Motion – White Ribbon Day
Minister for Women, the Hon Jacquie Petrusma MP
27 November, 2014

Mrs Petrusma (Franklin – Minister for Women) – Madam Speaker, I begin by thanking the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Greens for their heartfelt words in support of this motion. I thank Lara Giddings and Cassy O’Connor for their willingness to work in partnership. For the first time in Tasmania all three political parties are standing together to say that violence against women, in whatever form it takes, is never acceptable.

I would also like to acknowledge everyone in the Gallery and online who are witnessing this historic occasion during these 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Thank you for joining us. By taking part in this motion today you are sending a strong message to all Tasmanians that we must break the silence. Violence against women must end and it should not take a woman having to die for family violence to get the attention or the campaign that it deserves.

White Ribbon Day was 25 November. It was fantastic to see so much heightened awareness and media attention about family violence on that day. However, 25 November has now come and gone and once again we will have silence if we do not keep speaking out. The reality is, for those on a daily basis who live with the trauma of family violence for 365 days a year, they have no silence, no peace, no safe place, because they live in a world of constant fear, hurt and pain. It is for these women that we are taking a stand today by saying enough is enough.

We are here today to change the statistics, to break the silence, challenge the attitudes and to take a major step forward in making family violence in Tasmania history. It would be wonderful to ignite the flame that results in Tasmania being the one place in the world where women and men, boys and girls can truly be free from violence.

Over the last couple of days I have read comments about how the number of incidents of family violence has declined in Tasmania. Even if there was only once incident of family violence in Tasmania, that is one incident too many. However, sadly, family violence is not just one incident. In the year 2013-14 we had 2 376 reported incidents of family violence. We also had 1 691 reported family arguments, making a total of 4 071 events. Back in 2004-05 total events were 4 095, so in nearly 10 years we have decreased by only 24 events. This means we cannot be silent on family violence, instead we need to break the silence.

By comparison, in the 2013-14 year there were 292 serious road accidents, which includes death and serious injury on Tasmanian roads. As a result of these road statistics we have campaigns and a lot of action about preventing road accidents, and rightly so. Any accident, injury, trauma or casualty, however it occurs in Tasmania, has a major ripple effect. It affects individuals, families, relatives, friends, workplaces and the community, therefore road safety is very much worthy of major awareness-raising campaigns.

But shouldn’t the thousands and thousands of women and children who too have been seriously injured and their lives destroyed, broken or traumatised forever as a result of family violence, be just as worthy of us continuing to speak out? What concerns me about this silence in regard to family violence is that for every woman who ends up reporting an incident there are many others who will always be too scared, frightened or ashamed to take the first step to report. As we know, of the women who have experienced violence from an ex-partner, 58 per cent have never contacted the police, so we can straight away double the statistics we already have.

The number of incidents and arguments also do not tell us about the large number of total family members involved. When you add in the large number of children we are talking about many thousands of Tasmanians impacted by family violence, therefore reducing violence against women and children must be our long-term goal. However this can only be achieved by changing the social norms and traditional gender role attitudes, whether held by women or men, which are associated with greater acceptance of violence against women and children.

We only have to look at the recently released national community attitudes towards violence against women survey that showed an alarming number of Australians are ready to excuse rapists and men who control, intimidate, bash and, worse, kill women, with many still apportioning blame to the victim. Sixty-four per cent of Australians also think that the main cause of violence against women is because men are not able to manage their anger. What alarms me the most about this statistic, especially after watching the film Sin by Silence on Monday night, is the fact that the same men are usually able to keep their anger under control at work, with their friends or in social settings.

We should always remind ourselves that if we condone or excuse violence we are saying it is okay for our’s or somebody else’s mother, daughter, sister or friend to experience violence in all its forms – verbal, emotional, physical, sexual or economic. What sort of message is this sending our young people, especially when we know the frightening statistics that show us that one in four children are exposed to family violence? Sadly, family violence does not respect how good or bad you are, your social status, your economic or academic background. The one-in-three statistics mean the chances are there is someone you know who is living or has lived their life in fear.

Today I have permission to share one incredible inspirational survivor’s story, my chief of staff Suzie Jacobson’s own experience with family violence. Suzie is one of those amazing women who you describe as having it all – a successful public life and a great sense of fun. She is an incredibly astute, intelligent and dedicated hard worker and a rock for many, especially me, but behind the scenes she led a domestic nightmare which all came to a head exactly seven years ago in November 2007 when on trying to leave the relationship she was attacked in her own home by the man who was once her partner. Suzie’s throat was cut and she was also hit and seriously injured across the top of her head with a kitchen knife. She was held hostage and tortured for four hours and, as her voicebox had been severed, she could only whisper and beg for an ambulance to be rung. As she tried to hold a scarf around the gaping wound in her neck to stop the bleeding she said to her attacker, ‘I’m dying’ and he said, ‘Yes, you are’. Suzie only managed to escape when her assailant finally fell asleep at 3 o’clock in the morning, when she managed to creep from her house and wake up her neighbour.

After spending a week in ICU and a month in hospital, she was told that if the ambulance had not arrived when it did she would only have lived for about another 20 minutes due to the large amount of blood loss and the swelling in her throat, as she could hardly breathe. Suzie thought she would never talk again. It took six months and a lot of speech pathology for her to get to where she is now, but her magnificent voice will never be the same again.

One year after the attack Suzie had to face her attacker again, this time for two weeks in a court trial where she had to listen to people defending why this atrocity had happened to her and why her attacker did what he did. Thankfully her attacker was sentenced to eight years jail after being found guilty of attempted murder. He has now served his term and been deported. While Suzie has got on with her life and is determined that she now be seen as a survivor rather than a victim, there is no doubt that the events of that night will never leave her. As she said to me, ‘I went through four hours of hell and I’ll live with that for the rest of my life. I am different. I am a changed person’. I say to you all that Suzie J is the most beautiful, grounded person and in my job I literally kiss the ground she walks on. She is my rock in my job and she motivates me each and every day to get out there and do what I can so that no other woman in this state goes through what she went through.

What we can take from survivor’s stories such as Suzie’s is that we never know who has been a survivor of family violence or who is going through it right now. We wear a public mask to cover it all up because of this cone of silence. I know people who meet Suzie today for the first time would never think she had been a victim because she is so confident, gorgeous and excels at what she does.

Despite how horrific Suzie’s story is, in the 2007-08 family violence statistics she is just recorded as one of the thousands of women as simply an ‘incident’, but as Suzie’s example shows, every incident has a horrific story behind it. That is why we need to break the silence of family violence, because the reality is that when we look at the statistics, someone somewhere in your life is an abuser, which means that someone somewhere in your life is a victim. All of us here, now that we know the statistics and know that behind each and every one of those statistics there is a horrific story, need to stand together to break the silence by saying enough is enough. Violence against women and their children must end.