HELP ME

BY TONI BRIENT, MARCH 2012

ONE WOMAN'S EXPERIENCE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE 

Tessa Jetson is no stranger to break-ins.  She’s locked herself – and her three children – in the bedroom of her Bundoora house waiting for help to arrive.  She’s had an intruder in her roof, been woken up, gagged, tied down, and physically attacked. She was no stranger to her aggressor, either: her ex-boyfriend and the father of her children.

After 10 years of what she describes as a “happy” and “normal” life together – jointly owning a restaurant by the time she was 21 and a house by 23 – Tessa’s partner discovered drugs.

 “He got onto amphetamines and then he went psychotic, became abusive, violent, crazy…”

It was 1992 and Tessa was now a frightened 26-year-old whose pleas for help were being ignored by police.  She had spent three years filing restraining orders, but they never stuck.  During one altercation, she used her coffee table to break a window and escape.  Police returned the next day asking her to drop any charges to avoid making the man angrier. 

According to the National Council for Single Mothers, a breach of an intervention (restraining) order can cost the offender over $20,000 or two years’ imprison

ment.  But there was little consequence for Tessa’s ex-boyfriend.

“They would drive off and leave him out the front and he would be laughing at me.”

It wasn’t until she appeared in a television commercial about domestic violence while working as an actor that she heard about women’s refuges.

 “Not once did a policeman ever tell me there was [sic] refuges …I didn't even know until just a month ago that the police had the power to do a restraining order on the spot.”

Recent Victoria Police statistics have shown a steady increase in the reporting of domestic violence over the last decade.  Experts are unsure whether these figures reflect a spike in instances of domestic violence or whether an increase in support channels has led to an increased reporting of cases.

Little assistance was offered to Tessa when she reported experiencing severe domestic violence.  According to Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services spokeswoman Emily Jackson, that’s no longer the case: “There have been practical changes in support and protection that require police to make a referral to a service every time there is an incident.”

But Tessa says this is still not happening. 

It’s been 20 years since she fled to a women’s refuge in Melbourne’s southern suburbs after literally begging for a place. Today, Tessa runs workshops and acts as a mentor for other young women suffering domestic violence.  She has seen little change in police behaviour since she first reached out for help.

“They just come down, fill out the piece of paper, and that’s it [according to] all the girls that I work with.”

Tessa aims to fill this gap – which she believes is being left by police – in support for women breaking free of domestic violence.

She is now back in Bundoora after winning back her old house in a court settlement, which she describes as her “revenge”.

But being back in that house definitely does not mean falling back into old patterns.  There is no hiding in a bedroom for Tessa today – with her mentoring work, it’s quite the opposite.