Lisa Harnum’s Story Will Give Others Strength To Act

Lisa Harnum's story will inspire other victims to take action

Comments by sentencing judge, Justice Lucy McCallum

The complex face of domestic violence

After a meticulous analysis of the case that has transfixed people across Sydney, Justice Lucy McCallum found Simon Gittany guilty of murdering his fiancee Lisa Harnum by throwing her off a balcony.

The idea the relationship was ”very happy” at any point is initially difficult to comprehend.

As long as Harnum was subjected to Gittany’s controlling behaviour, surely their relationship was drowning in darkness. Yet the mixed assessment by the judge mirrors the complex face of domestic violence.

Unfortunately, Lisa Harnum’s experience is not rare

What makes Harnum’s story all the more tragic is that her experience is not rare. A report by the Australian Institute of Criminology has revealed that a woman dies each week in Australia due to aggressive behaviour within the home.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch says: ”This week in Sydney on Tuesday, we saw two women killed as a direct result of domestic violence – a day after White Ribbon Day. This is the battleground police operate within.”

A thousand reasons why the overwhelmingly female victims suffer in silence

Murdoch says there are a thousand reasons why the overwhelmingly female victims suffer in silence, including embarrassment, love, children, income, shelter, concerns about the judicial system and fears the violence may escalate if they speak out.

Despite all of this, he says women should ”have confidence that if they report the violence, we can protect women and help break that cycle and hold those perpetrators to account”.

The shattering impacts of an abusive relationship

Somebody who knows about the shattering impacts of an abusive relationship is Donna Carson, who during an argument with her then partner, was bashed, doused in petrol and set alight. She still bears the wounds, both emotional and physical.

”I have the scars from the burns all over my face and breasts, which would stop a man ever desiring me.”

The incident destroyed her career as a teacher but not her resolve to help others. She established a safe waiting room for victims of crime in the Taree area and the concept has spread. Donna offers court support and information.

Those close to Donna describe her as a spirited woman, so why didn’t she leave her violent boyfriend? It’s simple: she had two young boys to support, it was her property and she could never have anticipated the violence he would carry out.

Support from family, friends or a network can be crucial

Support from family, friends or a network can be crucial in a victim’s transition period, which is often characterised by feelings of fear.

While working at the Wimlah Domestic Violence Service in Katoomba, Sarah Eberhardt has supported women who have encountered shocking controlling situations, including the isolation from social networks, having obstacles put up to stop them accessing work and harassment at work. Group sessions focus on victims re-evaluating which behaviours of their partners are acceptable. Sarah likens domestic abuse to brainwashing and says often, it is the psychological aspects that are hardest to rehabilitate, as the controlling actions of perpetrators pervade the psyche and erode victims’ sense of worth.

Victims of domestic violence often apply subjective memory

According to psychiatrist Choong-Siew Yong, victims often apply subjective memory and focus on their positive feelings during ”the honeymoon” period, while erasing the negative experiences, to justify continuing the relationship.

Justice McCallum found Gittany flew into an ”uncontrollable rage” upon learning Lisa was serious about getting out, her bag was packed and she’d secretly put clothes into storage.

Yet it was a different Gittany on show the day of his verdict. Staring ahead, he was emotionless throughout nearly five hours of legal summation in which he was described as an unconvincing witness, like someone playing a role.

One of the major challenges police face is trying to detect and act on domestic violence when incidences take place behind closed doors.

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This article by Deborah Clay originally appeared in the Brisbane Times

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