*Trigger warning: this story discusses domestic violence and coercive control

The fact that Val France arrived in this world as a healthy baby is a miracle after her mother suffered physical atrocities at the hands of her father. Having her childhood marred by domestic violence has fortified Val’s resolve to do whatever she can to eliminate this scourge that pervades our society. 

by Judy Fredriksen

Born in England in the 1960s, Val France was fostered out from birth after her father tried to make her mother abort by kicking her in the stomach, throwing her down the stairs and putting her head in a gas oven.

“My parents divorced in 1966 on the grounds of cruelty against my mother by my father. I then went to live with my mother and older sister when I was five years old,” explains Val.

Despite her rough start in life, Val’s caring side and capacity for justice surfaced when, upon leaving school, she worked for the London Ambulance Service before fighting crime and serving with the Metropolitan Police. Her experiences in these units provided her with a solid grounding to study law after arriving in Australia in 1995.

“I studied family law as an elective and decided my future was to work in an area of social justice. I worked in a domestic violence service in Townsville, supporting victims of domestic and family violence and co-facilitated a men’s behaviour change program.

“I loved working in the community and advocating for women who needed someone to be a voice for them and fight their corner.”

Luckily for Maleny (where Val now lives) and the Blackall Range, she now fights not just for women, but all those who are impacted by domestic violence. Although most incidents of domestic violence involve men abusing women, men can also be victims of abuse. 

Val is a founding member and spokesperson for the Maleny Blackall Range ‘Speak Up Now – Stop Domestic and Family Violence’ organisation formed in 2020.

The organisation is proving to be a leader in the community, having garnered impressive levels of support from local service clubs, churches, businesses, lawyers, schools and non-profit organisations.  Its signature project has seen the installation of seven red benches along the Blackall Range, with another three in the pipeline.

“The purpose of the red benches is to invite people to start a conversation about issues of domestic and family violence. Each bench has a plaque which states: ‘Let’s change the ending’.”

Following a major spike in domestic violence incidents during Covid-19, Val welcomes the proposed changes which will see coercive control become a criminal office in Queensland by the end of 2023.

Val says some examples of coercive control are: “Stalking behaviour; online and technology monitoring; dictating when and what a person can eat or wear; who they can see or talk to; how much they spend and on what; threatening to take the children; threatening to harm pets; or deliberately prolonging court cases.”

While there is plenty of help available to domestic violence victims through various government and private organisations, it can be difficult for them to access the support if their phone or computer is being monitored by an overbearing partner or family member. Fortunately, the introduction of DV safe phones is helping to overcome this.

“DV Safe Phones is an organisation down the coast (Mooloolaba), and there other similar organisations throughout Queensland. 

“Old phones are donated, wiped clean and data is deleted. They supply them to a number of registered organisations, for example, Centacare or DV Services on the coast, women’s shelters, neighbourhood centres. The phones are given to the victims with a $15 sim card, even if they already have a phone. 

“It becomes their backup phone. We know it won’t have any ‘stalking apps’ on it, so it’s a DV safe phone. They can use it for lodging their Centrelink Emergency Payment Applications or DV Protection Order Applications and getting information from DV Services who can help them create a new email address.

“To date, the Maleny and hinterland community has donated over 52 mobile phones to DV Safe Phone.

 “It’s also important for victims to have a safety plan in place,” says Val. 

“You need to have an emergency bag with copies of all your pertinent documents – driver’s licence, marriage certificate, passport, any paperwork to do with custody of the children, DVO orders. You need a set of car keys somewhere safe, you need money and credit cards. Have an emergency bag for each of your children with clothes and toys. 

“If you are unable to hide the emergency bags in your own home, leave them with a neighbour.

“Have a code word set up with your family so if you ring with the code word in the middle of the night, they know you need help. 

“When leaving a situation … that is when a person is most at risk of violence, even murder. Domestic violence is about power and control. Once that power and control is taken away from someone … that is when they react.”

As part of the Speak Up Now program, prominent Toowoomba lawyer Adair Donaldson will be the guest speaker at the June meeting of the Maleny Chamber of Commerce. A specialist in abuse and family law, Donaldson will also speak to high school students and sporting groups while in Maleny.

If you or anyone you know needs help, contact 1800 811 811 DV Connect Womensline or 1800 600 636 DV Connect Mensline.

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