Content warning: This article discusses domestic violence and coercive control that may be distressing to some readers.

The ‘whole apparatus of domestic abuse’ needs to be put on trial and better understood to safeguard women and speed up reform, according to campaigners.

The Victorian Women’s Trust’s new podcast The Trap, an eight-part investigative series, sets out to uncover the systemic dynamics of domestic violence and coercive control occurring in Australian society.

Written and hosted by investigative journalist Jess Hill and produced by acclaimed documentarian Georgina Savage, the podcast examines how domestic violence starts, the various forms abuse can take, the impact of coercive control in everyday life and what victims face when seeking help through in-depth interviews with victim-survivors, perpetrators, police officers, counsellors, and trauma specialists.

The podcast also explores how domestic violence can be perpetuated in workplaces, courtrooms, and governing bodies while bringing together the social, cultural, psychological, and institutional elements of domestic abuse to emphasise the severity of this prominent issue affecting millions of Australian citizens today.

“I wanted to totally reorient the paradigm on domestic abuse away from an incident of violence, to how the entire experience is like being stuck in a trap,” Ms Hill told Central News.

“What we’re looking at is the whole apparatus of domestic abuse, how it happens behind closed doors, but also out in public so we can get away from the idea that we’re looking at incidents. What we’re trying to do is look at the course of this behaviour.”

Maria Chetcuti, the general manager for the Victorian Women’s Trust, said the name for the podcast is reframing the narrative towards the larger concerns surrounding how domestic violence functions within intimate romantic relationships and between family members.

“The name for the Trap is a good way of trying to describe coercive control and how people can get entrapped in this situation,” she said.

“There is a very deliberate attempt to try and name the process of entrapment that happens when someone finds themselves in a domestic abuse situation. Every situation is different, but these different tactics of coercive control sit across most relationships to some degree.”

Isolating or not allowing you to have access to the family finances is a tactical way on the part of the perpetrator so you don’t leave… these are common techniques that fall into the wheelhouse of domestic abuse.

Another major element of domestic abuse is coercive control, which the podcast thoroughly explores through defining the concept and understanding why it isn’t included in cultural discussions or legal proceedings surrounding abusive situations.

“[Coercive control is about] trying to identify a pattern of behaviour that can be identified as abusive,” Ms Chetcuti said. “Not one-off situations where you had an argument with your partner, but categorically doing things like isolating or not allowing you to have access to the family finances is a tactical way on the part of the perpetrator so you don’t leave.

“These are common techniques that fall into the wheelhouse of domestic abuse. But when we look at it through law or our cultural perspective, these are not the things we talk about. Rather we talk about bruises and death.”

One of the key moments the series focuses on is young children’s experiences with coercive control from their parents, and the complexities that surround protecting a loved one who is violent towards them.

Ms Hill said one of the most challenging interviews from the series was with a young girl who describes a close encounter she had with police officers.

“Lily saying that she lied when she was in the interview with police about her father’s behaviour to protect him because she didn’t want him to go to jail but wanted to go back in time when he used to play with her. You know that’s heartbreaking,” she said.

The challenge that arose while creating the series was deciding which medium would effectively deliver the key points of the subject material and not leave the audience feeling overwhelmed with information after they finished.

Ms Hill said that the podcast “creates an intimate setting and you’re getting the listener to be alone with these stories, uninterrupted, and all they’re hearing is their voice, and it’s a really powerful way to convey emotion”.

Ms Chetcuti added that audio is the perfect medium because it can be accessed by a wide range of people for no added cost and gave people the chance to listen to the episodes at their own pace.

“We could do an eight-part audio documentary series that goes deeper into the issue and could be consumed in shorter parts,” she said. “It allowed people to go on a deep dive, where they could go in for 10 minutes and could easily take a break if you needed to and can always be shared with your friends to start a conversation.”

The podcast also analyses the cultural notions of domestic abuse in Australia, with the onus on how women can escape the situation rather than asking what leads men to become abusive.

“It is still very controversial to ask why,” Ms Chetcuti said. “Not looking at it as why men perpetrate seems like a massive hole in our knowledge. I don’t see us getting to a solution unless we’re able to see the problem.”

We’re really analysing the family law courts and that whole culture of how it fails to reliably serve the people it is supposed to protect.

In Australia, the legal process for domestic violence cases is strenuous for victim-survivors, who are forced to relive their experiences on multiple occasions and may be forced to confront their perpetrator for full parental custody.

“The family court wants them to co-parent cooperatively, but if you’re dealing with a case of coercive control, it’s almost impossible to do because they’ll [perpetrator] will do whatever they can to keep control of you,” Ms Hill said.

“We’re really analysing the family law courts and that whole culture of how it fails to reliably serve the people it is supposed to protect,” she added.

Ms Chetcuti hopes that the Trap shed new light on the lived experiences of victim-survivors and encourages people to acknowledge how they can play a role in changing perceptions around domestic abuse in Australia.

“We hope this podcast adds something significant to the conversation and gives people that might not have experienced family violence directly a better understanding of what it is,” she said.

“If it is difficult for someone to understand and they themselves have experienced it [domestic abuse], then no wonder it is difficult for us as a nation to understand this.”

All eight episodes of The Trap are available on all major podcast platforms. Click here to listen to the whole series or through your favourite podcast app.

This podcast contains mentions of domestic violence and coercive control. If you or someone you know has been impacted by domestic violence, please contact one of the support services available:

Main images of Jess Hill and Maria Chetcuti supplied/Canva graphic.