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Experts warn WA may be facing a domestic violence ‘emergency’

Experts have warned WA may be facing a domestic violence “emergency” after a spate of murders in the family home, including what police will allege was Anthony Robert Harvey’s murder of his wife, children and mother-in-law in Bedford.

They have also warned against characterising perpetrators as “nice guys” who experienced a “snap”, saying murder was usually the culmination of long-term abuse.

Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services WA chief executive Angela Hartwig said the alleged domestic circumstances of the Bedford murders, if proved, and mass murders in Ellenbrook and Margaret River suggested “there’s a bit of an emergency in what we’re seeing”.

“We need to look at what else can be done,” she said.

“Keep doing what we know is working — keep women’s refuges well-resourced and supported, have domestic violence responses such as police and department of communities, intervention with known perpetrators.

“I think key players need to take stock and think about what else can be done.

“It’s also about working with the wide community on what can we do on a primary prevention level that’s going to reach out to the everyday person so they can say this is not OK and it must be stop.”

VideoSeveral weapons were found in the family home.

She said it was not unusual for a horrific incident to be the first public sign that something was wrong.

“It’s not always those who are having lots of contact with agencies that can face fatal consequences,” she said.

“We know perpetrators can be charming and they chose when where and who to be violent towards and so it becomes an unbelievable situation because on the public persona they seem quite OK… it’s behind closed doors that the experience is very different for often a mother and the children.

“We need to be outraged around domestic violence and we don’t tend to be as much.”

Relationships Australia executive director Michael Sheehan said domestic violence was “about power and control”. He said an act of extreme violence, such as murder, was not “a snap or a one-off anger” but the culmination of abuse.

“Domestic violence is hidden,” he said. “I know in the Margaret River incident they talked about the grandfather being a nice guy and the issue is that it’s hidden.

“Men can be violent and still be nice to their work colleagues. To me it’s a bit horrifying when we hear ‘he was a nice guy’. They’re not nice guys, they present two images: one to the public and one to their family.”

He said with one women in Australia killed on average every week from domestic violence there was a need for better education for service providers to recognise the warning signs, better coordination between services and more funding.

According to Our Watch, 36 per cent of Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence from someone they know, including 15 per cent who have experienced violence from an ex-partner.

Of women who had experienced violence from a current partner, 39 per cent had never sought advice or support, and 80 per cent had never contacted the police.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au

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