Sarah Ferguson immerses herself in the world of domestic violence for a confronting but important doco.
How do you make a documentary about domestic violence and still make it palatable to an audience?
That’s the dramatic dilemma facing Sarah Ferguson in ABC’s 2 part doco Hitting Home.
Unquestionably, it’s a topic that needs discussing. There are 650 domestic violence events in Australia every day -that’s nudging 240,000 a year, or one every two 2 minutes. No argument, this is a national disgrace.
Whilst the topic may not be taboo, it’s inherently bleak. Hoping viewers will sit down to two hours of hearing women talk about being bashed -including with horrific photographic evidence- is a tall order. But it is one the national broadcaster believes is worthwhile.
Sarah Ferguson, already coming off the back of her successful Killing Season series, has spent 6 months immersed in women’s refuges, hospitals, police stations, courts and prisons to turn a light on this ‘hidden’ epidemic.
At a domestic violence unit in Blacktown, liaison officer Genelle Warne deals with Apprehended Violence Orders (100,000 of them are issued nationally every year). Before they are due to fact court, women wait in a ‘safe room’ away from their male perpetrators. Cameras have been allowed in this room for the first time. Many faces are pixellated, as they will be across the two episodes. Many names will also be changed, for protection.
One woman explains she now has a safe room in her own home and lives with an SOS device to alert authorities in case her husband attempts to visit.
“Who knows what he will do now, he’s lost his control?” she asks.
Another explains that a Women’s Refuge has strict security yet works hard not to have the appearance of a fortress, given its residents are victims.
“The woman is not meant to be living in an institution,” she says.
Many will express to Ferguson a feeling of guilt, or that the violence was “my fault,” prevented them from seeking help earlier.
“‘This is all your fault. You made me hit you,'” one recalls hearing from her partner.
But there are also misconceptions of Refuges the doco will dispel. One young woman is surprised to learn they are not dark and rundown, but have a communal and supportive environment. Hopefully there will be some hearing the message who are prompted to take action.
It’s hard to hear thoughts of one young boy, whose mother has brought them to a Refuge after his father turned violent.
“I knew he would hurt her one day,” he tells Ferguson.
“I heard mum say ‘You broke my jaw.’
“There was nothing I could do. I wanted to do something. … I was only a 10 yr old kid.”
The boy is still fearful his father may discover his location.
“I want to go right up to his face and say, ‘You were a very bad father.'”
In the second episode Ferguson visits Nowra Correctional Centre, where prisoners participate in a program to prevent Domestic Violence. Some of the men make thinly-veiled excuses for their actions -perhaps they are only early participants in the scheme.
One woman details an assault incident that escalated to a terrifying car ride, which could have been life threatening, and the desperate measure she took to escape.
One of the doco’s most compelling segments focusses on the 2013 murder of NSW woman Kate Malonyay at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. Ferguson speaks to her mother, now a campaigner against domestic violence, and friends who explain the manipulation of Kate’s ex-boyfriend and the warning signs that were there.
The doco also speaks to forensic doctors and specialist police, and accesses crime scene video to give a sense of the brutal world existing in our suburbs and towns.
Clearly due to the sheer numbers imbalance, there is no time given to male victims of domestic abuse either in heterosexual or homosexual situations. I was also uncomfortable as two distressed interview subjects appeared to walk away from cameras, but continued to be recorded with their body mikes.
These are minor misgivings. The bulk of the doco is a confronting and important conversation, and will educate many.
At the heart of the problem are men who are out to control.
But the solution is one to which we must all contribute.
Hitting Home airs 8:30pm Tuesday and Wednesday on ABC, followed by a Q&A special hosted by Virginia Trioli at 9:30pm Wednesday.