White Ribbon campaigner sheds light on darkness of domestic violence

WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions of domestic violence.

At an evening seminar about the domestic violence crisis in Australia, hosted by WAB last Thursday, some alarming statistics were laid out about its prevalence.

In 2012, half of the homicides committed against women and girls was caused through intimate partner violence, compared to six per cent for men. And when SAPOL are called out to domestic violence incidents, 80% of the time it involves a woman being assaulted by her partner or ex-partner.

Closer to home, paramedic Andrew Thomas, the Operations Manager for the Limestone Coast Ambulance Service, has had a look at the stats. 

A third of the callouts ambulance workers get are related to drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol have been linked to domestic violence incidents, and one in ten jobs that paramedics attend to in this region are linked to domestic violence.

There are also 136 assaults and sexual assaults in the Limestone Coast in a year, on average. 

One man who knows all too well that domestic violence is linked to homicide is Ivan Philips, a White Ribbon Ambassador from Port Lincoln, and the guest speaker.

Ivan’s daughter Tash was killed in Para Hills in 2007. When Ivan and his wife Di went to see the body, the coroner insisted on not lifting the bloody sheet, due to the extent of Tash’s injuries.

In the ensuing court case, which went on for two years, the judge said that he hadn’t seen such brutality in a domestic violence case in his twenty years of sitting on the bench.

During her 12 months of physical and sexual abuse, Tash had been beaten by a bed post; required 16 stitches after having her ear almost ripped off her head; had both of her thumbs forcibly broken; had her eye socket fractured; and was routinely chained to a bed. One time when she tried to escape her chains she rubbed away the skin on her ankle so badly that a bandage only covered flesh and tendon. 

Her abuser would threaten to harm her young son, Josh, if she tried to escape or tell anyone. When Ivan and Di finally found out the truth, she was whisked away to Mount Gambier to stay with relatives. 

But her abuser tracked her down through social media. A week later she was dead.

After her abuser plead not guilty, it was a long and drawn out process for the Philips to try and have him behind bars. It took a toll on their marriage, and Ivan believes that it hastened Di’s brain cancer, which would kill her in 2013.

The abuser was finally given a life sentence after Ivan made a grisly discovery – video tapes that had been made of Tash being beaten bloody. 

After all of this grief and tragedy in his life, Ivan decided to simply “do a Forrest Gump”. An avid motorcyclist, he rode 15,800km around Australia, stopping along the way to share Tash’s story, and to try do what he could do raise awareness of domestic violence.

On the journey he busted his ankle, had a standoff with a saltwater crocodile, and had all of his luggage get set alight after his little gas cooker went bung in the Pilbara.

But along the way he also experienced the kindness of strangers – his luggage was replaced thanks to a caring community, with workers on the road spotting his aflame motorbike. 

His jacket was signed by people that he met, and found that it was a fantastic conversation starter. 

Ivan also had the opportunity to meet Angela Barker, the 2011 Young Victorian of the Year. When she was 16, Angela was punched and kicked in the head by her ex-boyfriend, and then had her skull rammed into a steel park bench. 

Angela’s story is bittersweet. Whilst she dedicates her life now to raising awareness of domestic violence, like Ivan, she is now paralysed.

Her abuser is now married. And has a child of his own.

Back in Port Lincoln, Ivan continues his good work with on the spot funding to help domestic violence victims, and also mentors young men and women to spot the signs of abuse before it’s too late. 

His grandson, Josh, still misses his mother, Tash. But he has grown into a sweet and caring young man, and Ivan is moving on with his life, meeting and falling in love with a woman named Iris.

“I’m learning how to laugh again. I’m learning how to smile again,” he told the assembled crowd in the Senior Citizen Clubrooms. 

Ivan’s employer, the Department of Industry and Skills, have been supportive of his White Ribbon work. In June next year, Ivan and Iris are going to go on a motorcycle ride back to the Northern Territory and Western Australia, to revisit the remote Aboriginal communities Ivan visited on his first ride. Not only to assure the people that he met that he actually survived his massive trek(!), but also because of the high rates of domestic violence Aboriginal people face in Australia. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence (physical, sexual, emotional, financial) please contact the Limestone Coast Domestic Violence Service. For a confidential assessment please call 8723 1385 or 1800 631 385. You can contact the team on (08) 8723 1385 or email lcdvs@centacare.org.au.

You can also call the national hotline, 1800 RESPECT, on 1800 737 732.