In the six years I’ve been writing about domestic abuse, I’ve lost count of the horror stories victim-survivors have told me about police. I’ve also sat with many who say a cop saved their life.
Maybe that’s why I can’t get this quote out of my head. It’s from an anonymous senior sergeant in rural Victoria, who was surveyed for an academic study on policing attitudes: ‘Family violence is … a love or hate thing,’ they said, ‘[police officers] are either fine to do it or they hate it. Because it’s a grey area and it’s not that fun like it is to go and catch a crook … It’s not as black and white.’
This senior sergeant is describing the front-desk lottery. When a victim walks into a police station, or has the cops show up on their doorstep, they have no idea whether that cop will protect and support them or dismiss and even blame them. Police chiefs might say all the right things about family violence, but the fact remains: our police response to domestic abuse is inconsistent at best, and dangerous—even fatal—at worst.
Eleanor, also from Victoria, survived years of coercive control, as well as horrific physical and sexual violence from the father of her children. The goriest parts of her trauma will not be relayed here, but this single anecdote telegrams the threat and depravity of her husband: ‘I remember the paint colour that Luke had picked out for the hallway—it was called shipwreck blue, which I find quite ironic now, because that described our relationship. Luke came home and noticed that I had spilt two drops of paint on the hallway carpet. I remember this vividly: I was standing on the tiles and Luke screamed at me, grabbed me by the hair and shoved my head into the carpet where the drops of paint were. He screamed at me, “Look what you’ve done, you stupid fucking dumb slut.”’ When Eleanor told him she was leaving, he told her he would kill her and throw her into a dam. She had no reason to doubt him.
The day she left, Eleanor went straight to a police station to report her husband’s abuse. She said was leaving with the kids, and that she was afraid. The policeman on the front desk said, ‘Oh, great, I wish more women would do what you’re doing now’, but didn’t write anything down. The next time Eleanor heard from police, they were calling to say her husband had reported her and the kids as missing. ‘So, I had to present to the police station to prove that me and the children were not in fact missing. And this guy I got on the counter was really arrogant. He was like, ‘Well, maybe he just wants to see his kids.’ Eleanor asked her mum, who had come with her, to go outside for a minute. ‘Then I whispered to the guy and said, “But he raped me, I can’t go back.” And he said to me, “What do you want me to do about it?” And I just looked at him, and said, “I don’t want you to do anything about it.” And I walked out.’
Eleanor went to court, got an intervention order, and then contacted police for a third time. The cop she spoke to on the phone took a brief statement and told Eleanor she would speak to the senior detectives. ‘She rang me back and said, “Look, I’ve spoken to the guys upstairs and they’ve just sort of said, have you really thought about this? Are you sure you want to go down that path? Do you really want your children to know that their father’s a rapist?”’
Eventually, after going back to police a fourth time, Eleanor met a senior constable who finally took her seriously, and sat with her on several occasions, over many months, to take her statement. ‘If it wasn’t for her, it would never have got to where it did. Even just the process of doing that statement was really good for me. By the end of it, I felt validated. That policewoman and her colleague were the polar opposite of the other police I dealt with.’ Eleanor’s ex-husband was charged with 13 separate offences, including rape and assault. The only change for which Luke was convicted was for recklessly causing injury ‘the day he kicked me with his steel-capped boots while I was on the floor wrapping Christmas presents for our children’. When he was deemed unsuitable for a men’s behaviour-change program (after becoming enraged during the evaluation), the magistrate gave him a conviction and a two-month suspended sentence.
The cops who ‘love’ responding to family violence and protecting victims are exceptional. They know how fraught it can be for victims when police show up on their doorstep, and they don’t expect the red carpet. Their assistance doesn’t hinge on whether a victim is polite or cooperative. They give out their personal numbers in case victims want to make a statement after hours. They deal with extremely complex cases, where the line between perpetrator and victim is near impossible to discern. Their senses are prickly to the sinister signs of coercive control: surveillance, isolation, degradation, compliance, paranoia and fear. I’ve driven through the night with cops like this, on ‘ridealongs’ granted by police media to showcase their best responders. These are the cops police leaders want us to see as the norm.
