The Courier-Mail was this week granted access to a domestic violence court and shockingly violent perpetrators referenced Rowan Baxter’s horrific crimes
The Courier-Mail was this week granted access to a domestic violence court and shockingly violent perpetrators referenced Rowan Baxter’s horrific crimes

‘You’re going to drive me to it’: A day in a DV court

SITTING in the waiting room outside Brisbane's domestic violence court is a stark reminder that this scourge knows no societal barriers.

A professional young woman in high heels sits typing on a laptop, a young man in thongs and boardshorts paces back and forth, an elderly woman in a wheelchair sits with her head in her hand and a middle-aged man dressed in a tailored suit stares out the window.

Every age, gender and socio-economic status is represented in this waiting room and all of these people are either victims or perpetrators of domestic violence - in some cases they're both.

The Courier-Mail was granted special access by the Chief Magistrate to go behind the closed doors of our usually private domestic violence court this week.

Gold Coast woman Tara Brown was murdered in a horrific domestic violence attack. Picture: Instagram
Gold Coast woman Tara Brown was murdered in a horrific domestic violence attack. Picture: Instagram

Tara Brown, Hannah Clarke, Fabiana Palhares - these are some of the high-profile faces of our state's domestic violence toll.

Each of these women suffered horrific deaths at the hands of their violent partners in the most extreme manifestation of domestic violence. But for every Hannah Clarke, there are thousands more victims whose names we will never know and whose story will never be told.

Men and women who suffer physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse at the hands of a partner, sibling, child or parent.

On the day we're allowed access to the court, it's one of the two police applications days held each week in the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

Police applications are brought by the Queensland Police Service to request the court impose a protection order to safeguard someone suffering abuse. Often this happens after they've been called to a domestic dispute.

A standard protection order outlines several conditions the respondent needs to abide by including that they be of good behaviour and not commit domestic violence against the aggrieved, that they are prohibited from approaching within 100m of the victim, that they not make phone contact and they are prohibited from locating, attempting to locate or asking someone else to locate the victim.

But every case is different and the presiding magistrate can add conditions that they think will help the aggrieved.

On the day we're allowed access, a woman's ex-husband has been threatening violence.

But he's also been intermittently shutting down the woman's business website which impacts her ability to earn money so the magistrate builds a condition into a protection order prohibiting the respondent from manipulating the website.

 

Hannah Clarke died at the hands of estranged husband Rowan Baxter – as did her children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3.
Hannah Clarke died at the hands of estranged husband Rowan Baxter – as did her children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3.

On this day there are 35 cases on the list - an average day, sometimes it's much higher, sometimes slightly less.

Domestic violence does not have a one size fits all solution and for the magistrates who oversee these cases it's a minefield of conflicting stories and what-ifs.

On this one day alone the magistrate had to make 35 consecutive decisions in cases that are anything but straight forward and, as we've tragically seen, can be a case of life and death.

They say there are two sides to every story but in cases of domestic violence, it can extend well beyond that, with the police, support agencies, victims, perpetrators, children and lawyers all playing a role in building a picture that helps the court make its decision.

For many people the immediate image that comes to mind when they hear the words domestic violence is of a woman being physically attacked by a man.

But domestic violence extends well beyond that.

On this day there are plenty of violent partner relationships in court, but there is also a case of a man physically abusing his mum, a case of a woman accused of glassing her partner, and a case of a boy who attacked his brother.

 

The parents of murdered Camp Hill mum Hannah Clarke at a memorial for her and her three children. Picture: Jono Searle/Getty Images
The parents of murdered Camp Hill mum Hannah Clarke at a memorial for her and her three children. Picture: Jono Searle/Getty Images

While for most Queenslanders the horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children in Brisbane last month was an unthinkable and deplorable act, for some perpetrators, men like Rowan Baxter have become a martyr.

Shockingly in two of the cases we saw come before the court, the violent perpetrators referenced Baxter's horrific crimes, claiming the murderer was in fact a victim.

