By Tania Phillips
Vanessa Fowler OAM lived every sister and aunt’s nightmare when she lost her sibling Allison Baden-Clay and Allison’s children to domestic violence.
Now she is the co-chair of the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council and will be one of the keynote speakers and will be involved in a Q&A session at a series of events in Warwick and Stanthorpe early next year aimed at discussing coercive behaviour.
The events had been planned for this month but due to recent fires they were postponed to the New Year.
Vanessa will be joined by former Queensland police commissioner Bob Atkinson for the four presentations and Q&A sessions.
The events are being presented by the Women’s Action and Advocacy Team Southern Downs (WAAT) in collaboration with the State Department of Women’s Safety and Violence Prevention, Warwick and Stanthorpe Zonta Clubs, Warwick Chamber of Commerce and SDRC to bring these important DFV Community Education sessions.
WAAT is the brainchild of Sue Hamlet, Kathy Payne and Judy Heffernan and was established in March 2021 from concern for the safety and support available to women in children. The group has actively lobbied at State and Federal levels for the Southern Downs region to have more support services.
These events are just their latest initiative, but Sue Hamlet believes they are important for people from all walks of life.
“We have Vanessa Fowler and now Bob Atkinson – Vanessa is the headliner and I think people are familiar with Alison’s story particularly the aspect of coercive control that was used long before violence became a part of the situation,” Sue said.
Vanessa has a very powerful story and although the focus isn’t so much on the story, WAAT believe she will draw on that experience and how to become an effective bystander and how to intervene.”
The topic of coercive control is one hard to miss and has been very much in the news of late.
Sue said coercive control is the act of controlling a situation and doing controlling things even if there is no physical violence or a sense of someone being hurt.
“It’s becoming well understood now that coercive control is very dangerous, and it can actual precede fatal events,” Sue explained.
“It’s going to be criminalised very shortly, it’s currently going through the system.”
Under the new laws, a person who repeatedly subjects their partner to physical, sexual, psychological, or financial abuse may face imprisonment for up to seven years. The bill was introduced into the Queensland Parliament in late September.
“It is important educate the community about this,” Sue said.
“These are not just events for people who work in this field, it is for anybody who is anybody. Just think about the impact of coercive control. A criminal record for a young person who is involved in coercive control – just imagine what that will do to a career.
“We know that coercive control is very damaging to victims, so we want to make people aware of what it looks like. It is a red flag.
“We are very fortunate that Vanessa is going to be joined by Bob Atkinson who is quite well-known. He was a Queensland Police Commissioner. We feel its very relatable for people to hear from someone from a legal perspective as well. It is very important, and we have a Q&A panel as well that will include Bob and Vanessa as well as Kathleen Turley who is the head of the Domestic Violence Action Centre. We will also have police representatives there too. People can bring their questions about anything to do with this sort of thing and we can put it to the panel.”
WAAT are also on the panel and facilitating the event.
Sue said WAAT are part of a team of people who form a working party to address family and domestic violence across the Southern Downs.
“One of the things that has come up through that team is that we really want to shift – yes, we have some systems in place for victims and perpetrators. We have a bit more knowledge of what’s going on in the space and that is an ongoing work, but we all feel we want to be more proactive about prevention.”
She said the events are all about prevention, knowing what coercive behaviour could look like, knowing what you can do.
“We feel it’s going to be extremely important for employers to know, anyone who is part of a group – a service group – any type of group at all that might observe behaviours in themselves and others,” Sue explained.
She said the events are suitable for everyone over 14 years of age.
“We are particularly keen for schools, sporting groups, businesses, and young people to hear from Vanessa, as we consider her message to be essential awareness raising in reducing violence to women and children.
“We hope that the schedule provides enough options so that everyone could attend one of the four stand-alone sessions.”
Vanessa has been a guiding force in the formation of the Allison Baden-Clay Foundation and is instrumental in coordinating the annual Strive To Be Kind Day in schools, businesses, and community groups where she encourages others to share messages of kindness and respect. Vanessa and her family are on a journey to educate and raise awareness of domestic and family abuse and has turned a tragic family circumstance into making a difference in the community The Foundation educates people to recognise the signs of domestic and family abuse and coercive control, and how to become an effective bystander, using tactics to intervene effectively. Vanessa was named as the 2019 Ipswich Citizen of the Year and the Queensland Winner of the Pride of Australia Medal. In 2021, was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her service to community organisations.
Bob Atkinson was the Queensland Police Commissioner from 2000 to late 2012. Bob’s achievements include overseeing responses to Cyclone Larry in 2006 and the 2010–11 Queensland flood and cyclone disasters, reductions in crime and the road toll, enforcing welfare support, advocating for multiculturalism, and increasing Police Liaison Officer positions, including the first Sudanese and Muslim positions. In 2013, he was appointed as one of six Commissioners for the five-year Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
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