I'll Never Forget These Violent, Tragic Crime Scenes. White Ribbon Is Gone, But You Can Still Help.
When I reflect on all the horrendous cases I’ve covered as a crime reporter, the one that remains at the forefront of my mind is the murder of a mother in Western Sydney in 2016.
Her husband, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, locked her in their bedroom and set the house on fire, burning her alive in front of their two young children, while she screamed for help. He’d been controlling and possessive before she decided to leave him.
I remember being at the scene the day after her horrific murder, standing on the footpath in front of the house, while my assigned news photographer snapped some shots of the house, burned beyond recognition. It was no longer a crime scene -- the police tape had already been removed, her husband was in custody, her children were in the care of relatives and the rest of the media crews had already moved on to the next story.
I looked at what was left of their family home, at charred children’s toys scattered across the front lawn. At my feet, I noticed a singed piece of paper. It was a certificate from a local English school with her name on it. She’d been taking English lessons, building her skills to start a new life, away from her controlling husband.
In 2014, only a few months after I moved to Sydney to work for a major newspaper, I was sent to a crime scene in a shopping centre car park in Auburn. What we didn’t know until we arrived was that this wasn’t a drug-related crime or a robbery gone wrong. Leila Alavi was another young woman who had made a decision to leave an abusive husband, who had even taken the step of applying for an apprehended violence order against him, before he decided to end her life.
He tracked her down at her workplace, a hairdressing salon inside the shopping centre, lured her downstairs to the car park and stabbed her to death with a pair of scissors. Like so many others, he murdered her because she took back control of her own life.
In my years as a crime reporter, I’ve seen many examples of violence against women -- sadly, too many to recount at once. And they’ve all left a mark on me in some way.
Their stories, along with personal reasons, are a huge part of why I have always had a particular passion for stories that shed light on the national crisis that is domestic violence… and why I jumped at the chance to be part of a steering committee for a new project run by Domestic Violence NSW called Voices for Change. Run by the formidable Renata Field, the project supports and empowers brave survivors of domestic violence to tell their stories and inform policy change.
As any expert in the field will tell you, a woman in an abusive relationship is most at risk when she leaves. That is when they need help the most. And I believe we can all do more to ensure they have access to that help, much more than an annual social media post pledging your allegiance to the cause.
Don’t get me wrong, White Ribbon’s messaging served an important purpose. Changing attitudes, providing education and involving men in the conversation around violence against women is a vital part of the battle against this national crisis. But it's only one part.
While broader community attitudes are changing and there is more widespread public support for acknowledging and ending violence against women, they are still being murdered at alarming rates. More than 50 women have been murdered in Australia so far this year.
Our politicians stand in front of cameras and condemn these abhorrent crimes, declaring their commitment to ending the violence, while the frontline services designed to actually help these women escape violent relationships are still chronically under-funded.
Here in NSW, those who work in the DV support sector tell me they haven’t had a tangible increase in government funding for years, despite a constant increase in demand.
Women’s health services, rape and domestic violence support services, community legal services, youth services and women’s refuges continue to struggle with an overwhelming number of clients, while the funding remains stagnant, or, in some cases, diminished.
At a state level, particularly in NSW, it seems the government is all talk and very little action.
According to newly-appointed Domestic Violence NSW CEO Joanne Yates, their services and many others are constantly “being asked to do more with less”.
“None of us have had increases in our budgets for a number of years,” she said.
“Every year, we all collectively call on the government to better fund the work we do, because every year our need increases, we have more clients to serve and more complex cases to meet demands of, but there hasn’t been a real increase in budget for a very long time.”
So, if you’ve ever bought White Ribbon merchandise, consider instead making a donation to the frontline services helping victims every single day, many of which are listed below.
And if you’ve ever posted something on social media about ending violence against women, consider also calling or writing to your local member of parliament, expressing your concern and asking what they’re doing about it. They are the ones who can make a difference and they need to know their voters expect them to do better.
Because talking about the issue is one thing, but if we really want to stop women from being murdered, we need to ensure they have the support they need to leave, and to stay safe when they do.
Find more information at:
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 000. If you need help and advice, call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
A range of domestic and family violence resources based around the country can be found here.