In one matter police sought a rigorous order to protect a woman and her two children from ex-husband who had been "relentlessly" contacting her and making threats.

His last message was at 1.30am on the morning of the court appearance threatening that if no order was made he would come to her house and nothing would stop him.

Disturbingly, the court heard on February 22, three days after Hannah Clarke and her children were ambushed, doused in petrol and set on fire, the man in this case made threats to do the same thing.

"The most concerning one (threat) was made around February 22 where he said 'I'm going to f---ing kill you, did you hear the Police Commissioner say that woman drove him to kill her, you're going to drive me to it as well'," the woman's lawyer told the court.

Obviously the Police Commissioner never said that and the man was grasping at an out of context headline. But the facts didn't matter.

In another case the offender allegedly took things a frightening step further, going to his partner's home and dousing petrol on her back deck as she watched in horror from inside the house.

The court heard it was the most recent crime in a long line of abuse she had suffered in the three-year relationship.

 

Women hold placards at a rally against domestic violence. Picture: Evan Morgan
Women hold placards at a rally against domestic violence. Picture: Evan Morgan

According to police, the woman had been strangled twice by the man before.

He systematically hurts her whenever she passes him - shoving her injured shoulder to cause maximum pain and being called names like stupid or useless c---, f---wit, lazy, controlling and crazy are part of her daily life.

Last week, the man, who is already the subject of a domestic violence order with a previous partner, was allegedly caught in the woman's bedroom rifling through her purse to get money for cigarettes. When she told him no, he pinned her to the bed and abused her, threatening to hit her.

"The next day he came around to my house and I could see him through the front window with a jerry can full of petrol," she told police.

"This frightened me because the day before he told me that men get driven to do things like the murder by fire in Camp Hill … because of what women do to them.

"He walked around the back of my porch with the petrol and spilt it all over the back porch area and this terrified me, he eventually left in his car."

The man has denied the incident and a protection order was put in place by the court to keep him away from the woman. The order was a relief for that victim. But not every case is the same.

 

Mourners lay flowers during a vigil to remember murdered mother, Hannah Clarke and her three children at Bill Hewitt Reserve in Camp Hill on February 23, 2020 in Brisbane. Picture: Jono Searle/Getty Images
Mourners lay flowers during a vigil to remember murdered mother, Hannah Clarke and her three children at Bill Hewitt Reserve in Camp Hill on February 23, 2020 in Brisbane. Picture: Jono Searle/Getty Images

In some cases the victims of domestic violence don't want intervention.

One woman whose case was mentioned while we were in court begged police not to get involved, saying she was in love with the perpetrator. Last Friday the woman was subjected to a violent attack while travelling in a car at Red Hill. When she tried to escape, the man put her in a headlock and dragged her back to the car and drove off.

A short time later police were called by a member of the public who saw the man hitting the woman in the head. On this day she was slapped, punched, choked thrown to the ground and dragged back to the car while witnesses desperately tried to intervene.

But when police arrived, the woman said she didn't want any action taken against the man because "she is in love with him".

"Police hold serious concerns for the personal safety of the aggrieved in relation to this matter," police said.

Despite her protests to police, the court imposed the protection order.

These are just some of the complicated situations our courts deal with every day across the state.

 

WHERE TO TURN FOR HELP

1800RESPECT - 1800 737 732

This is a 24-hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and or sexual assault.

Lifeline - 13 11 14

This national number can help put you in contact with a crisis service. Anyone across Australia experiencing a crisis or thinking about suicide can call 13 11 14.

Men's Referral Service - 1300 766 491

This service from No to Violence offers assistance, information and counselling to help men who use family violence. Call if you would like help with male behavioural and relationship concerns.

Mensline Australia - 1300 789 978

Supports men and boys who are dealing with family and relationship difficulties. 24/7 telephone and online support, information service for Australian men

Kids Help Line - 1800 551 800

Free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25 in Australia.

Relationships Australia - 1300 364 277

Support groups and counselling on relationships, and for abusive and abused partners.


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