If anyone should know the impact of their comments and the harm they can cause it should be a Queensland detective tasked with addressing the media regarding the most horrific incident of family and domestic violence imaginable.
Such a media conference should be an opportunity to not only address the concerns of the public, call for more information where needed and offer an update on the investigation, but to also highlight and draw attention to the epidemic of domestic and family violence in their state.
But when Queensland detective Mark Thompson addressed reporters yesterday on their investigation into the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children, he chose comments that were jaw dropping in their tone and raised angry questions about just what the investigation is actually doing.
“Our job as investigators is to keep a completely open mind,” he said.
“We need to look at every piece of information and, to put it bluntly, there are probably people out there in the community that are deciding which side, so to speak, to take in this investigation.
“Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence, and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband?
“Or is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues that he’s suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?
“That’s why I want people to come and speak to us, if we are going to build a complete picture as to what has occurred, then we need to need to speak to everyone.”
He later tried to clarify his statement when questioned by journalists, but it was too late. This narrative had been delivered, a dangerous one suggesting there are excuses for perpetrators. He also had squandered an opportunity to deliver clear, memorable and proactive remarks on how we can end the epidemic of family violence.
Hannah Clarke was the eighth woman to die due to violence against women in Australia this year, according to Counting Dead Women.
We already know that if eight people had been killed due to multiple ‘terrorist’ incidents in Australia we’d be seeing wall to wall media coverage. We’d be hearing from multiple ministers, including the prime minister, constantly.
And we can also be sure that police detectives investigating such terrorist incidents wouldn’t be telling reporters they are keeping an “open mind”, considering “which side” to take on the investigation, or asking if a perpetrator had been “driven too far”.
Late yesterday Georgie Dent wrote this desperate plea asking if this week’s incident would be a “turning point” on family and domestic violence. We sadly feel that we already know the answer.
Indeed, that piece was published around the same time that Thompson made these comments, offering a quick realisation of just how much work there is to be done and proving that even those tasked with investigating the issue at the highest places are still bungling their words — or worse, actually looking for excuses for perpetrators.
There’s been considerable outrage and concern now raised regarding Thompson’s press conference, along with calls for him to be stood down from the investigation. His comments were described as the “most dangerous things that exists for victims who doubt themselves” by victims’ advocate Renee Eaves in The Guardian. Tanya Plibersek noted on Twitter that “there is never an excuse for family violence. These kind of attitudes are a serious part of the problem.”
On ABC Radio this morning, Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll publicly apologised for the comments made by the detective. She described Thompson as “distraught and gutted” about his comments and said he “cannot believe the way he has phrased that.”
“I apologise for what was said and how it was said – the phraseology was completely wrong and the words and the way it was said should not have been used,” she said.
“He went on to try and explain definitely that it is abhorrent and unacceptable; he should have said this matter needs to be investigated to go before the coroner.”
This piece has been updated from an earlier version to include the public apology made by Commissioner Carroll over the comments.
Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636.
If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au
In an emergency, call 000.