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Since mum was murdered: what's changed, and what needs to change more

Opinion

On the anniversary of his mother’s death, Arman Abrahimzadeh argues that a cultural shift is needed to reduce and eliminate domestic violence.

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On every weekday and the occasional weekend, getting into work on North Terrace reminds me of the night I lost my mum, Zahra.

It was almost midnight on March 21, 2010, when I was called to rush to the Adelaide Convention Centre as my mum had been stabbed by my dad at the Persian New Year celebration.

Hours earlier, before my mum attended the event, I had been telling her that she is getting old and she should think about a retirement plan and invest in a walking frame. She was turning 44 that day and the conversation was the usual banter that my mum had with her children.

My mum died shortly after she was stabbed, in the early hours of March 22, 2010. The death was not widely reported and details around the death were very vague. At the end of the murder trial, detailed reporting of the incident started and the coronial inquest that followed the trial investigated the systematic shortfalls in our policing and legal systems.

Today marks nine years since her death and rather than focusing on all the negativity in relation to the issue of domestic violence, I want to touch on the good changes and improvements that have taken place since her death. I believe the first step to resolving an issue is to acknowledge it exists and the coroner’s report does this for the way domestic violence cases are handled by authorities.

In 2014, eight out of 10 recommendations made by the coroner were accepted by SAPOL and then Premier Jay Weatherill. Earlier that year as a result of the failures in my mum’s case, SA Police conducted a comprehensive internal review in the way they dealt with domestic violence cases. That review resulted in 48 recommendations to change SA Police practices and procedures.

Establishment of the Multi-Agency Protection Service (MAPS) also occurred in 2014. This agency is made up of a number of government departments and run by SA Police. The objective of such an agency was to ensure the government departments weren’t working in silos, sharing information with one another and reviewing potential abuse cases on a daily basis to ensure the response provided by SA Police or any other relevant department was adequate. Since its establishment, I have visited MAPS headquarters multiple times and I believe it will not only be used to review intimate partner violence cases but it has the capacity to review child protection and possibly elder abuse cases if resourced adequately.

Other improvements include an increase in funding for our frontline services, and having a number of state and federal government departments and local councils become White Ribbon-accredited workplaces.

I have come to the conclusion that we need a shift in culture, attitude and social norms in order to decrease and eliminate domestic and family violence.

In June 2018 as part of the family court reforms, a big change in policy made headlines. Domestic violence offenders were no longer allowed to question victims in court. I saw this as a significant improvement. In August 2010, five months after my dad murdered my mum, we had our family court trial where my older sister and I were cross-examined by my dad via video link. Technically, the last time I had a conversation with my dad was in family court where he questioned me, accused me of lying and labelled me a thief among other allegations.

In October 2018 a trial began of a new initiative, which provides information to anyone concerned about their partner’s history and any past violent offences. The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) had 28 applications in just four weeks which I think clearly shows there is a need for such an initiative.

The way I see it, we combat domestic violence on two fronts – at the crisis end and primary prevention. We have been talking about the services provided to victims and for government to ensure they are adequately funded and resourced. However, the conversation has recently moved into the prevention space.

As an ambassador for two leading national charities, White Ribbon Australia and Our Watch, my aim is to promote their work and highlight the importance of the role they play in the prevention space. Through speaking at schools, sporting organisations and workplaces, I have come to the conclusion that we need a shift in culture, attitude and social norms in order to decrease and eliminate domestic and family violence. We need to include men in conversations around abuse, gender equality and respectful relationships. It can be a challenge at times but it’s necessary if we want to see and create meaningful and long-term change.

Most important of all, we as a society have almost accepted that domestic violence is everyone’s business. The conversation is in the public domain and people generally don’t have any issues expressing their opinion and even entering into a debate. While I acknowledge the issue takes place on private property and usually out of the public’s reach and influence, it can have devastating outcomes not just for the victims but for bystanders too.

For decades, my family put up with abuse and violence in our family home. The night my mum was murdered, there were 300 people, if not more, that were affected by what was described as “domestic dispute”.

Arman Abrahimzadeh OAM is a co-founder of Zahra Foundation Australia and a councillor at the City of Adelaide.

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