The opening scene of new SBS documentary series is chilling stuff.
It’s a call to Triple 000 in which a man calmly tells the operator, “I’ve killed my ex-partner. I’m pretty sure she’s dead. She’s not moving at all.”
This is a 3 part series on domestic violence, which investigative journalist Jess Hill tells us is a crisis in Australia.
Or in the words of another unidentified male, “I just snapped and said to her, See What You Made Me Do.”
SBS has a long track record in event documentaries on big social themes such as immigration, poverty, mental health and more. Given the life and death subject, this could be the most important yet.
According to data, on average, one woman a week is killed by a current or former partner in Australia and most Australians who experience domestic abuse will never report it and their abusers will never be called to account.
Hill has been writing on the subject for the past 6 years, with this Northern Pictures’ series based on her book of the same name.
Episode one profiles women who are victims of domestic abuse, and several experts who are there to help.
It only took “Jessica” 10 minutes on a dating app to connect with the man who would destroy her life. She bravely details his use of coercive control, first via ‘sexting’ and ‘talking dirty’ but then to a litany of steps around her self-esteem, finances, home access, threats and more. Technology facilitated a system of entrapment to the point of her becoming a psychiatric patient. She was unable to work, suffered panic attacks and incapable of forming relationships.
It’s quite heartbreaking as her mother describes the change in her daughter as ‘catastrophic.’
“It changed her core.”
But there are some good men ready to help, including former policemen who work in surveillance to reveal trackers on cars, spyware on phones, hidden cameras in the home -all unnerving tech that tracks the every move of vulnerable women.
Boyd Unwin, who describes himself as “the father who lost his daughter,” tells the tragic tale of the murder of daughter Katie Haley, when her partner attacked and killed her because he thought she would leave him. Katie’s sister Bianca also reveals how the man monitored her whereabouts through social media.
Boyd recalls the man assuring him, ‘I’ve never touched her and I never would.’
“This is 6 days before he beat her head in,” he adds.
Finally there is a case in action, with a (pixellated) woman ready to flee her husband. She is advised by experienced counsellors in a safe room, concealed in a shopping centre. As she reveals her brave plan to escape danger, it moves Jess Hill to tears.
“I know it could be dangerous but I have no other option,” the woman admits.
While there is little explanation for what drives men to behave like this, further episodes will hear from perpetrators and the people working with them to curb their behaviours. I wonder too about domestic violence in same-sex relationships, however there’s little doubt the numbers are overwhelmingly men as perpetrators against women.
Full marks to SBS for undertaking the subject (the last profile one was by Sarah Ferguson for ABC). The series will be accompanied by other SBS programming and online resources as part of Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month.
8:30pm Wednesday on SBS / NITV.
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