There are more cops on the ‘love’ side than there used to be. They are scattered across local area commands like phosphorescence, specks of light for people trapped in the dark. In some areas, those scattered points of light clump together, and light the way for anyone who steps into the police station. But they are not yet the norm. That opening quote from the senior sergeant? It was gleaned in a general-attitudes survey of 204 Victorian police officers, who—in a rare act of candour—volunteered their honest opinions on family violence. ‘On the whole,’ concluded a later study of the survey, genuine ‘victims of family violence existed for officers only on a purely hypothetical plane, drowned out for the most part by a steady procession of imposters, liars and timewasters, presenting what were regarded as highly suspect claims to victim status’. Said one senior officer:
You’re an adult, do it yourself … [I]f you think he’s going to hit you, then leave. Don’t stay around and call us and expect us to come and kick him out of your house and do something proactive about it … That’s the most frustrating part about it … I refuse to regard them as a victim when they’ve got a say in what actually happens to themselves.
Here’s what it looks like when you report abuse to a cop on the wrong side of the love–hate divide. It looks like Olga Edwards walking into Hornsby Police Station in December 2016 to report that her husband, John, had physically attacked their two kids. It looks like the senior constable on that front desk wrongly recording Olga as the victim, writing off her serious allegations of child abuse as ‘no incident recorded’, and noting that Olga may have been making a vexatious report in order to influence Family Court proceedings—based on nothing more than a report made by John himself months earlier. It looks like a senior constable with 18 years on the force who has never read the standard operating procedure for domestic violence.
It looks like John Edwards—a man with a 40-year history of violence and intimidation towards six former partners and ten children—getting a gun licence because a police database report had failed to pick up on the 15 recorded incidents of assault, intimidation and stalking. It looks like John legally purchasing five weapons, hiring a car to disguise himself, stalking his daughter on her way home from school to find out their new address, and shooting his teenage kids, Jack and Jennifer, as they clung to one another underneath Jack’s bedroom desk. It looks like Olga living in that house for months afterwards ‘because it still had some of Jack and Jenny in it’. It feels like pain too unbearable to survive. It looks like Olga suiciding five months later.
I could list case after case where procedural errors, bias, victim-blaming and negligence from police have been links in a chain that led to women and children being murdered. That this is still the case can come as a shock to people who need police protection. After their mother, Joy Rowley, was murdered by her estranged partner—a man she was only briefly intimate with—her children released a chillingly blunt statement. ‘All our friends think you call the police when you’re in danger and they help you,’ it read. ‘We know that’s not how it works. It’s like Russian roulette, sometimes you get someone who will help. Sometimes, like mum, you get someone who doesn’t take you seriously.’ Joy’s children were clear: no amount of fiddling at the edges was going to fix this. ‘It’s the culture and the lack of accountability of police that needs to change.’
• • •
Frank Caridi knows what it’s like to live in fear. He grew up in a migrant Italian family with an abusive father in 1960s Australia, a time when ‘there was just no system for recognising domestic abuse’. He remembers one day fleeing the house on foot with his mother, and sitting with her on a stranger’s front fence. ‘I could see my mother’s mind going through her options as to what to do,’ he says. ‘As an immigrant, far from her family and with no person to turn to, she despairingly grabbed my hand and we went back home.’ As he grew older, Caridi started to intervene and provoke his father in order to redirect his anger away from his mother and towards him. ‘It was the only way I could help.’ Caridi decided that when he was old enough, he would find a way to protect people like his mother. ‘That’s why I joined the police,’ he says. ‘To help people.’
Until 2019, Caridi was a sergeant in the Victoria Police. He felt he had no choice but to retire after the inquest into the Bourke Street Mall attack, after calling out police for failing to stop James Gargasoulas when they had the chance. Caridi was on duty the day Gargasoulas stabbed his own brother. Caridi knew it would be dangerous to approach him in a marked police car; Gargasoulas had been involved in several high-speed police chases in the past. So he made several requests to the Critical Incident Response Team—which responds to armed sieges and violent offenders—to ‘box in’ Gargasoulas in unmarked cars. The CIRT refused to engage, assist or attend because there was no proof that Gargasoulas was still armed.
