A Bendigo mother subjected to years of family violence won sole custody of her daughter, while the perpetrator was found guilty of criminal charges. She is now encouraging others to take a stand.COURTROOMS are intimidating places.

A smattering of strangers sit in the cold, dark interior, while highly trainedlawyers rush around, the dock awaits its next person in custody, and a magistrate observes your every move from the witness stand.

Then add in an ex-partner who has violently assaulted you, threatened to kill you multiple times and is now trying to take custody of your only child. They stand with their barrister, whose sole task is to discredit you.

For 15 hours.

A mother from a small central Victorian town recently faced this reality,butshe says she would do it all again –now that, in her view, Victoria Police has given family violence the priority it deserves.

“You become scared about having to put yourself through it all.I was re-victimised, and it does have a devastating effect,” Brooke*said.

“But at the end of the day, nothing will change if people don’t come forward to report abuse.”

Brooke’sstory started when she fell pregnant with her first child.

Her long-termpartner left whenshetold him about the pregnancy.

It wasn’t until he returned after the birth of their son,with the promise of being a part of their lives, that the violence began.

“He wanted to be afather, he was telling me that he was sorry for leaving,” Brooke said.

In the coming months, Brooke’s partner came home drunk and punched her while she slept. In another instance, he kicked Brookewhile she lay on the ground.

After they separated soon after, he assaulted her again, this time in a car park where they were having a child changeover.

Medical documents tendered to the Family Court showed the extent of Brooke’s injuries, and the psychological trauma caused to her child.

She took out a six-month intervention order, but a lack of evidencemeant her ex-partner did not face criminal charges. The day the intervention orderexpired, he got back in contact.

“EventuallyI responded andI told him how she was. He would make me feel guilty for not letting him see our child,” Brooke said.

“We got back into a relationship, and moved in together.That’s when the violence got a lot worse. I felt really isolated.”

With the support of family and friends, Brooke was able to flee the relationship but had to change all of her personal details. He continued to try to locate her.

“You can lose a lot of friends and family when you’re the victim of abuse. Some say you’rea ‘lost cause’ because you keep going back. But that’s besides the point, it’s so important to keep supporting your loved ones even if they do go back,” she said.

“If I didn’t have the support of my family and friends, I don’t think I would have been able to get through this all.”

But it wasn’t the end of her ordeal.

Brooke’s former partnertracked her down and, in a recorded phone conversation, he threatened to kill her if he was not given access to the child. It was one of several similar calls and messages.

This time, when Brooke applied for another intervention order –several years after the first –policedecided to press charges. He faced charges relating to assault andthreats to kill.

In response, he decided to try for sole custody in the Family Court and, months later, Brooke found herself in the witness stand.

The father claimed Brooke was “motivated by jealousy”, and was “maliciously making up these allegations” to deny him access to their child. She was forced to deny the accusations.

His barrister questioned Brooke for a total of 10 hours over five days, in which she was forced tore-live violent encounters, and recount sensitive conversations with her young child.

“It seemed to be more about me proving that I was innocent, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. That made me feel extremely drained,” Brooke said.

She was granted sole custody after five weeks of deliberation, with the judge ruling the mother was subjected to ongoing violenceand the childwas genuinely fearful of the father.

The father then contested thecriminalcharges in the Magistrates’ Court. Brooke was called to give evidenceand was questioned by the same barrister, this time for five hours.

“He knew what I was going to say from the first court proceedings, but would keep pushing me,” she said.

The magistrate found him guilty, and sentenced him to an 18-month community corrections order with a men’s behavioural change program and a fine.

For Brooke, the rulings brought to an end almost 12 months dealing with the courts, and years trying to protect her childfrom being exposed to violence.

She said the recent police response, compared with her first complaints, gave her confidence that family violence victims now had better access to justice.

“I would encourage people to try to find the courage and respect, not just for themselves, but for their children as well,” Brooke said.

Despite feeling justice had been done, Brooke believes there is room for improvement.

She suggested closed courtrooms and combined hearings for family law and family violence matters, and more services for children exposed to family violence.

“But the punishment he received proved to me that people are now being made accountable,” Brooke said.

​*Names have been changed to protect identity of the victim and child

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732

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