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Calling it for what it is.

The Baxter children, Facebook photo reproduced by the ABC.
The Baxter children, Facebook photo reproduced by the ABC.

The full extent of the domestic violence that played out in Brisbane on Wednesday when three children and their mother were killed by their father and her husband, has been revealed.

Police allege that Hannah Clarke and her children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4 and Trey, 3 were set alight in the family car by her estranged husband Rowan Baxter.

It’s an opportune moment, in the lead up to International Women’s Day on Sunday March 8, to think about deaths from domestic violence in this country. I didn’t think very much about the forceful connection between violent death in Australia and domestic violence, until I researched it for my book.

Here are some startling facts, that we all need to think about.

A report by insurance company, Cover Australia, said that of all the 511 homicides in 2014:

  • 39 per cent were classed as domestic
  • 36 per cent were carried out by acquaintances
  • 58 per cent were caused by the intimate partner in domestic cases
  • 70 per cent took place at residential properties.

So despite the depictions in movies and on television of homicide being largely a mystery, and committed by a stranger, it isn’t. It’s usually perpetrated at home. Add to this the fact that 85 per cent of the perpetrators are male, it becomes pretty clear how close the relationship between domestic violence and homicide is.

I’ll update the breakup of the homicide figures for more recent ones when I can find figures gathered and analysed the same way. But it’s likely to be a similar break up, since in Australia rates of partner violence and sexual violence have remained stable since 2005, despite total violence perpetrated by any person on another declining significantly over the same period.

“Pretty much all of Australia is reeling from this terrible, terrible incident of domestic violence,” ABC radio presenter Wendy Harmer said on Thursday morning, about the death of Hannah and he three children.

She stumbled and paused for a second when she described it as ‘murder’. I’m not suggesting Wendy didn’t want to call it for what it is, but you could feel  her surprise, as though it were only dawning on her what she should call it as she was saying it.

Has the expression ‘domestic violence’ been used so much that it has numbed us to what it really is?

Rebecca Poulson’s father was murdered by her brother-in-law, as he tried to protect her niece Malee and nephew, Bas, who was also murdered. She points out that 85 per cent of child homicides in Australia are carried out by a parent.

She now lobbies, along with the Poulson Family Foundation, to help prevent child homicide. The Foundation focuses on police training to improve responses to apprehended violence orders and to increase the level of NSW Department of Community Services (DOCS) caseworkers for children whose cases have already received a red flag.

Wendy Harmer also pointed out on Thursday that in Queensland, where the Baxter murders happened, there is a backlog of 70,000 domestic violence cases waiting to be assessed by courts. This suggests the problem is a low priority for Australians.

Columnist Jenna Price made some good points about how action needs to replace tokenism on violence against women,  in a piece she wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald last year: “Change doesn’t happen because of merit badges or their modern-day equivalent, white ribbons. Change comes because we fundamentally shift the social contract and in preparation, the conversation.”

Untie those white ribbons and get men on board for equality, by Jenna Price, can be found at:https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/gender/untie-those-white-ribbons-and-get-men-on-board-for-equality-20191007-p52ybt.html

For more on domestic violence in Australia, go to: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-sexual-violence-australia-2019/contents/data-sources-for-monitoring-family-domestic-and-sexual-violence/national-homicide-monitoring-program-nhmp

On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. For more background on this, go to: https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/facts-violence-women/domestic-violence-statistics/

For the Poulson Family Foundation, go to:http://www.rebeccapoulson.com.au/poulson-family-foundation/

And for the ;atest figures from teh AUstralian Institute of Health and Welfare visit: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/family-domestic-and-sexual-violence

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