Nine hours later, Gargasoulas plowed his car into pedestrians on Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD, seriously injuring 27 and killing six people, including a three-month-old baby boy and a ten-year-old girl.
In a letter to Victoria Police published by the Age, Caridi said Victoria Police had ‘failed catastrophically’ in its mission to protect the public. ‘To this day, I am still troubled by the refusal from colleagues to assist in my desperate attempt to apprehend an unremorseful and unhinged murderer who, after savagely attacking his own brother with a knife, was left free to roam the streets and wreck [sic] havoc.’ After openly declaring his intention to criticise Victoria Police at the coroner’s inquest, he had to fight his employers in court for the right to choose his own legal advice (instead of lawyers already defending the police units he intended to criticise). When Victoria Police issued Caridi with a ‘certificate of appreciation’ for his actions on the day, acknowledging him for ‘embodying the highest standards and values of Victoria Police’, he sent it back.
Some may think Caridi has an axe to grind. But he didn’t seek out this interview. He contacted me privately to chat about my book See What You Made Me Do, and to share his thoughts on domestic abuse and problems within the police force. When I asked if he’d be willing to be interviewed about it, I didn’t expect him to say yes, despite his previous public comments. It’s still rare to hear a member of police, serving or retired, speak out publicly about the police, and rarer still for them to candidly and precisely assess why the force so often fails victims of domestic abuse.
Speaking to me via Zoom during the sixth week of lockdown in Melbourne, Frank Caridi was a picture of typical COVID-19 chic: big comfy tracksuit, dark hair slightly dishevelled, facial hair at lockdown o’clock. Like all Melburnians, he was only allowed to go outside for exercise for an hour each day. Aside from that, he was spending much of his time trying to organise a permit to travel interstate to help his parents: his mum, now 90 and in a nursing home, had fallen out of bed and fractured her hip, and his father, who manages her medication and washes her clothes, had broken his wrist.
During his 29 years in the force, Caridi was one of those cops who loved responding to family violence. ‘I was not there to win popularity contests,’ he says. ‘I was there to provide a service that was never offered to my mother. I don’t miss the culture of policing, but I do really miss helping people. I miss seeing the relief on victims’ faces when you tell them you are going to fix their problem and give them their life back. I miss being a “circuit breaker” for people who were at the early stages of a volatile relationship, but just couldn’t see it yet—whether they wanted me there or not.’ He saw family violence call-outs as the perfect opportunity to identify a problem and try to find a solution, whether that be pressing charges, applying for an intervention order, or referring the victim and perpetrator to specialist help. ‘I had a no-nonsense approach to domestic abuse,’ he said. ‘It was, you [perpetrators] need to either step up and fix this or walk away. Otherwise we will impose strict safeguards to prevent this escalating.’
Unfortunately, says Caridi, ‘a lot of police don’t see it that way. They think, This is a waste of my time, I’m just gonna write this off, or I’ll just write it down, downplay it, and move on. Job’s done. Let’s move on, and let’s go give out some tickets or something.’ As a supervisor, he would often attend domestic violence call-outs shortly after the first police responders had arrived, to review their decisions (as is police policy). ‘By the time you get there, they’ve already sort of worked out: Yeah, we’re going to write this off. You know, he’s going to go stay with his mate, she doesn’t want anything done. And as someone who’s gone through it, who can see the signs—that the energy in this house is volatile—I was always like, No, no, no, that’s not going to happen. He needs an order, and she needs some counselling.’
