On Monday, Day 6 of #16DaysOfActivism against gender-based violence, the register of known deaths due to violence against women in 2020 in Australia increased from 45 to 48. Three deaths were recorded in a single day.
It is the first time the Counting Dead Women Australia researchers of Destroy The Joint have recorded three deaths in a single day since the register began in 2012.
The 46th woman included on the register of women killed violently in Australia this year is Kobie Parfitt, a 43 year old who was last seen alive in Ballarat, Victoria, in late April. After receiving information from the public police now believe she was murdered that same day.
At midday on Monday emergency services were called to a block of units in Fairfield in NSW after a neighbour called triple-0. When police and paramedics arrived they found Samr Dawoodi struggling to breathe on the kitchen floor and she was unable to be resuscitated.
It is reported she was stabbed multiple times during what police said was an act of domestic violence. Her 60 year old husband was arrested at the scene and remains in police custody.
Less than an hour later, emergency services were called to a house at Narre Warren, Victoria. At 1pm they found a critically injured 42-year-old woman who was flown to hospital but later died. A 70-year-old woman and a three-year-old girl were also taken to hospital with serious injuries. An unnamed man was arrested at the scene and is also being treated for serious injuries.
But three recorded violent deaths in a single day isn’t enough to make front page news. When the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, referred to “repugnant” events in the news on Monday he wasn’t referring to these brutal deaths. And the utterly tragic truth is that no one would expect him too.
Yes, when Hannah Clarke and her three darling children were murdered in broad daylight in the suburbs of Brisbane in February, political leaders commented on it publicly. They couldn’t not. It was an act of violence so ghastly that it dominated national news and even attracted global headlines. The Prime Minister commented, along with State Premiers, without hesitation.
That is the exception not the rule though: when a domestic violence related crime takes place in public it is not readily ignored. But the vast majority of the violent deaths suffered by 47 other women in Australia this year, like the trauma suffered by hundreds and thousands of other women and children living with abusive partners, happen behind closed doors.
These matters remain “private”. And so it is that two women can be violently killed in their homes within the space of a single hour in Australia on Monday without it attracting national news coverage with the urgency that two separate deaths otherwise would.
Had two sharks claimed two lives at different beaches within the space of an hour on Monday, tell me it wouldn’t make front page news? Had two eerily similar workplace accidents in different cities resulted in two lives lost on Monday, tell me we wouldn’t be having a serious conversation about workplace safety?
The deaths of the three women whose names were added to the disastrous register on Monday are not un-related. They are connected by a fatal epidemic that the coronavirus pandemic has made even worse.
In May the Australian Institute of Criminology surveyed 15,000 women aged 18 years and older online about their experience of domestic violence and abuse. The results confirmed the pandemic coincided with the onset or escalation of violence and abuse.
Almost one in 10 Australian women in a relationship had experienced domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis.
The research provides the most detailed information in the world about the prevalence and nature of domestic violence experienced by women during the COVID-19 pandemic. It found 4.6 per cent experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner or former cohabiting partner in the previous three months. Almost six per cent of women experienced coercive control and almost 12 per cent experienced emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour.
Many women reported it was the first time their partner had been violent, while others said the violence was getting worse. For 33 per cent of these women, this was the first time they had experienced physical or sexual violence within their relationship.
More than half (53%) of women who had experienced physical or sexual violence before February 2020 said the violence had become more frequent or severe since the start of the pandemic.
One in three women (36.96%) who experienced physical or sexual violence or coercive control said that, on at least one occasion, they wanted to seek advice or support but could not because of safety reasons.
Frontline domestic violence specialists say the economic impacts of COVID-19 are disproportionately affecting victims, trapping them in situations of abuse due to financial dependence, unemployment and a lack of affordable accommodation.
A survey of specialists at 34 community services across NSW published in September found rising rates of women experiencing domestic violence since the onset of the pandemic, with more than 85 per cent recording an increase in the complexity of client cases.
It is no wonder that so many DV experts told The Guardian on Monday that this year has been so shocking.
“2020 will be remembered as the worst year for domestic violence that any of us who are in the sector now have ever experienced,” Hayley Foster, chief executive of Women’s Safety, New South Wales, said. “There [have been] just so many more strangulation cases, so many threats to kill, so many more serious head injuries, and sexual assaults [have been] going through the roof.”
The Illawarra Women’s Health Centre chief executive, Sally Stevenson, says referrals to the service from January to August increased 189% compared with the previous year, while phone calls spiked 55% in the same period. And waiting lists for counselling have blown out from two weeks to three months.
The chief executive Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, Karyn Walsh, says demand across all programs, including legal support, counselling and casework, has increased 30%. In Queensland, 81% of domestic violence services reported an escalation of controlling behaviour and manipulation in June, and 49% reported an escalation of perpetrators using Covid-19 as a reason for abuse.
Yet so many of the vital support services that women and children need remain “chronically underfunded”.
Despite the fact this scourge is killing women and children at an alarming rate. So far this year 48 women have been killed violently. In 2019 that figure was 63. In 2018 it was 71. And in 2017 it was 55.
It follows a pattern you might be familiar with. A woman, every week, is killed in Australia at the hands of a man she knows. That’s the “average”. It’s been higher and it still doesn’t garner the urgency of action it warrants.
And the number of murders only captures the very worst. It doesn’t capture the women terrorised – but alive. It doesn’t capture the women who escape physical bruises, but are trapped in a cycle of abuse and control.
The comparison with intimate terrorism and terrorism has been made countless times but I’ll make it again. Since the Bali terrorist attack in 2002, terrorist attacks overseas have claimed the lives of more than 110 Australians. Three Australians have lost their lives to terrorism on Australian soil since 2001.
In the last four years, 234 women have lost their lives to violence – that is double the number of Australian lives lost in over 25 years to terrorism.
And there’s not so much as a taskforce being assembled to tackle this pandemic. Services on the frontline of domestic violence – shelters, legal services, support services, hotlines – have been consistently underfunded, left to fight constantly just for survival, against a backdrop of surging demand. Volunteers are relied upon to provide the support and resources that women and children need.
We spend billions of dollars on national security, fighting terrorism, as we should, but the fact we fail to adequately fund efforts to stem the most deadly form of terrorism on Australian soil – intimate terrorism – is stark.
If two Australians had been killed in any other type of “terrorist” attack on Monday, let alone three, it would be front-page news and the question being asked wouldn’t be “Can we afford to invest in the services that are necessary to keep Australians safe?” It would be this: how big does the cheque need to be to ensure this does not happen again.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit https://www.1800respect.org.au/
For information about local services download the free Daisy App https://www.1800respect.org.au/daisy/–
Accessible information and support is available via the free Sunny App which has been developed for and by women with disability https://www.1800respect.org.au/sunny/
For Aboriginal Family Domestic Violence Hotline, call 1800 019 123
For legal information, visit the Family Violence Law Help website: https://familyviolencelaw.gov.au
In an emergency, call 000.