“There are people around us whose lives are not what they seem. They walk among us but carry an invisible burden. They are victims of domestic violence, over 3 million adults and children in this country.”
Two years ago, journalist Jess Hill released a powerful, shocking book — See What You Made Me Do, about the reality of domestic violence in this country. Last night, the first of a three part SBS series based on her book was aired.
“On average, eight women a day are hospitalised,” Hill explains in the documentary.
The opening of last night’s first episode is confronting to watch; it shows a night-time city arial landscape, with an emergency call recording audio track, with a man saying: “I’ve killed my partn … my ex-partner.”
A 000 operator responds: “So you’ve killed your ex-partner?”
“I’m pretty sure she’s dead yeah. She’s not moving at all. So I’m pretty sure she’s dead. Yeah.”
Hill hosts the 3-part series, which brings the tragedy of this epidemic to the screen, building on her insights and critical understanding of the issue at hand.
In 2020, I interviewed Hill after her book won the Stella Prize.
“If the function of journalism is to undercover concealed truths, then this is one of the biggest concealed truths that we have,” she told me. “The unique thing about this concealed truth is that it’s even concealed from the people who experience it.”
“So often what happens in domestic abuse is your language is taken away from you to describe what you’re experiencing. It can feel like such a fog, to even get a clear sense of what’s happening can be very difficult. It can be hard to explain to friends and family why you’re making certain choices, especially when the legal system gets involved.”
Reading the book was harrowing, upsetting, yet critical, and as Lucy Clark writes in The Guardian, “…seeing it brought to life on the screen, with the raw power of people talking to camera, adds a gripping, heart-in-mouth dimension.”
In the first episode, we learn the story of victim survivor Jessica Nitschke, who met her abuser on a dating app and within months was having every part of her life controlled and abused.
We hear from the family of Katie Haley, a 29-year old mother who was killed by her abusive, controlling partner who exhibited typical perpetrator behaviours: controlling her every move, calling her constantly, monitoring her social media accounts, deciding where she was able to go and who she was able to see.
We meet former police people, tasked with helping women out of dangerous circumstances. We follow their methods of tracing the tracking devices abusers secretly install on their victims’ cars, the tiny cameras placed by perpetrators in bedrooms and living rooms and kids’ soft toys.
We meet counsellors who meet victims in secret rooms in shopping centres, which is the only safe place where women might not be followed to strategise an escape plan.
In part two of the series, Hill will look at the question so many pose: “Why doesn’t she leave?”
See What You Made Me Do is available with subtitles in six languages (simplified Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Hindi, Punjabi and Korean), with audio for blind or vision-impaired viewers.
On Wednesday 19 May, after the final episode, Hill will join experts in a one-hour special to discuss possible solutions to domestic abuse in Australia.
“I wanted to reveal domestic abuse to the general public but also give that language back to victim survivors, so they can have words they feel like are missing to talk about what they go through,” Hill told me back in April 2020.
“What we perhaps need to talk more about is what happens to men. Gender was always a by-word for the study of women and femininity. It’s only been much more recently that people have started to realise that gender applies to men as well. I hope that men are also starting to realise how entrapping this system of patriarchy is for them.”
In March, Hill was a keynote speaker at the March4Justice rally in Sydney, where she called out the government for its atrocious record of ill-treatment of women.
“You are all here today – because you are not having any of it,” she shouted into the crowd of thousands. Because you know there are two stages of perpetration. The first stage is the attack, or the violence or abuse.”
“The second stage is the silencing. And the silencing is the betrayal. And that is how the trauma truly takes root. We can’t all be there at the time of the attack. We can’t stop that trauma from taking place.”
“But we can be there for the second stage. And we are here today to say that Brittany will not be silenced, Dhanya will not be silenced – victim survivors will not be silenced. Not on our watch. Not now. Not ever. So let me ask you. When this march is over, will you be silent on violence? Next week, will you be silent? Will you ever be silenced again?”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au.
In an emergency, call 000.
Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636.