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One woman each week is killed by her partner – and around 650 family violence matters occur each day around the nation.
In recent times, our politicians and the media have highlighted the gravity of Australia’s domestic violence problem. Earlier this year, Rosie Batty was appointed Australian of the Year, and she has since used her standing to advocate for an end to domestic violence.
While these initiatives represent a positive step in the fight against domestic violence, there have been numerous allegations that the police – who are responsible for responding to domestic violence calls – are not taking the claims of victims seriously.
Over the weekend, 19-year-old Sydney woman Ashlee Savins was allegedly assaulted by her boyfriend, 21-year-old Justin Toro after the couple had an argument in the woman’s Oxley Park home in the early hours of the morning.
Ms Savins alleges that her partner punched her twice in the face, causing a broken nose and a chipped tooth. She sought help from her housemate, who called the police. Photos taken soon after the incident show her with a bloodied face.
According to Ms Savins, attending police were initially supportive and conducted an interview with her at Nepean Hospital, where she was being treated for her injuries. But when she followed up the next day, police said they were unable to press assault charges because it was her word against his, and there was no supporting evidence. Mr Toro had claimed she had sustained the injuries by falling on her face.
The inaction was in spite of Ms Savins providing a dental report which indicated that her injuries could not have been sustained in a fall – together with a copy of Facebook messages between her and Mr Toro after the incident, where he begs her: ‘Ashlee please don’t tell anyone I can’t get done for this I’ll lose everything.’
According to Ms Savins, police told her that she could submit the messages and ‘they’d look at them but can’t guarantee anything further will be done.’
Furious at the police response, Ms Savins’ housemate posted about the ordeal on the Facebook page for St Mary’s LAC, writing:
‘My housemate was assaulted on Friday night by her boyfriend resulting in a broken nose and chipped front teeth. Despite calling you the night of the attack, making statements and the medical reports on top of his messages admitting his guilt she has been told nothing can be done because nobody witnessed it…’
The post was soon shared by Ms Savins’ friends – and prominent feminist Clementine Ford also shared it with her 94,000 followers.
This prompted a barrage of abuse from others outraged by the lack of police action. Police have since issued the following statement:
‘Police are investigating the full circumstances surrounding an alleged domestic assault that occurred about 12.45am on Saturday 12 December 2015 at an address in Oxley Park. Both parties have been formally interviewed and follow-up inquiries are continuing with the investigation.’
Ms Savins believes that police are only taking action after ‘getting bad press.’
Ms Savins’ story follows countless other reports of police failing to take action against serious allegations of domestic violence – with many complainants reporting a lack of consistency in the police approach – with some people being charged on little or no evidence, while others are ignored despite substantial evidence being available to support their claims.
A recent parliamentary committee found that domestic violence complainants in Western Australia felt ‘blamed and judged’ when dealing with police, stating:
‘The lack of consistency in response by officers was a recurring theme in evidence to the community…The sense that a victim’s satisfactory experience may be due to ‘the luck of the draw’ is worrying…That is not to say that the majority of police are neither well-intentioned nor willing to take action, but what emerges from the evidence is that they are often inadequately trained to deal with the complexities of family and domestic violence, unaware of WA Police policy, and labouring under extreme workloads.’
Angela Hartwig, who heads the WA Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence said that many reports from complainants did not result in an ‘effective police response.’
Despite police publically encouraging domestic violence victims to ‘come forward’ and report incidents to police, failures to act where there is significant evidence can be deeply discouraging for vulnerable people experiencing domestic violence.
As stated by Ms Savins’ housemate, ‘this is why women are failing to report and even dying due to domestic violence.’