Note: this story discusses sexual assault and suicide.
“My son has been a perpetrator and bashed my daughter-in-law and thrown his young daughter at the couch several times.”
One sentence, from a mother, in an unsolicited email. One note, among hundreds. All from stakeholders, desperate for a solution to the domestic violence epidemic Australia is suffering.
Police. Prosecutors. Victims. Perpetrators. Researchers. And families. Fathers worried about daughters falling victim to domestic brutality. Grandmothers worried about what their grandchildren are seeing, and wondering whether it runs in families. My email and social media streams are full of them. And a mother, worried her son might kill his wife before his next court date.
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“He has kept my daughter-in-law a prisoner,” she said. “He is still calling the shots through friends and has threatened to kill his wife, myself and two others and also take my granddaughter…”
She says police have removed her son from the family home, but he is out on bail for another two weeks. That’s particularly scary given another father who was out on bail faces murder charges after allegedly burning alive his 27-year-old partner in front of their three small children.
The ratcheting up in horror, in how women and children are dying, is beyond what we might have imagined a few years ago. In South Australia, Henry David Shepherdson showed a particular brand of evil by jumping to death with his baby daughter strapped to him. On the Gold Coast this week, another woman was found dead, stuffed in a furniture chest, in an apparent murder-suicide. Three of the last half dozen domestic violence victims in Queensland have been burnt alive.
“Enough is enough,” one woman wrote to me this week. “We need to scream it from the rooftops, [have it] plastered on the front page of every newspaper, mass rallies and bombardment of our politicians on the issue. How many more have to be brutally murdered before solid change will occur?”
It’s a question that demands an answer.
Another had this question: “Do we need to see a woman burnt alive, or strangled, or bludgeoned to death to invoke the level of mass outrage that moves us beyond platitudes and finally leads to action?”
“Australia doesn’t care,” another said. “And it’s devastating. Easier to turn away and watch the footy.”
A US law attorney reminded me that this happens everywhere, and to all sorts of women. “A prosecutor in Illinois where I got my first job prosecuting was shot and killed by her ex-husband while exchanging their child for visitation at his parents’ house about a year or so ago,” she wrote. “She’d just graduated law school and had her whole life ahead of her.”
An Australian nurse living in the United States believes domestic violence is the Australian version of gun violence in the US: “deep-rooted and systemic. For all the faults of the US justice system, they take domestic violence and child abuse seriously. Until the people of Australia demand better and act, the situation will not change. Children at risk will still get returned to abusive parents in the name of ‘keeping the family together’ and women will continue to die horrific, preventable deaths.”
Her analysis from afar is that Australians can be “too polite, nice and obedient”: “We must demand action and reform. The way Australian governments have managed COVID-19 and gun violence is a shining example of political strength when needed.”
One senior woman who works with families suffering domestic violence said: “I am genuinely losing hope.” Another said: “I saw a guy abusing a woman verbally and at length in a bar last night. Nobody noticed but me! I told the staff — they did nothing! Is that the way it is now because it’s so common?”
And this: “I had a nightmare about Kelly [the 27-year-old mother burnt to death] last night. I can only imagine the trauma her children are experiencing. I believe the community at large wants this to end. Where is the political will?”
That’s a bloody good question, and she’s not the only one asking. The mother fearful of her son’s next move now he’s out on bail says they are just waiting and wondering what might happen: “Why can’t our politicians do something before she becomes another statistic?”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.