Teresa Bradford might still be alive if domestic violence services and courts had responded better, her family says.
Teresa Bradford might still be alive if domestic violence services and courts had responded better, her family says.

Family violence rising as courts 'say it's okay'

"VIOLENCE against women and children is at a crisis point - complacency is creeping in and it is costing lives."

After 30 years working with people who have experienced the worst types of abuse and violence, it takes a lot to shock Betty Taylor.

Yet the killings of 72 Australia women and 20 children in the past 11 months have shaken the Queensland Domestic Violence Death Review Tribunal member to the core.

Across the country, a total of 212 Australians have died as a result of alleged murder or manslaughter in 2018, with male violence accounting for almost 90 per cent of these deaths.

Domestic violence is still the main killer of women and children - at least 66 per cent of this year's 92 femicides and child deaths were perpetrated by loved ones.

During the past 12 months, there has been a steep increase in DV deaths compared the previous year.

While every case is shocking, a series of unrelated murder-suicides have highlighted the brutal lengths to which abusers will go. 

Photos of Jack and Jennifer Edwards
Jack and Jennifer Edwards were shot to death by their father.

In May, Peter Miles shot his four grandchildren - Ayre, Kayden, Rylan and Taye Cockman - as they slept in their beds at their home in Margaret River. He also killed their mum (his daughter) Katrina and their grandmother (his wife) Cynda, before ending his own life.

About eight weeks later, John Edwards used two legally gained high-powered pistols to kill his 13-year-old daughter Jennifer and her 15-year-old brother Jack before killing himself.

Today, Australians will take time to remember all women and children lost to violence as they join in the annual White Ribbon Day activities.

One of the highest profile events on the national anti-violence calendar, the day encourages men and boys to proactively reduce violence against women and girls.

Yet, this year's toll of violence has left experts fearing things will get significantly worse before they get better.

"There are a lot of campaigns - including White Ribbon - that are getting the message out about male violence in Australia," Ms Taylor says.

"But unless this messaging is backed up by tougher actions from the courts, police and policy-makers, we might as well be whistling in the wind."

Pressure is mounting on authorities to take a no-holds-barred approach to family abuse perpetrators.

Ideas include throwing abusers in jail as soon as they breach domestic violence orders, forcing perpetrators - not victims - out of the family homes and making offenders wear non-removable ankle bracelets that allow police to trace their movements in real time.

Domestic Violence Death Review Action Group member Betty Taylor speaks at the anti-domestic violence rally at the Brisbane court precinct on Thursday, April 14, 2016.  Photo Sherele Moody / APN NewsDesk
Domestic Violence Death Review Action Group member Betty Taylor speaks at an anti-domestic violence rally. Sherele Moody

Queensland Police has the ability to keep high-risk perpetrators under constant surveillance, with their GPS trackers alerting officers when the abusers approach exclusion zones.

Pushing for national change is David Nugent, who agrees there needs to be a much stronger emphasis on ensuring perpetrators' ability to cause harm is removed the moment they enter the legal system.  

Mr Nugent has been working with violent men for about 20 years. His organisation - The HEAVY M.E.T.A.L Group - runs behaviour change programs that are voluntary and designed to teach violent men to acknowledging their "destructive" habits in order to break the cycle of abuse.

Perpetrators who choose to take part are more likely to change than those forced to attend by courts, he believes.

"All of these guys who are going to programs after court are not changing because they are not willing to change their beliefs to minimise violence," Mr Nugent says.

"To put a stop to violence against women we have got to get men to choose to address the culture that allows violence to occur and continue."

Both Mr Nugent and Ms Taylor say unless perpetrators fear legal repercussions they will continue to inflict abuse on their loved ones and, in the worst of cases, victims will die

"The message is not getting through to the people who count," Ms Taylor says.

"If we are giving the message that 'domestic violence is never okay' and in the same breath the courts are just letting people walk, we are saying 'well actually, domestic violence is okay'."


