• A young woman poses for a photograph to illustrate the topic of domestic violence. (AAP)Source: AAP
COMMENT | In 2008 the Northern Territory Parliament was the first Australian parliament to make the reporting of Domestic Violence mandatory. The life of one woman whose story was one of many that helped to change the law and to change attitudes, writes Malarndirri McCarthy.
Malarndirri McCarthy

4 Feb 2016 - 11:29 AM  UPDATED 4 Feb 2016 - 6:06 PM

Eight years after the Domestic and Family Violence Amendment Bill (Serial 26) passed in the Northern Territory, a report released yesterday by the AIHW states that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the group most in need of accommodation as a result of domestic violence, and are also the group least likely to receive it.

With stats like this reflecting the work that still needs to be done to provide support and safety to the victims of domestic violence nationwide, we reflect on one woman’s story who helped shape legislation for the better.

Where is Rosie today?

She walks with a limp.

It's because there are no toes, and only a round ball of flesh where her right foot should be. The closed in black shoe and her favourite yellow sock, covers it well. The other shoe covers a foot with a few toes. Her left arm forever bent in a crooked position.

Her home is the Respite Centre - or as locals call it, 'the old people's home' - where she can receive constant care and treatment. It's also a good place to socialise with the other patients, all of whom are her relations.

It's 10 years since that night when the violence in her life from her former partner nearly killed her. Her body bears the visible scars, but her beautiful smile radiates such loving warmth.

"It's not so bad" she says. "I can't really remember, but I'd been drinking a lot, just to join him and his friends" she tells me earlier today from the Respite home.

I remember that night in February ten years ago, when people across the world were asking 'will you be my Valentine', while this woman was trying to run from hers.

It was the Wet Season, and the heavy monsoonal rains had set in.

"I just woke up and found my arm hurting and I could hardly walk to the clinic so I tried to get to my sister's house." Her voice is softly spoken and there are long moments of silence on the phone line as I wait to hear her own reflections.

"I'd been lying outside in the rain for a while I think".

After lying in the rain, pneumonia well and truly set in and so did more infections. The towns' small clinic didn't have the capacity to help heal this patient.

So the medical plane flew one-thousand kilometres to collect her and evacuate her to Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH).  She was in there for the next 12 months. Three months of it in a coma. So severe were her injuries that the medical staff warned us to prepare for the worst.

I spoke about Rosie's story in the Northern Territory Parliament in November 2008 when the then-Labor Government moved laws to make it mandatory to report domestic violence through the Domestic and Family Violence Amendment Bill (Serial 26). The first Australian parliament to do so.

This was part of the speech I made during the debate on the legislation.

"Let me give you some examples, and I have to relate personal examples, because I grew up in a family where domestic violence was normal. Alcohol abuse on my mother's side, and the violence that we witnessed as young children growing up in communities, we were made to think that was normal. I can tell you now, it is not normal.

But the most difficult aspect is that many people and communities believe it is normal; it is normal to hit your wife and your kids, it is normal to have a fight that leaves someone incredibly ill, so that when they go to hospital, they remain conscious or unconscious, or need amputations.

What happened to Rosie over so many years, everyone new about. People in the community knew and no one did anything because they thought: 'That is their business. Whatever happens is between them'. That is what we have to change. That is what this legislation is about. It is about the care and compassion that is required for others in our community, who may or may not belong to us. It is about the courage to speak up and say: 'No. Enough is enough. We are not going to do that'."

Now in 2016, Rosie and I talk about how her life has been since that February night. "Hard still", she says '..limping everywhere. Can't use my left arm at all much" she adds. But I'm happier on my own, I have my friends and family. My first grandchild was born last year, she keeps me occupied now."

Rosie's older daughter died three years ago from a drug overdose and so she dotes on her remaining daughter and granddaughter and her teenage son.

Rosie would like her own home one day but for now the Respite Centre will continue to be her place of refuge while her children live in the care of family.

Her message to women experiencing any form of domestic violence, "get out, get help, refuse to live in fear and just tell people, before it’s too late."

National domestic violence helpline: 1800 737 732 or 1800RESPECT. Informations from Child Wise can be found hereIn an emergency, always call triple-zero (000).

Malarndirri McCarthy is NITV's Senior Reporter.