This wasn’t an occasional intervention. ‘I frequently had to direct subordinates to follow correct procedures,’ says Caridi, ‘constantly fighting a culture of downplaying an incident and ignoring warning signs in an attempt to avoid work that was seen as futile.’ This is not a straight condemnation of his peers. The police he’s talking about are predominantly on general duties, who tend to be ‘snowed under with all the work nobody else wants to do’. They’re not just responding to family violence, but road traffic, breath testing—the list goes on. ‘So there’s a lot of pressure,’ says Caridi, ‘and when you’re not coping, you find these areas where you kind of just go, I’m just gonna write this off, because I’ve got all this other stuff I’ve got to do. That’s the reality. And dealing with family violence does take time.’
As Caridi spoke, the testimonies of numerous victims swirled through my mind. The 38 times Kelly Thompson called police before her ex-partner murdered her. The everyday battles women would fight just to get the most basic protections, such as getting police to arrest their abusers for breaching intervention orders. Said one Queensland woman, Susan, in a survey of 65 victim-survivors, ‘I hate to use the term, but I feel I’m just getting cock-blocked everywhere.’ She was being threatened and had reported many protection-order breaches to police. ‘I said … to this [police officer] this morning … “you guys have ignored every single complaint [I] have made for the last six months and they’re just getting worse. His behaviour is escalating. What’s it going to take for me to be noticed? Do I have to show up here black and blue?”’
Showing up black and blue is exactly what police understand. As Susan continues: ‘A victim has suffered injuries? Easy, the offender is charged, an intervention order is issued … no dispute,’ says Caridi. ‘It’s the subtle, coercive control incidents that police—who reflect the wider community—find it difficult to accept as “real” domestic violence.’ At incidents like this, instead of focusing on the perpetrator’s unacceptable behaviour, Caridi says that many of his peers and subordinates would instead assess whether the victim was ‘worthy’ of their time:
You hear things like ‘she’s a scrote [worthless person]’, ‘they’re druggies’, ‘she’s as bad as him’, ‘she’s a rude bitch’. When the victim is in a heightened emotional state, making demands, acting resentful, or the couple is low-income, it all impacts the way the incident is managed. The end result is, ‘Why should I do her any favours?’ ‘This doesn’t deserve my time’ or ‘They’ll be back together in a couple of weeks anyway.’ There’s this culture where police feel: ‘I’m here to do you a service, and you’re yelling at me, you never called us in the first place. So that’s fine, you know, I’m not going to waste my time, if you’re not going to even appreciate it.’
So, they’ll write things off. Caridi frames the role of police with disarming clarity.
As police, we’re not there to ascertain whether the victim ‘deserves’ our help. The police work for the state, which has determined that this type of behaviour [domestic abuse] is socially unacceptable. When police see other socially unacceptable behaviour, like driving without a seatbelt, they’re happy to give out tickets. That person is hurting nobody but themselves, yet there is no question about giving out a ticket, because that behaviour is socially unacceptable. It should be the same with domestic abuse: in all its forms, it’s not socially acceptable, and therefore requires intervention.
Intervening was ‘never a waste of time’, says Caridi. Even if it only lasted a couple of days, for some perpetrators that would be the wake-up call they needed: a clear signal that their abuse was no longer a secret, and that there would be consequences if they didn’t stop. At the very least, it was vital to record even ‘low-risk’ incidents such as verbal abuse or evidence of stalking or surveillance. ‘Then we could monitor it to see how things go, and probably follow it up.’
It wasn’t the victims who made Caridi’s job difficult—even when they yelled at him, cursed him for showing up, or blamed him in court for starting trouble they never asked for. ‘As a policeman,’ he says, ‘I found the biggest obstacle was the organisation itself.’ The problem stems not just from an individual officer’s personal bias and frustration, but how their work is recognised and rewarded. ‘In performance reviews,’ says Caridi:
they don’t even look at how many domestic violence cases you’ve gone to, and what you’ve done to resolve it. They look at how many infringement notices you’ve issued, how many briefs for criminals you’ve processed. But family violence doesn’t even come into the equation. So, police kind of go, Why am I wasting my time doing all the paperwork for this? I could be out executing that warrant on that druggie or giving out tickets for people not wearing a seatbelt, but instead I’m stuck doing this, because these people can’t get their act together.
