The women and children at risk in a lockdown (plus, the Pell verdict)
Hi. I’m Ruby Jones, the host of 7am. Today’s episode is about Covid-19 and domestic violence. But first, an update on the George Pell case.
Yesterday Cardinal George Pell was released from prison after the High Court upheld his appeal against his conviction for sexually abusing two choir boys.
Rick Morton has been covering the case for The Saturday Paper.
Rick, what were the reasons for the High Court's decision?
So really, there were two distinct sets of evidence. There was Witness J who was the complainant in this particular case. And his testimony was incredibly compelling. By all accounts, it was judged by many different people, including the jury, to be incredibly truthful.
But then you've got the other set of evidence, which is in many cases, witnesses who were called by the prosecution trying to put George Pell away.
And, you know, on the compounding evidence, according to the High Court of Australia, in a unanimous decision, there must have been significant obstacles to proving guilt.
And essentially, what this judgment finds is that even the Court of Appeal judges, the majority judges in the Court of Appeal in Victoria, erred by placing too much weight on the testimony of one person, which is witness J, in exclusion to the significant barriers posed by the rest of the evidence.
And what has the legal reaction been, Rick? Was this expected?
Look, I think it was. I've spoken to quite a few barristers today and when I walked away from the hearings in Canberra about a month ago, it certainly seemed to me that it was going to be very unlikely that the convictions would be upheld.
And how have survivor’s advocates responded?
They’re devastated. You know, for all of the obvious reasons, there are people out there who have nothing to do with this particular case, but who have suffered. And we do know that there is a long, sordid history of abuse. I mean, the Catholic Church and in other institutions across the country, we had a whole Royal Commission into it.
So I think a lot of those people divorced from the court proceedings feeling a lot of grief today.
Is this the end of the Pell's story?
It's not the end of the story. That's for sure. It's certainly the end of one criminal case. There may well be civil cases brought regarding George Pell, and there may well be cases in relation to evidence that is yet to be released from the Royal Commission, which was held five years ago now, but was redacted at the time because George Pell was facing criminal proceedings.
So now the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has suggested that all things going well, he would like to see that released. And there may be information that we don't know what it is, but there may be information that leads to other civil cases. So, you know, this is the end of one criminal proceeding, but it is not the end of the George Pell story by a long shot.
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am.
Reports of domestic violence have risen as a result of the coronavirus shutdown - exacerbated by a shattered economy, and the fact victims are now trapped inside with their abusers.
Today, Rick Morton on how Covid-19 is making Australia’s domestic violence problem worse.
Rick. How is this lockdown impacting the women and children who are at risk of family violence?
There's a whole combination of factors here. You know, we're losing hundreds of thousands of jobs in this economy. And so we've got financial pressure. And that means both less financial independence for women and by association that children.
All of the literature tells us that financial stress is a great aggravator of family violence. It's not the cause of family violence or, you know, abusive people are the cause of abuse.
Rick Morton is a senior reporter at The Saturday Paper.
And, you know, we've also got the physical nature of this locked. You know, people are being shut in their own homes in many cases with their own abusers.
They are being shadowed at all hours of the day by these controlling, abusive partners.
So, Rick, when government officials were preparing for this lockdown, did they take into account the impact that it would have on people in these kinds of situations?
As much as they could, yes, they did. And, you know, they knew this was coming. Family Violence Services knew this was coming. So, too, did the New South Wales Police Force. I mean, very early on in this coronavirus crisis, they, you know, told officers in unrelated branches. Traffic and road safety branches. They were told verbally by their commanders that they would be redeployed throughout this lockdown to run safety checks and welfare checks on known people who are at risk of domestic violence.
So, Rick, has there been a rise in reports of domestic violence since the lockdown began?
Yes, a little bit of an interesting one, because, yes, there have been spikes in calls to services. You know, some of the research commissioned by the Women's Safety New South Wales shows that their frontline workers are reporting a spike of the types and severity of abuse.
So almost half of the frontline workers said they'd noticed an increase in abuse in more than 10 percent said they'd noticed, you know, people reporting abuse for the very first time in their relationships.
But equally, there's a silence out there because frontline workers know that they can't get in contact with these women because they're too afraid to call or even text or email, because their phones have been monitored and their movements have been monitored. And they just cannot get any breathing space from the call of the person of interest who they've been, kind of, shut in with.
And I was talking to Bridget Mottram, who's one of the coordinators at the Sydney Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service and you know, she's tried to call people already and can't get through, you know, existing clients that she knows were already at risk.
Archival tape -- Bridget Mottram:
Some we've really not been able to contact at all. And what we fear is that we've not been able to contact them because they in the house are the perpetrator and they can't speak on the phone.
And she hasn't heard back from them. They're not answering calls.
Archival tape -- Bridget Mottram:
So sometimes we do get text message replies by sort of sometimes if they can't talk or they'll hang up the phone as soon as we say who we are.
In the cases where she's been had to get through to others, they've said, you know, I just can't get away from him. I cannot get away from my partner.
Archival tape -- Bridget Mottram:
So when they just terminate the call or stop responding to us, it's usually because it's not safe for them to do so.
So, you know, it's quite alarming in that respect. We don't actually know how big this problem is yet. We know it's there, but we've got no idea how widespread it is. Well, everything is in lockdown.
