Western Australian family's domestic violence terror featured in Al Jazeera documentary
(ABC Great Southern: Karla Arnall)
Australia's "great shame" has been brought to international attention after broadcaster Al Jazeera documented a regional Western Australian family's experience with domestic violence.
The 26-minute feature, titled 101 East, Behind Closed Doors: Domestic Violence in Australia chronicles the story of Sandra Wolfe, now a spokeswoman for victims of intimate partner violence.
Her former partner, Mark Burt was jailed for five years after he ran her vehicle off the road in Albany in 2014.
Once he started using the drug, it went from him just smacking you every now and then to beatings and hurting mum really bad.
Aiden Burt, son
Footage of the dramatic incident was captured by another motorist, but as Ms Wolfe explains in the documentary, the violent episode was just one in a gradual process in which she was conditioned into submission by her former partner.
"He was always very controlling and wanting to know where I was at all times," Ms Wolfe said.
"I felt like I couldn't go out without asking permission to."
As she attempted to break free from his clutches, Ms Wolfe said the violence towards her and the couple's three children escalated.
"I started to stand up for myself more and he would get so annoyed and lash out," Ms Wolfe recalled.
"Then his attitude started to change; instead of being remorseful he was more like, 'You deserved it', and I viewed it as my fault."
Drug use escalated violent tendencies
The documentary also highlights Mr Burt's methamphetamine use and its compounding effect on violence aimed towards their children.
Aiden Burt explains the level of abuse in chilling honesty and the impact it had on the family.
"Once he started using the drug, it went from him just smacking you every now and then to beatings and hurting mum really bad," Aiden said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year committed $100 million to combat domestic violence, labelling it "Australia's great shame" and "a national disgrace".
Ms Wolfe said her involvement in the documentary was a chance for her children to share a side of the story that is often not told.
"It has helped us move on," Ms Wolfe said.
"It was a secret we kept for so long and [Aiden] found it difficult to talk about with a stranger and initially asked what he should say.
"I would just say, 'be honest' and in that way, it empowered him and gave him the first real opportunity he's had to deal with it."
Harsher penalties needed
The documentary also poses the question of whether increased awareness of the prevalence and consequences of domestic violence would "change the men who still think violence is ok".
"Hopefully it will, but it still seems violence is still very acceptable and we need people to be more understanding of victims," Ms Wolfe said.
"Instead of asking 'why did you stay' the question should be 'why didn't he stop?'"
Ms Wolfe also urged the judicial system to consider handing out "tougher sentences that mean something".
"The judges and ministers who do the sentencing, they need to 'man up' and hand out convictions that really fit the crime," she said.