The Sunshine Coast Vulnerable Persons Unit has been set up to reduce the rate of domestic violence.
White Ribbon Australia acting CEO Delia Donovan says services are "failing” Australia's most vulnerable residents. Thinkstock

Narelle O'Brien and her family are preparing for their second Christmas without Narelle's good mate and sister-in-law Teresa Bradford.

David Bradford murdered Teresa about eight weeks after he was charged with multiple violent offences against the 40-year-old mum of four.

The shocking and horrid assaults included Bradford taping Teresa's mouth shut, beating her so severely that she blacked out and dragging her by her hair across a floor.

Bradford was charged on November 28, 2016 and bailed by the Southport Domestic Violence Court on January 12, 2017.

Police knew Bradford was a danger to his former wife but they did not tell her he applied for bail, instead leaving that decision to a domestic violence agency.

Police also had no idea Bradford breached court orders to stay away from Teresa and that he "was on the Gold Coast for two days planning her death", Narelle says.

On January 31, 19 days after walking out of jail, 52-year-old Bradford broke into Teresa's home and beat her to death as she slept. He then killed himself.

Teresa's children were in the house throughout the deadly attack.

Narelle says Teresa was offered a place in a refuge but she turned it down, believing she was safe because Bradford "was behind bars" and because she was hoping to find long-term stable accommodation for her and the kids.

"Teresa would be here today if she was offered more than 'would you like to go to a refuge?'," Narelle says.

"The services should have moved her into a stable home so he couldn't find her, but nothing happened.

"She was having to call places to get help, only to be told over and over they couldn't help her.

"She was stuck."

Women falling through the cracks is a massive concern for anti-domestic violence advocates, with Narelle and Ms Taylor both lobbying policy-makers to move away from a "one-size fits all" approach to support for victims.

They say women who have disabilities, those from ethnic backgrounds, those who need immediate long-term accommodation, those who are negotiating the criminal and family law systems, women who are trying to meet Centrelink requirements for income support and women who are homeless struggle to get all their needs met by one single service.

"The first door they knock on needs to be the right door for all women," Ms Taylor says.

"Often women have to go to multiple agencies because they have such complex needs - they are not an easy fix and if this is not recognised they may go back to the abuser or not leave in the first place.

"We need flexible service delivery that responds to the diverse needs of diverse women."


Silhouette photo to go with Domestic Violence story.Photo: Rob Williams / Queensland Times
Tasmania Police have three high-risk perpetrators under constant surveillance, with their GPS trackers alerting officers when the abusers approach exclusion zones. Rob Williams

The situation is so dire that Narelle has set up her own not-for profit organisation in memory of Teresa.

Teresa Marie's Domestic and Family Violence United is in its early days, but the aim of the organisation is to provide a one-stop shop for victims who do not "fit into a neat package".

"We have started this organisation to fill the gaps," Narelle says.

"If Teresa had someone doing the leg work for her, finding the supports she needed like moving her out of her house and packing her up instead of being told 'I can't help you, contact this other person', things would be different.

"We want to take the complexity out of finding help so women don't feel like they have to stay."

White Ribbon Australia acting CEO Delia Donovan says there is no doubt services are "failing" Australia's most vulnerable residents. 

"Every jurisdiction has gaps and the system is failing women and children," Ms Donovan says.

"It is also failing to identify men's behaviour and the warning signs early enough to intervene.

"This is one of the most critical social issues facing our country, it is terror in our homes and in what should be our safe spaces."

The Queensland Government acknowledges that "one agency on is not always able to help clients so it is working to improve "integrated responses".

"That's why for example we are trialing eight integrated responses through high risk teams, to provide a wraparound service to victims," a government spokesperson said. - NewsRegional

News Corp journalist Sherele Moody is the recipient of the 2018 BandT Women in Media Social Change Maker Award and has multiple Clarion and Walkley Our Watch journalism excellence awards for her work reducing violence against women and children. She is also the founder of The RED HEART Campaign and the creator of the Femicide Australia Map.

*For 24-hour domestic violence support phone the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.