The Courier-Mail

Secrecy in covering family violence hides the problem

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MAGISTRATE Colin Strofield has done some of the hardest judicial yards that Queensland’s court system can dish up to any judge. As the magistrate presiding over family violence issues at Brisbane’s Holland Park Magistrate­s Court over the past few years he has seen more trauma, fear and broken lives than most. His appointmen­t to head the state’s first trial of a specialise­d court to deal with family violence in Southport is a great step forward to reforming a system that right now is failing so many.

But it is just one small piece of a larger problem, and much of that can only come through a combinatio­n of public awareness and a more holistic approach to dealing with family violence.

First and foremost, as former governor-general Dame Quentin Bryce stressed when she handed down her landmark Not Now, Not Ever report, change can only be achieved through a wide package of reforms covering everything from our judiciary and police to schools and workplaces. A piecemeal approach is simply not going to produce results. Just as important is major reform of how the media can actually report and inform what is a scourge as deadly and damaging as some of our society’s worst abuses of drugs or alcohol.

As it stands news organisati­ons such as The Courier-Mail cannot even attend, let alone report on, a court hearing dealing with domestic violence issues without prior consent. Our open courts system allows the public and the media access to the workings of law and justice, and has sparked hugely successful campaigns in areas such as alcohol-fuelled violence. It allows us to humanise the issues that our lawmakers need to address and to raise public awareness. When it comes to family violence though, the doors remain largely closed; the human face of this scourge hidden from view by laws that limit our ability to report the terror that occurs daily in average suburban homes. Clearly the privacy of victims and children needs to be respected, but placing a veil of secrecy over one of the ugliest social blights of the modern era only serves to hide the issue.

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