Some memories fade too slowly. I was reminded of one such memory by the TV advertisement being aired in the lead up to White Ribbon Day tomorrow (Monday 25 November).
It was late morning on Friday, 20 September and I was at the local Magistrate’s Court on a court visit for the first assignment in my B Laws course. The court co-ordinator told me that there was only one criminal contest – that is, a trial – on that day, in Court 2. A case of recklessly causing injury.
It sounded amusing – most likely the result of a couple of bogans going the biff in the car-park of one of the areas many 1960s vintage beer barns. I went to court room expecting an hour or so of light entertainment at the expense of a boof-head who’d fallen foul of the law. More fool me.
When I entered the courtroom and sat myself down in the seat nearest the door – in the back row of three rows of public seating – there seemed to be a distinct shortage of bogans. Unless you counted the besuited guy in the middle of the second row with the wing of a tattooed bird poking out of his shirt collar.
It was late morning so I’d missed the start of proceedings. The witness box was occupied by a doctor giving testimony on the injuries suffered by the victim of the assault that led to the trial. I identified her as the woman sitting in the front row, directly in front of me. An attractive woman in her late twenties, well-dressed, sitting between an older man and woman who, I surmised, were her parents.
The defendant –‘Tim’ – was sitting at the other end of the first row of seats, behind his lawyer who was cross-examining the doctor – to little effect – when I entered. He diligently, but pointlessly, strained to dent the credibility of the photographs of the complainant’s injuries with the suggestion that they’d been photoshopped for added impact after they were taken.
Once those motions had been gone through, the Doctor was excused and the complainant – ‘Ms W’ was called back to the witness box to give an account of events after she had been assaulted. She had already described the assault in testimony I missed by arriving after the trial was already underway. It was during her testimony that I learnt that the Tim faced a second charge in this trial – a charge of indecent assault.
Tim, her husband, had assaulted Ms W at a bed and breakfast in the Dandenong Ranges, not far from their home. They had been staying there one Saturday night with their two year old daughter. An attempt, perhaps, to rekindle the romance in their marriage. During the argument that often results from such attempts, he had seized her by the throat and slammed her head against a wall then held her squeezing her throat until the anger management training he had taken through a local community organisation finally kicked in and he let go, then left, walking home. She had called the police; the triple zero call was replayed for the court.
She was visibly distressed as she recounted these events and as the triple zero call was replayed. She explained to the court that she hadn’t gone ahead with a formal complaint on the night of that attack because in the past Tim had threatened that if she ever reported that dirty little family secret to the Police, he would kill her. He had, on one occasion, threatened to cut the brake lines on her car.
It wasn’t until she went to the local police station the following day and discussed the situation with police there that she felt confident that she would have the protection she needed to bring charges against Tim. It was then that she raised the second charge at the trial, the charge of indecent assault.
I can’t tell you how the trial turned out; it was adjourned to a later date at around 12:30pm. When that later date came, I decided I wasn’t up to attending. Unless Tim manages to carry through on his past death threats and ends up in Victoria’s Supreme Court it’s unlikely that this case of family violence in a very ordinary, mainstream place will hit the major media.
Husbands like Tim are nowhere near as rare as we would prefer to think; according to the Victoria Police report of Crime Statistics for 2012/13:
Prior to 31 August 2004, approximately 15% of assaults were family incident-related. Since the introduction of the Code of Practice for the Investigation of Family Violence, launched on 31 August 2004, this figure has risen steadily, and in 2012/13, family incident-related assaults accounted for 43.2% of all assaults. The Code of Practice was a program designed to improve police responses to family violence incidents and encourage community confidence to report these offences to police.