When news broke on Wednesday of a car fire in Brisbane in which three children were reportedly deceased, my first thought was that it must have been a terrible accident. What I read next confirmed it wasn’t. It was far worse.
I wish I had more to say for #HannahBaxter. Thoughts and prayers just don't cut it. I hope her murder and the murder of her three children may finally prompt a reaction to throw everything we have at ending the scourge of family violence we see every single week in Australia. pic.twitter.com/RB1GlkaQ2u
— Dr Kirstin Ferguson (@kirstinferguson) February 19, 2020
The murder of Hannah Clarke, Aaliyah (6), Laianah (4), and Trey (3), is quite possibly the most harrowing, horrific crime imaginable. Four innocent victims killed in broad daylight. Burnt alive. By their father. A man, it is now reported, who had previously kidnapped his children.
A man, we now know, who chose to douse his own small children, strapped into their car seats, and their mother in petrol before setting the car alight. A man who then took his own life.
To merely contemplate the horror and cruelty of that scene is deeply confronting. To imagine the terror and confusion Hannah and those children endured on a suburban Brisbane street is sickening.
For the bystanders, police and paramedics who witnessed it, I can only imagine the trauma that will be forever seared in their hearts and minds.
To the family and friends of Hannah and those beautiful, innocent children, there are no words. A world in which their lives could be ended this way is a world that is difficult to accept.
And yet this godforsaken, misery-drenched, act of terror is not unfamiliar territory. Far from it. It is a perilous path far too well trodden.
How, is the question these violent and vile crimes inevitably prompt. How can any parent ever take this step? It is a question I have asked experts too many times.
I asked when Rosie Batty’s son Luke was killed. I asked when a man in Margaret River shot his wife, his daughter and his grandchildren before killing himself.
I asked when a father in Sydney shot his two teenage children before taking his own life.
“It’s about destroying the thing most precious to this woman and that’s her kids,” McLeod-Howe told me of Olga Edwards, a lawyer in her 30s who arrived home from work to her children being dead. Edwards later took her own life.
Here we are eighteen months later pondering not just how this happens, but, more importantly, what can we do to stop it? How can we limit the toll this scourge exacts?
You know the statistics. We all know the statistics. A woman, every week, is killed in Australia at the hands of a man she knows. That’s the “average” and it still doesn’t garner the urgency of action it warrants. It’s been said before but I will say it again.
This is a state of emergency. It is a national crisis.
What happened in Brisbane in Camp Hill on Wednesday morning was an act of terror. It was. And it’s not isolated. Not even close.
We know how prolific abusive relationships are in Australia. Can you begin to imagine the fear in women, already living in fear, when they read or watched what happened yesterday? Can you imagine how many women and children feel vulnerable to experiencing something like what happened yesterday?
I can. And it doesn’t just terrify me. It enrages me. There is not a human being on this planet who deserves to be terrorised in their own home. Yet that’s the reality for too many women and children in the year 2020 in Australia and not enough is being done to change it.
There’s not so much as a taskforce being assembled to tackle this. To the contrary too many services on the frontline of domestic violence have been consistently underfunded, been left to fight for survival against a backdrop of surging demand for their services.
In Sydney, the comparison with the lock-out laws that swiftly came into effect in response to a series of fatal one-punch attacks remains sadly telling. How many more children and women need to die before this violence is escalated to where it needs to be?
Honestly? I fear there is no number.
Over the past five years I have either written or edited or published too many reports with headlines like “It’s April and 28 women have already been killed this year” or “Eight women killed in ten days” or “Five women were murdered in Australia in seven days” or “Three women killed in one state in one week is a crisis“.
That last headline was pretty brutal, but it was nothing on the first line in a news report about it: “A stabbing, two hammer attacks and a strangling have made it a horror week of domestic violence in NSW.”
But not even three women being brutally killed in one week was enough to make front page news. That’s why I fear there is no limit on the number of women and children who will die before we intervene.
Why the hell are we still seeing headlines and stories like this about #familyviolence? This wasn't some random car fire tragedy. A man killed his wife and kids #HannahBaxter pic.twitter.com/YkEAg60pj6
— Pauline Lockie (@paulinelockie) February 19, 2020
I’m not an expert. I have never worked in a domestic violence service. I don’t have any qualifications. But I have interviewed countless survivors of violence as well as experts and advocates who work on the frontline in this space. I have listened to families left behind. I have sat in conferences and workshops presented by international experts and researched and written about this scourge.
And, like, so many others I am so very ready for us to move beyond the shock and horror of these crimes. I am ready to move into meaningful change and reform.
I am not Pollyanna. I know this isn’t an easily-solved problem but I also don’t believe it’s beyond us. I refuse to when I consider the breadth and depth of humankind’s capacity.
I believe it’s beholden on all of us to throw everything we have at changing the abysmal statistics.
And when I say throw everything at it I mean money. I mean resources, energy, leadership.
I mean services so there are safe places women can go in their time of need, and then, critically, have sustainable housing solutions that don’t force victims of violence back to perpetrators.
I mean investing in reform so that our criminal justice system doesn’t endanger women and children, but supports them.
I mean investing in education and widespread campaigns about the toxicity of control in relationships – taught at primary school, and reiterated every year, so girls and boys learn, early, that control in relationships is a red flag. That it is the mark of an unhealthy relationship. That it needs to be rejected in every instance. Control is at the root of every abusive relationship and it is dangerous even if it hasn’t yet manifested in violence.
I mean investing in vital policies to ensure Australia inches closer to a gender equal world. Policies that normalise fathers as carers and women as workers. Policies that enable men and women to work and care.
That help transform the cultural divide between men and women, by ensuring women and men are more equally represented in leadership positions. In parliament, boardrooms, schools, hospitals, universities, start up hubs. Everywhere.
We need to invest in policies that are proven to reduce the inequity that we know provides fertile fodder for violence against women.
We need to intentionally pursue a world in which men and women are depicted, respectfully, in all their humanity as a matter of course.
What happened in Brisbane on Wednesday was not merely a tragedy. It was a disaster waiting to happen. We’ve seen it before and unless we determine to tackle this problem different and systemically we will see it again.
Can anyone today look at photos of Hannah and Aaliyah and Laianah and Trey and conclude that what we’re doing now is working or enough? It isn’t. Their beautiful, smiling eyes will remain haunting proof of that.
Their lives should not have been taken. They should have gone to preschool or daycare yesterday. They should have played. And napped. And had stories read to them. They should have been tucked into bed last night by someone who loved them. They deserved all of the little things that lucky children are totally free to take for granted.
What they got instead is utterly devastating. Is it too much to hope that their horror is a line in the sand? The point at which we collectively, as individuals, employers, governments, communities, families, say this isn’t working? There is another way. There has to be.
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.