The danger of ignoring domestic violence

Donna Kupsch wears a white ribbon to raise awareness of domestic violence after her daughter, Jessica, was murdered at the hands of her on-again, off-again partner. Picture: SCOTT GELSTON
Donna Kupsch wears a white ribbon to raise awareness of domestic violence after her daughter, Jessica, was murdered at the hands of her on-again, off-again partner. Picture: SCOTT GELSTON

Donna Kupsch always feared that her daughter Jessica would live only a short life.

The grandmother from Rocherlea, near Launceston, saw her daughter endure more than six years of violence, threats and broken bones.

Mrs Kupsch said she thought the worst was over this year when Jessica arrived on her doorstep on the morning of Good Friday, holding a baby, in a ripped singlet with signs of assault.

She said Jessica had two broken bones in her arm and had promised to get off drugs and alcohol.

Mrs Kupsch called the police.

Almost five months later, Jessica was dead at 29 years of age.

Rocherlea man Mathew Patrick Tunks, 39, was sentenced last week to 23years' jail for bashing Jessica to death in a Launceston hotel room in August.

Forensic pathologist Donald Ritchey had conservatively estimated that Tunks struck Jessica 12 times, including six times to her arms and chest, and concluded that she had died due to several forceful kicks.

In sentencing, Justice Ewan Crawford said there was an imprint of Tunks's shoe left on her chest.

He said Tunks's violent criminal record included seven assaults, four of which were against Jessica, four breaches of family violence orders, each concerning her, and a conviction for wounding.

"It was a brutal crime, involving considerable violence by an offender who had been violent many times before, including to the victim," Justice Crawford said in sentencing.

"Unlike many who are sentenced for murder, he has a bad record."

Mrs Kupsch said the domestic violence inflicted upon Jessica had swallowed up the last six years of her life.

"She avoided hospital treatment and used to hide what I believe were serious injuries," Mrs Kupsch said.

"She tried to get out numerous times, but he had such a hold on her.

"She got out of it a couple of times, but she always went back."

Mrs Kupsch would often hear Jessica's screams from her own home.

"Jessica only lived three doors up from me at one stage, so I would always hear it," she said.

"Even though I wasn't afraid of him, I felt helpless and powerless to help Jess.

"Half of the time I didn't call the police because she would tell me not to, that doing it would only make things worse.

"I wish that I had, but I listened to my daughter because I didn't want her to get hit any more."

Mrs Kupsch said Jessica believed that her family and children were in danger if she did not obey Tunks, or if she disclosed the violence inflicted upon her in the home.

"Jessica was molested when she was younger and she got threats from that - `I'm going to hurt your mother', for example," Mrs Kupsch said.

"Those feelings of fear come back and she believed the threats.

"Aside from the physical abuse, the yelling and screaming, there was the emotional abuse.

"There were the constant put-downs, telling her she was useless and lazy.

"Then, there was the controlling side of things, making it so she was dependent on him for everything.

"He isolated her from us, her family and her friends."

Mrs Kupsch feared for the safety of her four grandchildren, including the newborn baby that Jessica and Tunks had together - their only child.

Mrs Kupsch said she was able to have Jessica's three older children removed to live with their grandmother 6 1/2 years ago after Tunks assaulted her.

"I couldn't have them in that situation," Mrs Kupsch said.

"She didn't take it well, but she knew they would be safe.

"She did see her children over the years whenever she could and whenever he was not around, but she was also on a time limit."

Mrs Kupsch said Jessica finally decided to leave Tunks in April.

"We were all pleased that she'd left because there wouldn't be any more fighting and she wouldn't get hurt any more," Mrs Kupsch said.

"Jessica was reconciling with her other three children and she was doing really well.

"And then ...

"He robbed her of everything, seeing her children grow up.

"And he robbed me of my daughter.

"She always used to say `I'll be OK, Mum, I'll be OK'."

Mrs Kupsch said the wider community, with family, friends and neighbours, had an obligation to act against domestic violence when they either witnessed it or were made aware of it.

"Ongoing domestic violence will kill you," she said.

"If you hear screaming and yelling, call the police.

"Keep calling because you might save a life.

"These control freaks will kill you - if not literally, they will at least kill your spirit.

"They will separate you from the ones you love."