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Review: Sarah Ferguson tackles domestic violence epidemic in 'Hitting Home'

Updated: May 12, 2022

Paul Kalina, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 November, 2015

Did Rosie Batty draw a line in the sand where domestic violence became a topic of public discussion?

What I think pierced the nation's consciousness with Rosie Batty is that it was the day after her son was brutally killed she was talking to us. We were drawn into the event itself. It was the rawness of it and the fact we were very near spectators to her grief. I think that did change things because one of the hardest things for people with no knowledge of this is [understanding] how it works, what it is and how it turns into these extraordinarily dramatic events. It's a very hard thing to capture if you haven't had to live through it. Domestic violence is an ugly phrase. It doesn't really explain what it is. The point of this series is to take you to that place.

Why has it taken the media so long to rally behind the issue?

I think it's the coyness around private events. These are not private events where if you're so inclined you can take any salacious or voyeuristic pleasure. This is not for enjoyment. I think the private nature of it means people have been coy about it. It's part of a taboo and though that taboo is regularly shattered I don't think it's been shattered by factual reporting. It is the taboo about what happens at home.

How difficult were the negotiations over access?

There was a hugely elaborate duty of care process towards the victims. There was no point making this with retrospection about events that happened five or 10 years ago. We knew we had to do something completely different and that meant living with people who were going through it at the moment. When I was living in the refuge I met women who were unable to speak to me on the day (of being attacked), but two weeks after the experience was still so raw, so fresh. We wanted to take people much closer to the events themselves, where the trauma of the event is present and alive. But that means talking to people who are very vulnerable so the duty of care to them and the organisations that are responsible to them … was a huge job. Unprecedented, I would say, in my experience.

When you're with the women you're very objective, you keep your sympathy for them and their children at bay. Was it a necessary part of the process to remain detached?

I wouldn't say detached, because I was moved all the time and felt it and they would have sensed that I empathised with them. At the same time, I didn't feel it was my job to be the person offering sympathy because I'm still an outsider. I was getting as close to them and living in parallel as I could. I thought it better if I continue to ask straight questions and that means you empathise but you don't become their friend. This is a question about filmmaking in the immersive area: how far you go. My rule of thumb is this; you can get close to people but you don't force it by overplaying the "I am your friend" hand at the beginning. It is about truthful relationships.

You avoid reaction shots too. Who's the most important person in this thing? Not me, so while I'm there on your behalf and convey as much of the feeling of the scene as possible, they are more important than I am. In episode two there is a great scene where a prisoner talks about assaulting his girlfriend. There's a lot of me in that scene where the power balance is shifting right there and you can see it on the screen. Are pockets of the media responsible for the dangerous stereotypes that surround abuse victims; for example, that they have only themselves to blame for the relationship they've found themselves in? Not pockets – all of it, and I include myself in that because while I wouldn't go so far as to blame someone, my ignorance about the dynamics of relationships, especially at the beginning, was profound. The insidious way domestic violence pulls apart the soul, I didn't know that. I posed a lot of those ignorant questions myself; why do you let back someone who's hurt you? The only way I could get people to explain what had kept those relationships going was by posing those questions. I think by the end of it, I came a long way to understanding that. So how did making this alter your views?

One of the things that really took me aback was you think about how much marriage as an institution has been battered over the past decade and yet the happy marriage is still the most potent image for all of the women I met. They all believed that children deserve to have both parents, that marriage was the ultimate goal and that they would try and try again despite this outrageous behaviour to keep this marriage together. A lightbulb moment for me was one of the police prosecutors who's driving this huge change in how police deal with domestic violence by focusing on the risk that lies ahead rather than the crime that lies behind. While our focus is on male and female aggressors, there are questions to be asked about the expectations we raise in women about what a happy and healthy relationship is. I think that's a different question from 'why did you stay?'. In one very uncomfortable scene the barrister of an accused abuser cross-examines his client's victim. Is that right? The police, the court advocacy workers and the magistrates do their best but I found it very hard to watch an intimate relationship played out in the courtroom. We had instances where the alleged aggressor wasn't even represented by a lawyer and was asking the questions. Unless we have domestic violence courts, that will continue. You turn up to court without a lawyer, you can cross-examine your wife, as you might have done in the kitchen. Watching victims go through trials was one of the hardest things about making this series. Do you hope this will bring about such changes? This is not a current affairs program strictly speaking. The idea I pose is a very simple one: what is domestic violence? I didn't want to examine the system to find its faults and hold it up to scrutiny. This is about the experience of living alongside people going through it.

What effect can a show like this have? What I hope is to further rip off that shroud from the subject, to see this topic in a way it hasn't been before. The idea was to take people beyond those representational images that we have and take you into that world. By the time you get to the end of the second episode I would hope that you look at the relationships of people around you, maybe even your own, and ask yourself how healthy is it and if there is any sign of unhealthiness and that you suggest someone get professional help. Hitting Home, ABC, Tuesday and Wednesday, 8.30pm

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