Sunday, 29 November 2015

Qld to make strangulation a criminal offence

Following on recommendations of the Quentin Bryce domestic violence taskforce, the Palaczszuk government will this week introduce a bill to the Queensland Parliament to make choking a separate criminal offence.


I recall speaking at a domestic violence conference about 15 years ago when speakers came from the US about prosecuting strangulation cases. The two impressions I gained at the time were:

  • strangulation was often downplayed by all concerned- eg, sex play, or a fit of jealousy, and was often not mentioned, or forgotten about
  • but its lethality was in a different league to being punched- because pressure on the throat could cause a rapid loss of supply to the brain for up to TWO WEEKS after the incident.
I have been told by many clients over many years that their former partner attempted to strangle them- sometimes in the context of sex, and sometimes in anger.

Whenever I have raised the issue of strangulation with clients since the issue was highlighted all those years ago, and the risk that they had of being killed, they have often been shocked about what they have endured, raised strangulation with police, but nothing has been done.

Making this as a separate criminal offence will hopefully shine the spotlight on  this  crime, and hopefully bring it to an end. It will also be necessary for police to be properly trained, and be prepared to take action to prosecute.

Divorce rate goes down

In the midst of all the daily drama in the news, with society seeming to be getting worse, it is surprising to learn that the divorce rate is going down. Yes, down, not up. This does not appear to be a statistical anomaly, but reality. People seem to be staying together (slightly) longer before separating, and taking longer to get divorced.

Figures released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that we are:

  • living together more before marrying
  • getting married later
  • getting divorced older
In the last 10 years, the divorce rate has decreased by a third. It used to be 2.7 divorces per thousand in 1994, but by 2014, in a consistent downwards tend it was 2.0 divorces per thousand. The figures in absolute terms has gone from 48, 312 in 1994, peaking at 52,727 in 2004, and last year down to 46,498.

The length of marriage before separation over that time grew from 7.6 to 8.4 years, although in recent years the length was slightly longer, up to 8.8 years in 2010. Similarly the number of years between marriage and divorce has increased over that time from 10.9 years to 12, although in 2004 it was 12.3 years.

However, we are either staying single or living together instead, because the marriage rate is down. Marriages in 1994 were 6.2 per thousand. In a consistent downward trend, by 2014 that had dropped to 5.2 per thousand, although the absolute number had gone up from 111,174 to 121, 197 celebrated in those years.

The number of children affected by divorce has also dropped, from 47,537 in 1994, to 40,152 in 2014. This is a consistent trend. It could mean that we are getting older (which we are, and therefore children are not under the age of 18 at divorce), or that we are not having as many children as we once were, or that we are living together more and not getting married.

What is a safe level of alcohol? NHMRC: no more than 2 standard drinks per day.

The other day in the lead up to White Ribbon Day when I was in Sydney, I was accosted by a complete stranger who told me that the reason why we had domestic violence in Australia was because of the big breweries. His theory, he told me, was that we had to bring those brewers to account in order to bring domestic violence to an end.

Regrettably I had little time with this gentleman, as I was due to meet a colleague, but he is wrong. Alcohol is not the cause of domestic violence- but it is a depressant, and a disinhibitor- so that someone who is drunk might behave in a manner that someone sober did not. The reality about domestic violence is that it classically involves power and control- so that one of the parties, typically the man controls the other by the use of whatever power and tools come to hand, whether they be psychological, physical, sexual, social, monetary or otherwise.

However, the statements by the stranger  made me think - what is a safe level of alcohol?
The levels now are a lot lower than we used to think were safe. In 2001, the National Health and Medical Research Council said that men should have no more than 4 (and women 2) standard drinks per day, 5 days per week.

Minimising risk in the longer term
up to 4 standard drinks
5–6 standard drinks
7 or more standard drinks
up to 2 standard drinks
3–4 standard drinks
5 or more standard drinks
Minimising risk in the short term
up to 6 standard drinks
7–10 standard drinks
11 or more standard drinks
up to 4 standard drinks
5–6 standard drinks
7 or more standard drinks

Then in 2009, the NHMRC said the rate was a lot lower. It issues new guidelines, setting the rate at 2 drinks per adult per day.

Guideline 1: reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime

This guideline advises that the lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount consumed. For healthy men and women, 'drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury'.
Guideline 2: reducing the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking

This guideline advises that on a single occasion of drinking the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed. For healthy men and women, 'drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion'. A single occasion of drinking refers to a person consuming a sequence of drinks without their blood alcohol concentration reaching zero in between.

Guidelines 3 and 4

Guideline 3 relates to consumption of alcohol by children and young people under 18 years of age, while Guideline 4 relates to consumption of alcohol by women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding. These guidelines are not considered in this article.


Does not exceed guideline
Exceeds guideline

Guideline 1 - Lifetime risk
up to and including 2 standard drinks
more than 2 standard drinks
Guideline 2 - Single occasion risk
up to and including 4 standard drinks
more than 4 standard drinks

(a) For both males and females.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

White Ribbon Day

Yesterday, 25 November I commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, or White Ribbon Day. I attended with 600 other Queenslanders at an event co-hosted by Premier Anastasia Palaczszuk and Dame Quentin Bryce. I and other White Ribbon Ambassadors attended. 

Several ambassadors of change, Darren Lockyer, Aurizon CEO Lance Hockridge, psychologist and COAG representative Ed Mosby and Magistrate Strohfeld all spoke of the critical beef for men to stand up and challenge entrenched attitudes to violence. 

Two events stood out for me. The Premier announced up to 10 days domestic violence leave a year, on top of other leave entitlements. Wonderful, though sad it's needed. 

The other was the increase in domestic violence applications at Southport since the specialist domestic violence court trial commenced. I thought may be 2,3 or say even 10%. No, the increase has been a whopping 59%! What other pent up demand for safety is there elsewhere in the country that the courts and society have not yet accommodated?

Quentin Bryce and Anastasia Palaczszuk in front of the Gallipoli choir. 

Grace Grace MP

Magistrate Colin Strohfeld
Aurizon CEO Lance Hockridge