This year, 62 women have died as a result of domestic violence and until a week ago, it barely rated a mention.
“When two people were taken by a shark in one month, we were almost having a national dialogue,” the chief executive of frontline support organisation DV Connect, Di Mangan, lamented.
“Yet every month, six women die and from what we have heard, every week three women are hospitalised for head injuries,” she said.
“When are we going to call this an epidemic?”
Sadly, it has taken last week’s horrific events, where two women lost their lives in public and violent assaults, to put domestic and family violence on the public radar.
In a rare display, it has also unified both sides of politics.
On Tuesday, the state government shuffled its bill program to prioritise domestic violence reforms, with Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath introducing the measures that afternoon and the Opposition indicating its support.
The legislative changes include upping the jail terms for breaching domestic violence orders, increasing support staff numbers, establishing strangulation as a separate criminal offence and granting domestic violence victims special witness status so they won’t have to testify in front of their alleged attacker. These have been sent for review and are expected to be passed next month.
While politicians spent the morning sharing personal stories, LNP MP Deb Frecklington said equally disturbing to the horrific acts of violence were the events that went unreported.
“I am very aware that for rural and regional Queensland, this issue has dire consequences,” she said.
“In the South Burnett Magistrate Simon Young has just completed a study into the effects of domestic violence before his court. “Unfortunately, in the Nanango court in 63 per cent of domestic violence applications, children are affected.”
Ms Frecklington talked about the dedicated and free domestic violence and family law Regional, Rural and Remote Advice Line offered by Women’s Legal Services and additional nightly services funded by the previous government for rural and regional women.
“They now have access to a dedicated phone line, and that number is 1800 457 117.
“Before that dedicated rural phone line was put in place, it was up to individual solicitors in small country towns like me to take those calls on a Sunday night because there were so few of us to provide any services.”
Last September, Ms Frecklington was with former premier Campbell Newman when Dame Quentin Bryce launched the bipartisan commissioning of the Not Now, Not Ever report.
Earlier this year, the Palaszczuk government adopted all 140 recommendations.
“This issue is not about politics. We need a culture change; we need an attitude change and we need to work together,” Ms Frecklington said.
For rural and regional Queensland, the challenges are very different and were recognised in the Not Now, Not Ever report.
Phoebe Kahlo, regional, rural and remote lawyer for the Women’s Legal Service based in Brisbane, opens a dedicated phone line for rural Queensland every Tuesday.
“We know there are higher rates of unreported domestic violence in regional, rural and remote parts of the state,” she said.
Between 2006 and 2012 there were 23 deaths in Queensland a year linked to domestic and family violence – 44 per cent of the state’s homicides for that period.
Despite numerous reports into the issue, including a senate inquiry last year, little has changed except for an increased demand for services.
“It is difficult to deal with because to meet the demand for services more funding is required,” she said.
The Not Now, Not Ever taskforce noted that on average there were 181 domestic violence incidents reported to Queensland police a day.
“It is staggering,” Ms Kahlo said.
The Women’s Legal Service, which has been operating since 1984 and provides free legal services to those who can’t afford it, has assisted more than 60,000 women in that time.
In this financial year it has helped 3700 women, but data indicated more than 20,000 women were still in need of the service but could not get through due to limited resources.
It has been struggling to survive, with demand for its services jumping by more than 40 per cent in the three-month period since the release of the Task Force Report, and with staff unable to answer the more than 2000 calls for help each month.
It was thrown a lifeline this week, with the Premier assuring there would be additional funding.
Two in every five of calls are from women in rural and regional Queensland, but without the extra funding, the organisation is only able to answer about 5pc of all phone calls.
“There is an under-resourcing of support services, including women’s shelters, and a limited number of specialist legal centres,” Ms Kahlo said.
In a state of about 1.9 million square kilometres, there were only nine community legal centres that provided a free domestic violence legal advice “and that is not enough”.
“Women in rural areas experience increased vulnerabilities. There is the physical and geographical isolation, the distance between police, and lack of access to legal advice, so it makes it difficult for women to escape,” Ms Kahlo said.
Underpinning this was the fact the violence was linked to the broader issue of gender inequality, and these traditional values tended to be more prevalent in rural and regional areas.
There was also the lack of privacy and heightened visibility in smaller communities, with women often too frightened to go to the police, or visit the lawyer on the main street of town.
“If a woman sees a legal practitioner, she will likely be seen and this is highly dangerous, which means she may not leave. That is why services like ours are needed.
“There is also social isolation, which is exacerbated by women living alone with their partner, and they are more likely to be kept under surveillance. It is particularly complicated when the family is living together and working together, so there is no space and no time to reach out for support.”
There was also the issue of gun ownership, Ms Kahlo said. “The threat or use of firearms is a real issue, but this is compounded by the fact they are needed on the land.
“Many women are frightened that if they get a protection order, gun licences will be lost and that is bad for the business.”
Although addressing domestic violence could appear overwhelming, Ms Kahlo said the first step was for women to know there were services providing free and specialist assistance.
Top 4 tips for change
FOUR things men can do to prevent domestic violence:
1 Look at your own attitudes and behaviour – do you treat women differently or expect them to act differently? Ask yourself why.
2 Call out controlling behaviour. If your mate or family member behaves in a controlling manner talk to them about it.
3 If you hear a sexist joke or your mate talking about women in a disrespectful way, say something.
4 Teach your sons to respect females as their equal.