Interview with Sarah Ferguson on her documentary Hitting Home.
Domestic violence is such a prevalent issue in our modern Australia society. ABC Journalist Sarah Ferguson addresses this issue in her 6-month-in-the-making documentary ‘Hitting Home’ which examines how abusive relationships can potentially lead to violence and murder. Being such a ripe subject, and with the release of the documentary Hush Hush Biz was interested in seeing how Sarah coped with the process and her thoughts on the issue that has a growing concern with women who are the victims.
Congratulations on creating such a successful documentary. How did you handle covering such an emotionally exhausting experience?
“It’s the job. You tell yourself that you don’t allow those feelings in because you have to maintain being professional. I didn’t let myself admit it, but once it was done the great intensity of it came over me once I allowed myself to acknowledge that that was the case.”
So you’re saying that you kept detached?
“Yes, but it doesn’t stop you from having empathy or compassion for the people that you’re. In order to understand and bring the subject to a television programme that touches people who don’t know the subject you need a professional capacity to not let yourself be overwhelmed by each case. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not seeping into you. With all of the women I met making the series, they are present with me now.”
Tell us about the television series that you created over the 6 months of reporting.
“There was an easier way to make this series: to tell it through stories that have happened in the past and to have people recall things that have happened a while ago that also had value. What we decided to do was make it much more difficult, which I thought would have more impact on those people who didn’t understand. That was to go to the people, be with people, film with people and live with people who were going through these situations. I moved into a refuge throughout that period. There were people who had been there for a little while and there were people who were trying to leave and re-establish into normal life with their children because the refuge I was in was only for women and families. At the same time, we were in a court in Western Sydney where we had access to the safe room where all the victims of domestic violence come on the day that they have their court cases. We went through a number of court cases and watched how the process works with the victims of domestic violence. We spent time with the police looking at the new ways police are trying to combat domestic violence and trying to go to the root causes. We also spent time with women who were going through court cases. Women who were separated from their partners had to have cameras installed in their homes to protect them leading up to court day. There was a very tense situation with a woman who was going to have to see her partner in court and give evidence against him. On the other side, we also wanted to understand a little bit more about what was going on in the mind of the perpetrators. So I spent time in a men’s prison with perpetrators of domestic violence going through a program trying to re address their thinking and attitudes. I spent time with a wonderful woman whose daughter was murdered by her partner. This was the first time that she felt she could talk about it and to have a look at how a case of domestic violence where a young beautiful successful woman ends up dead. What is the link between domestic violence that happens with that awful daily grinding unhappiness of it without violence and how that escalates very fast, especially in her case with her being murdered. She was in her mid 20s. Beautiful girl, had a good job in Sydney and even met this guy who was in the navy. When her husband started doing the domestic violence thing, it started to separate her from her friends. She said that he told her things such as “I love you so much I don’t want you to do this, don’t wear these clothes, don’t dress like this”, gradually trying to separate her from her life so that he could control every aspect of her life and she eventually managed to leave him. As we know, one of the most dangerous moments was when she left him. He had kept her key to her apartment and let himself into her apartment and murdered her at home. In that instance, the thing that really resonated in that story was that her friends have to live with that for the rest of their lives and her mother always talks about what they should have done. It’s not really obvious to them what was going on, but at the time they didn’t see the danger. They took part in this documentary because they wanted to tell people. If people feel like something is wrong, you must do or say something. They’ll brush you off because people are ashamed, embarrassed and don’t want to talk about it, but you just have to get through that. Because they didn’t, their friend was killed.”
The awareness of what you’re bringing out is such a vital point. Have we got stronger solutions to try and break this issue now?
“These are hard things to shift. I think that there is unquestionably movement because we’re talking about it more. You wouldn’t get that quantity of resources and effort put into television. Now, people want to know about it and are a little bit more open to it. There is so much good work being done in the medical profession, with the police and in the courts to try and improve the way the system works. It’s imperfect, but the fact that all of those initiatives – some of them quite simple and brilliant – are underway tells me that there is progress. It’s important when you’re trying to shift big dark issues in society to recognise that progress is hard. However, when you get progress, you need to say so. You have to tell people that they can shift their mindsets.”
Would you say that this could be a pattern that men who have come from being abused as to their families could be some of the issues here. ?
“That’s absolutely the case. It is a repeated cycle and that’s the way relationships work. You repeat. You can meet a perpetrator who is the most delightful father who wouldn’t even think of that. Sometimes it can just occur without that. The danger is that if you have been exposed to it, understanding how to build a proper relationship after that is very difficult. The thing about this program is that anybody who downloads or watches this, you watch it for a minute and you won’t stop because of the people in it. This is not a grim set. It sounds like it could be, but it is a very powerful and uplifting program because it’s showing people who are going through it that they are all moving through. Their stories are so gripping, once you get into their lives you won’t want to leave them. You want to know what happened.”
Are you planning on doing a follow up on this?
“I’m sure at some stage we will, yes. The stories were so powerful and moved me so deeply that there’s no way that I could just leave them and not return.”
I think this is a great credit to you to uncover such important story and how you gone to such an in-depth way with what you done.
“Thank you. It’s just about finding the things that matters. The question that we’re always asking is where can you do something, even if it’s a tiny shift, so that you can move a little bit the way people think or comfort someone or tell someone that they’re not alone. All of those things is what I’m constantly looking for. The subject where you can make a difference. It may be a small difference sometimes which you just have to accept. It can be big or it can be small, so long as people’s mindsets are not the same afterwards.”
Hitting Home is now available on digital download and DVD. This is a must see as to confronting report and its is eye opening.
Caroline Russo interview and Composed by Jacqueline Coleman.