We'll be back in a moment.
Rick, in the course of your reporting for The Saturday Paper, you spoke to women who are living through domestic violence. Can you tell me about any of their stories?
I think the best way to do this is to talk about one woman in particular, Aditi, who I spoke with at length. She's got such a harrowing story and she moved from India to Melbourne in an arranged marriage to an Australian-Indian man only two years ago. And she came here with her young daughter. And she was a successful dentist in India. She had her own practice, which she sold and paid money to her husband as part of the dowry to sponsor her visa.
But pretty much the moment they left India, his behaviour completely changed. He became financially controlling. He became physically abusive. He resented the fact that her daughter had to go to school and that required international school fees because Aditi was not a permanent resident. And so therefore there was no public schooling. He consistently made promises that were never met and then became violent when things didn't go the way that he wanted.
And this kind of culminated in this horrible, horrible argument on the stairs of their home in Melbourne, where her daughter witnessed it and her daughter was sobbing. And he begins mocking her daughter. And he threatens. He says, you know, if you don't send her back to India, I'll kill you both. You know, the situation is so dangerous and so scary that she leaves the house that night.
And by the time the next morning comes around, he had pulled his sponsorship for her permanent residency. And, you know, the decision was kind of taken out of her hands and she was left with nothing. She had no family here. She had no money in the bank accounts because he controlled everything. She had barely any friends. Now, she didn't even have permanent residency, which would have given her access to Centrelink and some version of support.
And her qualifications were not recognised here. So, you know, she's been trying to study for dental assistant jobs and apply for those as well. But in the meantime, she's become an UberEats delivery rider on a bicycle with no daycare or schooling options for her daughter. So she's taken her daughter along with her.
And she was desperately, desperately trying to get a sense of stability and get back on her own two feet when the coronavirus happened.
So how did the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown change her situation?
Everything has vanished. She told me and she said to me, I'm emotionally, I’m broken now. And, you know, whatever glimmer of hope there might have been, that she could have had some stability. You know, she got a dental assistant job. But even that now her casual shifts are looking unlikely because the economy is tanking and she has no firm foothold in this country.
Thankfully, in her particular case, literally just a couple of hours after we spoke, her permanent visa application was approved on domestic violence grounds. And so, you know, she's one case and there are so many more like Aditi out there. It's quite terrifying.
Rick, is there anything that we can learn from other countries who entered the lockdown before us in terms of how they're approaching the increased risk of domestic violence?
So we do know that rates of reported abuse tripled in one part of China's Hubei province, which is where the coronavirus kind of first began. And that was during their lockdown in February. We know that the rates and the calls jumped by about half by 50 percent in Brazil.
But we are watching around the world now, we're seeing evidence of different things kind of being deployed. So like in France, for example, they've had a 30 percent spike in the number of calls to family violence, help services and the French moving women and children out of dangerous homes and putting them in hotels. Now, that's not ideal because in an ideal world, you should be moving the abuser.
And more interestingly, there's also a system in France where, you know, you can use a code word at a pharmacy, because pharmacies, as you and I both know, are one of the few places we can still get out of the house to go to. And so women who are experiencing distress or who are in trouble can mention that code word and get immediate help, like that is the kind of lateral thinking that we need to apply to the situation. And so we do know that, you know, things are changing. They have to.
So, Rick, when do you think we'll be able to understand the scale of the situation here in Australia?
Look, I mean, the public health orders in New South Wales, for example, last for 90 days. And, three months is a long time to spend locked up with someone who can do you harm. So that's what we know about the extent of it so far. It's terrifying to think what the statistics will be for Australia in 2020, the deaths, the number of women murdered, the number of children murdered by abusive partners.
There was already one a week in Australia before this kicked off. This is not a new problem. We declared a national emergency in 2015. This year we will see a peak of violence.
You know, we will not know until we have a vaccine for coronavirus or we've eliminated the threat entirely just how many more women and children are going to need support at the end of this thing. We just do not know.
And that is the thing that is causing the most distress, I think, to frontline workers who know that we're going to have to prepare for that, while also being in complete survival mode at the moment.
You know, they are doing their best to keep on top of the situation. But the big work, the hard work is coming down the road.
Rick, thanks so much for your reporting on this.
And the latest in the response to Covid-19:
The Australian government has released the initial modelling underpinning its response to the pandemic.
The modelling was based on international data because Australia does not have enough cases of locally acquired Covid-19 to provide mathematically reliable figures.
The government has promised to continue to release more projections informed by local data.
Victorian schools are scheduled to reopen next Wednesday but the vast majority of students have been asked to learn from home.
Children of essential workers and students who don’t have access to online learning will still be able to attend school.
And in the UK, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been moved to an intensive care unit after his Covid-19 symptoms worsened.
The 55-year-old has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputise for him "where necessary".
I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see ya tomorrow.
If this episode has raised any concerns for you, the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service is available at 1800 737 732.
A lockdown, together with a shattered economy, means that many domestic violence victims are now trapped inside their home with their abuser, unable to access help and services. Today, Rick Morton on how coronavirus is making Australia’s domestic violence problem worse.
Guest: Senior reporter for The Saturday Paper Rick Morton.
Family violence increasing during Covid-19 lockdown in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.