Rallying against violence

Southern Downs Mayor Hamilton marched with councillors Cynthia McDonald, Sheryl Windle, Morwenna Harslett, Russell Wantling and Joel Richters.

By Lucy Waldron

Across the nation, a growing chorus of voices are demanding action against domestic violence and violence against women.

As the number of women killed by the hands of a man ticks over to 30 in the first five months of the year, people are lining the streets in protest, telling their stories and calling out for change.

On the first Wednesday of May, marking the onset of Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) Prevention Month, over a hundred Warwick community members took to the streets, marching from the Town Hall to the Uniting Church Hall in a display of unity.

Led by Warwick Safe Haven, the event drew attention to the pervasive issue of domestic violence, with president Bette Bonney rallying attendees to raise their voices for change.

“Here in this small corner of the world, at this gathering, we are a voice,“ she said.

Sergeant Sharon Morgan, in a deeply personal address, shed light on the reality of DV statistics, recounting her own harrowing journey from victim to advocate.

“The number of DV occurrences recorded annually has nearly doubled from 2017 to 2023,“ she said.

“And whilst we continue to see a rise in DV occurrences, the statistics show that survivors are increasingly accessing the right to protection and gaining the courage to report incidents.”

Sgt. Morgan highlights the work the Queensland police do in responding to DFV matters with the number of investigations well over the thousands.

But what hit harder than the almost unfathomable numbers was Sgt Morgan’s life story.

With a hand to her stomach and a deep breath, Sgt Morgan spoke about a little girl who watched a burly policeman talk in front of her class, unknowingly that it would be another burly policeman that would end her years of torment.

In her teenage years, the girl became infatuated with the boy with the smile who spoke about settling down with someone, treating her like a Disney princess and creating a life with her.

“It was that man who took it upon himself to slap that young woman so hard with the back of his hand for her to fall to the ground and her braces to snap through her lip,” Sgt Morgan said.

“That instance, the first of many, took place on the first night they moved in together and was an unjustified response to being asked not to smoke in the house.”

Sgt Morgan continues to tell the story of the girl who fell pregnant with this man’s children three times and tried to leave four times.

The final time was when the family moved to Cairns for Sgt Morgan’s first stationing as a policewoman. Someone had called the police due to Sgt Morgan’s screams to having coffee thrown on her.

“Like the time when I was a child, I was met with a big burley sergeant who told me this ends now.”

From then her career thrived and she made it her goal to help as many people in similar situations as possible.

“I am here in front of you, sharing my story because I want you to know that you have the power to make change.

“We know it takes 10 attempts for DV victims to leave… but the support is there now.”

Jo Rathmell, coordinator for Protea Place also spoke and she provided information about the organisation’s role within the community.

“You all know the statistics, one woman every four days dies to violence,” Ms Rathmell said.

“It is part of my role at Protea Place to support, guide and affirmation to women in our community who have become homeless due to circumstances like Domestic and Family Violence or the current rental crisis.

“Currently, we have 106 vulnerable or homeless women within Warwick that have utilised our services.”

The event garnered support from various quarters, including schools, community groups, and the Southern Downs Regional Council, reflecting a groundswell of solidarity in the fight against DV.

Southern Downs Mayor Melissa Hamilton commended Warwick Safe Haven for its tireless efforts towards prevention and recovery.

“We [councillors] know that as community leaders, we have to set the example of respect,” Cr Hamilton said.

Echoing the sentiments of the local community, the Queensland Government has launched a campaign to end coercive control during Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month 2024.

The initiative aims to raise awareness, support victims, and challenge harmful attitudes, led by Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath, Premier Steven Miles, and Minister for Women Shannon Fentiman.

As Queenslanders stand together to confront the scourge of domestic violence, the message is clear: united we stand against DV, offering hope and support to those in need.

Throughout May, Queenslanders are encouraged to participate in events aimed at preventing domestic and family violence, supporting victims, and challenging harmful attitudes and behaviours.

For immediate assistance or support, those impacted by domestic or family violence can contact 1800RESPECT for 24-hour support and guidance.