For his zero-tolerance approach towards family violence, Caridi says he was frequently told he was not a ‘team player’. He says:
On one occasion, I was counselled for putting a fellow sergeant on report regarding the way he wrote off an incident involving the domestic abuse of a child. It was around the same time that Luke Batty was murdered. I initiated an investigation and handed it to someone to follow through. I was then overridden by another supervisor, who just saw it as ‘surely a parent has a right to discipline their child, this is no offence, we’re writing it off’. I was absolutely appalled by it, so I went on paper and said, ‘Look, this is wrong, and needs to be addressed. We can’t do this.’ I was counselled over that, you know, I was dragged over the coals. Because you don’t question the brotherhood.
This is a familiar story for police who seek to hold other police accountable. In Queensland, senior constable Lyn Jones says she was targeted for investigation by the ethical standards committee after she made a statement supporting a victim’s compensation claim against Queensland Police for breaching her privacy. The policeman in question was Neil Punchard, whom Queensland Police kept on duty for several years after Julie, the victim, first complained that he had leaked her private details to Julie’s violent ex-partner, who was a former school friend of his.
Fearing for her family’s life, Julie was forced to move twice. Punchard, on the other hand, was defended by Queensland Police for several years, until a sustained campaign from Julie and the media finally moved them to bring charges against Punchard for nine counts of computer hacking. He pleaded guilty and was convicted in 2019, and sentenced to two months in jail, wholly suspended. That conviction was set aside in September 2020 by a magistrate who expressed concern for Punchard’s future job prospects if a conviction led to him being sacked by Queensland Police. Queensland Police are now appealing that decision. Caridi sees many of the elements of coercive control at the core of police culture.
A lot of it’s about, You will fall into line with how we are and what we do, or you’ll be outed. Years ago there was a culture of bullying. That’s an overt act. Can’t do that anymore. So it becomes a covert type of thing. You become ostracised. You don’t get recognised for doing anything of merit. Then they micro-analyse everything you do. And then when they’ve got enough of a list of things that you’ve done wrong, you get ambushed.
Caridi says the fundamental problem with the police response to domestic abuse is that the culture is incompatible with the crime.
Police culture is: Hey, I’m a policeman. I want to catch bad guys. I want to do death rolls over the bonnet of a car and run down the street and disarm a bomb in the middle of the main highway and save 100,000 people. I didn’t join to be a counsellor, or to sit here and get yelled at by the victim when I’m trying to do the right thing by her.
[Most first responders] want a quick fix: you’ve gone through a red light, here’s a ticket, problem solved. Or you’ve broken into a home, we’re going to interview you, arrest you—problem solved, gone. Family violence is a long-term thing that will have ebbs and flows. It needs constant re-evaluation and assessment. You can’t just go in, fix it, move on and be done. It really doesn’t work like that. It’s complex, and you need to go in without judgement—you need to realise there are a whole bunch of reasons why that victim keeps going back. That’s normal human behaviour. So these are totally difference processes, and we’re just throwing them into the same category. And it’s just not working.
• • •
Domestic abuse is core business for police. In Victoria alone, police responded to a record 88,214 family violence incidents in January to June 2020, which consumed 40–60 per cent of frontline police time. In some areas across Australia, the percentage is even higher. This is not just some niche task that some police resent doing—this is the number-one law and order problem in this country.
Senior leaders at Victoria Police have for years now spoken about family violence being a top priority. From Christine Nixon to Ken Lay and Graham Ashton, successive commissioners have changed protocols, increased training and delivered blunt statements to their workforce on the new, no-nonsense approach to policing domestic violence. In 2018 Victoria Police announced a new five-year strategy to pursue family violence ‘as urgently as terrorism’: family violence investigative units would be staffed with detective and intelligence practitioners, and 208 additional specialist family violence police were deployed across the state. There is trauma-informed training at the new Centre of Learning for Family Violence that focuses on explaining to police that coercive and controlling behaviours can be equally, if not more, traumatising for a victim than physical forms of violence.
