more woman get hurt.

"We're sending out a very clear message to our society, domestic and family violence is never acceptable. Not now, not ever."