CONTENT WARNING: This story deals with domestic violence. If you, or anyone you know, needs help contact 1800 RESPECT.
Amelia* is distressed. Just an hour earlier, she came face to face with a man who has threatened to kill her and told her, in detail, on several occasions, how she will die. A man almost twice her size who has, once before, pulled a knife out and pointed the blade at her heavily pregnant belly.
When he sees her today he doesn’t look at her or say a word. ‘He hates me,’ her voice breaks with fear. She hands him her son, a little boy who is not yet two, and leaves. “He can’t even talk,” she sobs. “He’s just a baby.”
Twice a week Amelia is forced to endure this horror. Notwithstanding the violent history, the man, her former husband, is entitled to unsupervised visits with their small son.
“My baby and I are left with no protection orders and twice a week I have to face a person who told me many times he was going to kill me. And give him my baby unsupervised,” Amelia says. “It is very scary.”
‘Scary’ seems an understatement. It is evident that Amelia is deeply traumatised. Not just by the abuse that led her to leave her marriage or the painful twice-weekly forced handovers of her son, but, by what she experienced throughout the process she believed was going to protect her.
She pursued legal action but didn’t feel protected and she still doesn’t. The brutal and tragic murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children are simply terrifying to Amelia.
“That could happen to me as well,” Amelia says through tears. “Like him, my ex didn’t like the idea of getting divorced. It makes me very worried and scared.”
That’s why she wants to tell her story.
“The tragic deaths of Hannah and her children has put lots of light on the problem of domestic violence and raised a lot of compassion in people. No one could stay indifferent,” she says. “I really really want to be heard.”
In the middle of 2018 Amelia watched an episode of 60 Minutes with her ex-husband when a segment called Black Widow came on.
“It was about domestic violence,” she explains. A drunken man was beating his wife over the head with a frying pan. He momentarily lost control of the pan and she got hold of a knife that she held at her chest with the blade towards him.
“She did not move, she was only holding a knife and he was taunting her,” Amelia remembers. “‘C’mon stab me, stab me’ he said and then walked onto the blade.”
The cut was only 14mm deep but he died. Amelia remembers every detail vividly because of what happened the next day.
“The following morning I was making breakfast in the kitchen when my ex took a large knife and pointed the blade towards me and my belly,” she says. “I froze in fear. I was heavily pregnant, I couldn’t possibly run away and I don’t drive.”
The thing that worried her most was how much he appeared to enjoy watching her fear. “He laughed,” she says.
A few months earlier she had attempted to escape and spent some time in a women’s refuge.
“It was Mother’s Day when I was in the refuge and psychologically that was very difficult,” she says. “He peppered me with messages. “Please come back.” “I’m so sorry”. I’m so sorry.”
She went back.
“He promised so many times it would be different and apologised so many times. I thought he would change. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. It got so much worse.”
Before the incident with the knife, he had spoken, often, about the different ways he could kill her.
“He described in detail how I would die,” she says.
The knife was the final straw. Less than six weeks later, nursing a c-section scar and a 14-day old baby Amelia left. She called the police who picked her and the baby up. She went to the station to give a statement and a social worker then took her to a women’s refuge where she stayed for nine weeks.
If it wasn’t for intense fear, she asks, who would choose to run away from their home with a new baby so soon after major abdominal surgery?
Amelia now knows that her ex has a history of domestic violence, including a choking incident which is red flag for homicide.
In an affidavit, he admitted to holding a knife against her in the kitchen. When Amelia read it, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She didn’t know how she was ever going to convince a court it happened. She didn’t need to. He had admitted it.
Police told her they believed she had a strong case for a conviction. She didn’t.
The section of the affidavit with his admission wasn’t tendered to the court. She still hasn’t been given a valid explanation for why. The magistrate ruled the whole document admissible but the prosecutor agreed to redact all but three paragraphs – none of which referred to violence towards Amelia.
A formal complaint the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission wasn’t successful. It was sent to the local police area to investigate and the inexplicable response was essentially that “threatening with a knife is not intimidation”. If pulling a knife out and wielding the blade in a small space isn’t intimidation, what is?
Not only did he escape a conviction, Amelia came away from the process feeling like she was a criminal.
“The perpetrator got away with charges, I was called a liar and I do not have any protection orders for myself and my baby from a person who threatened to kill me many times,” she says. “And he got a clear message from police and the justice system that his behaviour is acceptable.”
While the criminal case was underway the Family Court determined there was to be no access, but once the case was dismissed, it granted him access.
It means that twice a week a woman who was so scared of her partner that she fled him, with a 2 week old baby, with no family to turn to, and no where to go, now has to see him twice a week and hand her small child over.
How is that justice?
“Women and children are being killed each week at the hand of violent men and when the police officers support perpetrators they make them very dangerous people for the society. When perpetrators get the message that intimidating behaviour is normal, accepted and they will be even supported by the police if they will continue to commit crimes and their crime will be worse.”
*Name has been changed.
If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au
In an emergency, call 000.