Yet these problems persist. It is not the specialist officers, by and large, who are failing victims of domestic abuse. It is those frontline officers and old guys in middle-management who, no matter how much training they get, continue to ‘hate’ dealing with family violence.
I want you to consider a parallel. Imagine if a large percentage of firefighters resented putting out bushfires. They like riding in the truck and attending house fires, but they just hate bushfires. When they show up at a grassfire, they don’t reach for their hoses, but instead turn to each other and say, ‘Look, it’s not like the forest is on fire, it’s just a little grassfire. Let’s just leave it. It’ll probably burn out on its own. Besides, maybe the bloke who set this grass on fire had good reason to do it.’ If just one story like that hit the media, the nation would reel. There’d be calls for an immediate inquiry. The firefighters themselves would likely be fired, if not criminally charged.
So why doesn’t this happen? Because firefighters want to fight fires. That’s why they’re firefighters.
So why don’t we take the same approach to policing family violence? Why don’t we just accept that some police have neither the skill nor the will to deal with family violence? Those same police may be otherwise excellent at their jobs: they might do exceptional work investigating fraud or theft or other violent crimes. Why do we keep forcing them to do work they deeply resent? It’s not good for them, and it’s certainly not good for victims.
We have major structural problems in the way we deal with domestic abuse, including the fact that around 80 per cent of it goes unreported. Women don’t report for lots of reasons, but a big one is the feeling that police won’t take them seriously. Too often, their fears are well founded: it’s hard to get police interested unless there has been an assault, or there is a clear and direct threat of homicide. Even then it’s a crapshoot. But we also have a major structural problem in the police force: a good number of police in forces across the country simply did not join the police to respond to family violence, they resent having to do it and too often they put victims in increased danger.
There is a simple way to fix this, if we can look at the problem with fresh eyes. We don’t get cops to fight fires or drive ambulances, because that’s considered specialist work. So why don’t we just take the police who love responding to family violence—cops such as Frank Caridi, and so many others—and create a parallel force? I’m not talking about making specialist family violence units, but an entirely new family violence force: one in which the front desk is always manned by police with a complex understanding of domestic abuse and family violence.
This isn’t some utopian fantasy. It’s a proven model that’s existed across Latin America (and various other countries) for 35 years. They are known as ‘women’s police stations’, but according to Australian researcher Professor Kerry Carrington, their real name has been lost in translation. ‘The UN translated it wrong. The literal translation is “police for women and families”.’
Carrington spent three years studying how these stations work in Argentina, where they were first established in the 1980s, after the fall of Pinochet. She explains that:
They emerged in a period of redemocratisation in Latin America. In the 1980s, the military and police were seen as the most brutal violators of women—they were the ones who abducted them, raped them, tortured them. You know The Handmaid’s Tale? That’s partly based on Argentina, where young women were kept in captivity, made to have babies for officers, and then their babies were stolen. So, in the period of redemocratisation, they established women’s police stations, a gender policy unit, social development for women—a broad package of policy measures to end violence and inequality for women. It was about feminising an incredibly masculine culture, and to turn around this incredible hatred and distrust to police.
Today there are 128 women’s police stations in the capital, Buenos Aires, staffed by more than 2000 women’s police officers. Some are male, but each station is headed by a female cop.
These stations have all the powers of regular police—they conduct investigations, they can make arrests—but that’s where the comparison ends. Their structure is completely different—they report to the police minister via their own Commissioner for Women’s Police, not the head of the common police—and their mission is different too. Their primary purpose is not to enforce the law; it’s to protect the victims. ‘The police there are completely guided by what the woman wants to do,’ says Carrington. No matter is too trivial—they are there to listen and protect, not to decide whether a law has been broken. ‘If victims want them to, they will investigate and do what ordinary police do, make cases and go to the magistrate to get orders. The woman might want something else: she might just want them to go to her house with her and kick him out. Or they might want the police to go around and talk to him. They’re very victim-centred.’
