Former NRL player Ben Barba was charged with two counts of public nuisance after an alleged fight with his partner at a Townsville casino. Picture: AAP/Michael Chambers
Former NRL player Ben Barba was charged with two counts of public nuisance after an alleged fight with his partner at a Townsville casino. Picture: AAP/Michael Chambers

Ben Barba’s punishment is an offence to all of us

Here in Australia, you can pin a woman to a wall by her throat, hit her with a shoe and strike her with a rock in a drunken rage for the low, low price of 150 hours of community service.

Here in Australia, you can kill your wife for the comparatively slight inconvenience of six years in the slammer.

Here in Australia, something is incredibly, incredibly wrong.

Comprehensively disgraced former NRL player Ben Barba made it into a Queensland courthouse in the nick of time on Tuesday to face charges of public nuisance (throwing his long-term partner and the mother of his children into the wall of a casino) and obstructing police (having an attitude when officers showed up to investigate an alleged domestic assault only weeks later).

Former NRL player Ben Barba appeared at Townsville Magistrates Court on Tuesday. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Former NRL player Ben Barba appeared at Townsville Magistrates Court on Tuesday. Picture: Zak Simmonds

The punishment for all that? 150 hours of community service. Not even a conviction. There will be no official record of the 30 minutes he spent terrorising the woman he claims to love so badly that she allegedly tried to escape through swamp land.

In this case, the court could only do so much. Barba's partner declined to make a formal complaint, so it was impossible to charge him with assault and seek heavier penalties.

But if domestic violence victims can't, or won't, come forward and expose the abuse they suffer, that is as good an indication as any that Australia is systematically failing them.

As people living in the community, we need to show domestic violence victims they deserve better. We need to show them they are worthy of different lives. We need to show them violence is not normal, it is not necessary, and that it needs to stop.

Ben Barba with his partner Ainslie Curry in 2012. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty
Ben Barba with his partner Ainslie Curry in 2012. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty

We need to show domestic violence perpetrators there will be severe and legitimate consequences for their abhorrent behaviour.

Or the cycle continues on, and on, and on.

If we as a society are serious about breaking the chain of domestic violence NRL clubs need to take violence against women more seriously and stop developing a sudden amnesia about players' criminal histories before giving them a six-figure contract.

The justice system could come up with a more compelling punishment than 150 hours' unpaid community service for the deeply humiliating and dehumanising act of beating a vulnerable woman with your shoe.

Ben Barba was punished with 150 hours of community service. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Ben Barba was punished with 150 hours of community service. Picture: Zak Simmonds

We could say a woman's life - murdered Melbourne woman Karen Ristevski's life, for example - was worth more than six years behind bars for her killer.

We need a multi-pronged approach, and we need it now.

We need to provide a safe context for victims to escape domestic violence.

We need to utterly renounce domestic violence perpetrators' conduct and tell them their disgraceful behaviour is not on.

We need to show that there are real consequences for those who decide to terrorise and abuse others.

We need to treat the lives of domestic violence victims with the seriousness we treat the issue of whether you've got a good fullback who can put the ball over the line.

It's time to give 110 per cent to crushing domestic violence and rip up the six figure contracts to those who refuse to play by the rules.

@ElizaJBarr