Disturbing graph behind Aussie state’s violent epidemic

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·6-min read

In the wake of the alleged murder of Gold Coast woman Kelly Wilkinson, many in Australia are again asking how such a tragedy could happen. 

The mother of three was allegedly set on fire and killed in the backyard of her home by her estranged husband last Tuesday the latest act of domestic violence to make national headlines

Brian Earl Johnston, 34, has been charged with murder and breaching a domestic violence order in the death of the 27-year-old woman. 

Kelly Wilkinson was allegedly set on fire in her backyard. Source: GoFundMe
Kelly Wilkinson was allegedly set on fire in her backyard. Source: GoFundMe

Queensland Police statistics show a marked rise in breaches of domestic violence protection orders in the state, with a near six-fold increase over the last two decades. 

Both the rate and the overall numbers have risen sharply since around 2011. 

In raw numbers, which don't take into account Queensland's expanding population, police statistics show breaches of domestic violence protection orders moved from a low of 450 in July 2001 to 3,246 in February this year.

Meanwhile, the rate of breaches has roughly tripled since 2001, with the steepest rise in the last decade.

"Over nine years, we've had a 188 per cent increase in the rate of DV breaches," said Dr Terry Goldsworthy, an Associate Professor in criminology at Bond University on the Gold Coast.

He previously worked as a Detective Inspector for the Queensland Police and spent 28 years in the police force. He says the statistical rise is also fuelled by some positive changes such as an expanded definition of domestic violence, better reporting and a growing mandate for police action. 

"There are two ways to look at it. Yes, it's concerning because there has been that continual increase and we would like to see a decrease.

"But on the other hand, I think it may also indicate things such as we've expanded the definition of DV greatly to what it originally was ... to include emotional issues, psychological issues, financial issues.

"So we’re probably capturing more behaviours than we used to," he told Yahoo News Australia. 

The raw numbers of protectiono order breaches has surged in the past decade.
The raw numbers of protectiono order breaches has surged in the past decade. Source: Queensland Police
The rate of breaches has roughly tripled since 2001, with the steepest rise in the last decade
The general rate of breaches has roughly tripled since 2001, with the steepest rise in the last decade Source: Queensland Police

He also noted a greater community acknowledgment of the issue of domestic violence and a greater preparedness to report incidences.  

"We've also had mandatory reporting schemes come in, so the police must take action, so it's not something they can use their discretion on," he said.

Dr Goldsworthy said a string of domestic violence murders on the Gold Coast in 2015 led to "a change in culture within policing" to domestic violence incidents becoming a "core police response". 

"What I mean by that, there was a culture in police that low level DV matters such as someone throws a cup and breaks it, or gives a slap... They were seen as distractions. 

"There has been a real change in culture and that's reflected by the fact Queensland Police have now created the Domestic and Family Violence Command," he said.

But the numbers show a persistent problem facing Queensland and the country at large. 

Local resident Louise Christy is seen kneeling in mourning outside the home of murder victim Kelly Wilkinson on the Gold Coast. Source: AAP
Local resident Louise Christy is seen kneeling in mourning outside the home of murder victim Kelly Wilkinson on the Gold Coast. Source: AAP

Ms Wilkinson's death comes a year after Brisbane woman Hannah Baxter and her three children were fatally set of fire in their car by her estranged husband Rowan Baxter. Ms Baxter had also previously taken out a domestic violence order against her killer.

'The system failed': Police review into latest tragedy

Queensland Police have announced an internal review into the events that led to Kelly Wilkinson's death, to be led by Assistant Commissioner Brian Codd.

"I think the system has obviously failed to protect Kelly Wilkinson and her family, and it is vitally important that we explore just how that's occurred," he told ABC radio on Monday morning.

"Twenty-eight people were killed last year in Queensland alone in domestic and family violence, and unfortunately that seems to be the case most years ... we're still not making the dent in it that we want to," Mr Codd said.

"I think the future is integrated service delivery, where we can be working hand in glove with medical practitioners, with legal people, with counsellors, and the police can be embedded with them so that the experience of the victim can be put at the centre."

The state has also established a Women's Safety and Justice task force which is due to make its report in October.

A vigil will be held for Kelly Wilkinson on Monday afternoon on the Gold Coast. Source: Facebook
A vigil will be held for Kelly Wilkinson on Monday afternoon on the Gold Coast. Source: Facebook

Vigil to be held for Kelly Wilkinson

The local community is preparing to hold a vigil for the 27-year-old on Monday afternoon, organised in part by Gold Coast MP Sam O'Connor.

"You never expect this sort of thing to happen in your own area and a lot of people are feeling this over the last week," the state member for Bonney told the Nine Network.

"It's triggered a lot of people's own experiences but it's everyone from mums who used to walk their kids to school with Kelly, to parents who might have had kids in the same class, to people who live in that area who know it as a quiet family area.

"They really are shocked by this tragedy."

The vigil will hear from the chaplain of the school attended by two of Ms Wilkinson's children and the head of a local domestic violence prevention centre.

The MP described how Ms Wilkinson's sister is now grappling with the logistics of taking in and caring for her sibling's three children along with her own five.

"They're talking everything from house renovations to bunk beds to figuring out what sort of a vehicle will take that many people," he said.

with AAP

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

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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