Importantly, these police stations don’t look like police stations. Instead of a cold, grey room where the cop on the front desk is standing behind a protective screen, these ‘stations’ are usually converted houses, brightly painted, and furnished for comfort. There’s always a female cop on the front desk, and victims can access all of the services they need under one roof—lawyers, social workers, psychologists, financial and medical aid. ‘When you enter them, you go into a living room,’ says Carrington, ‘and there’s a separate room for children, where they will be cared for while women are interviewed.’ This specialist police force doesn’t wait for victims to come to them—they go out and find them:
They go to hospitals, and if there’s a woman who looks like she’s been beaten, they’ll go and ask her about it. They even stand outside churches when the congregations come out on Sunday, and hand out flyers that say ‘domestic violence is a crime’, and give them to women, saying, ‘If you ever want to talk.’ They’re just amazing—they’re not frightened of the local minister. They know where the pockets of resistance are.
The women’s police in Buenos Aires even organised a public march to end violence against women, which drew a massive crowd of 70,000 people. This community outreach is a big part of their power.
They form incredible links with the community. At Christmas time, they get in their police cars and take donated toys to children in the barrio. They have roving units that go to remote and rural areas of Argentina to hand out information. When you drive in a women’s police car it’s an amazing feeling—everyone’s waving and saying hello. They don’t do that to other police.
Across the world, women’s police stations are becoming increasingly popular. The model has spread to Bolivia, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Kosovo, Liberia, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda and Uruguay. In 2011 a UN Women evaluation found that in Latin America women’s police stations enhanced women’s access to justice, increased the likelihood of conviction, and gave women greater access to other services like counselling, health, legal, financial and social support. They were also incredibly well received by the community—in Brazil, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Peru the majority of people believed they had reduced violence against women.
This alternative system of policing is literally saving lives. A five-year study from Brazil, where these stations originated, showed barrios that hosted police stations for women saw their domestic homicide rate drop by 17 per cent. In metropolitan areas, the drop was much bigger: among women aged 15–24, domestic homicides were halved.
Carrington insists that establishing a parallel police force like this in Australia wouldn’t be expensive. They are there to respond to victims, not to detain perpetrators, so they don’t need cells. This means they can be set up virtually anywhere: ‘You can convert houses, units, churches, community halls—there’s all sorts of ways you can do it.’
This model of policing makes perfect sense to Frank Caridi. ‘Assign people who are committed to that job, and who have their training centred around that job. Make it a committed, dedicated service, as opposed to just something that’s thrown on top of everything else. That’s what makes sense to me.’ As a society, we need to confront some hard truths. Police—as they are now—cannot be relied on to protect women and children from violent men.
There is momentum in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia to criminalise coercive control, a course-of-conduct offence that would require police to investigate not just a single incident but the entire arc of the relationship—a move that could see controlling behaviour such as surveillance, isolation and financial abuse treated as seriously as physical violence. This is a vital development: coercive control is not only terrifying and traumatic for victim adults and children—the ‘worst part’ of the abuse, according to many—it is also the most reliable predictor of future homicide. In Scotland, where coercive control was criminalised in 2019, the crime and protection lead for Police Scotland Gillian MacDonald called the new offence ‘ground-breaking’: ‘For the first time, it will allow us to investigate and report the full circumstances of an abusive relationship.’
Criminalising coercive control would create more protections for victims whose perpetrators can’t be charged under current laws. As in Scotland, new laws can only be effective if police (and the judiciary) undergo face-to-face training. But even this is still just incremental change, at a time when domestic abuse is becoming more prevalent than ever.
A truly reformed policing culture—from which misogyny and victim-blaming attitudes are banished—will take years to eventuate, if that’s even possible. Women and children can’t afford to wait that long. They need a system they can rely on now. More to the point, there are police who want to do this work, and who are hindered by colleagues who don’t. We should make it easier for them to do it.
Jess Hill is an investigative journalist and author. Her debut book, See What You Made Me Do, is on domestic abuse in Australia, and was awarded the 2020 Stella Prize.