Like Hannah Clarke, My Sister Was Murdered By Her Husband. We Can't Let The System Fail Again
Yet again we are forced to confront the national emergency that is violence against women, as we grieve the loss of Hannah Clarke and her three young children, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey.
The public outcry that has followed this tragedy takes me back to 2015, when my sister Nikita was brutally murdered by her husband.
He was abusive and controlling, regularly checking her phone messages, closely monitoring how she spent her money and keeping her from family and friends. She had decided to leave him and informed him of her plans. Days later, while she slept, he killed her. She was 23.
According to a friend of Hannah Clarke's who spoke to the ABC, her estranged husband Rowan Baxter exhibited similar behaviour in the lead-up to her murder. He had "controlled every aspect of her life", hacking her phone and recording her conversations. He was scarily obsessed with her, stalking her and taking photos -- and at one point he tried to break her wrist. A domestic violence order was issued and police have confirmed that they were called to intervene on multiple occasions.
These are the kinds of signs of abusive and controlling behaviour that we need to look out for. When people understand what’s acceptable and what isn’t, we have a real chance of stopping abuse before it starts.
We also need to recognise the importance of how the media -- and the police -- talk about these issues.
Words matter -- as Detective Inspector Mark Thompson of the Queensland Police has found after the well-deserved backlash from his suggestion that Rowan Baxter may have been a man “driven too far”.
And, of course, the media has a very big responsibility in how domestic violence is interpreted. As Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly said, "We know from the research that there is a clear link between media reporting and how the community understands and makes sense of violence against women. Unfortunately, some reporting perpetuates false attitudes and myths, such as victim-blaming and minimising or trivialising violence by focusing on the perpetrator being a ‘good bloke’ or a ‘sporting hero'."
A lot of reporting on the death of my sister focused on the ethnicity of the perpetrator or tried to make it somehow culturally specific, as though Niki’s death was an honour killing, and I remember feeling so confused and bewildered at how journalists who knew better could do that kind of thing.
"Good blokes don’t murder their families," Kinnersly said. "And we know from solid research that mental health issues and alcohol may exacerbate violence, but it does not drive it -- gender inequality does."
When my sister was murdered, I was also forced to reflect on how society views and values dominant forms of masculinity and how it had affected me and those around me, particularly the women in my life. Nikita’s partner believed that she was his possession and after multiple attempts to coerce, control and dominate her, he committed his final brutal act.
While that is an extreme example of how masculinity can play out in a negative way, it does highlight the need for us to look at it closely to understand why it can come at a damaging cost.
"Evidence clearly shows that men who rigidly attach to this [tough man] stereotype, avoiding behaviours considered ‘unmanly’, are more likely to exhibit sexism and disrespect towards women -- to feel that women should be under their control. Ultimately, they’re more likely to be violent towards them."
We often turn a blind eye to the harmful impacts of rigidly adhering to the ingrained masculine armour. We say there are a handful of ‘bad men’ who are muddying the waters for the ‘good blokes’ or point the finger at men from different cultural backgrounds rather than addressing why so many men march in the macho army without question in the first place.
We are reluctant to look inwards because it may reveal something deeply unpleasant about ourselves. So, if someone is making a sexist joke or comment that is misogynistic or demeaning to women, and we don’t call it out, we might have to ask ourselves, 'Well what does that say about me?’
We say ‘we’re not part of the problem’ when we know the research clearly says that violence against women in Australia is happening in all communities. While self-examination was confronting for me, I found it liberating to take off the uniform.
So, if I can impress any message on men -- from all walks of life -- it is to not wait for something bad to happen. An average of one woman a week is dying at the hands of her current or former partner. That's pretty scary -- and not too far removed from your personal life. In fact, you may have noticed some of the aforementioned behaviours in your own social circle.
But this is not about attacking men and their identity -- it’s about reflecting on how we can be better. Better friends to our male peers and better allies to the women in our lives.
While it is tragically too late for Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, we can help those suffering now and work to prevent any more victims in future.
Tarang Chawla is an author and Our Watch ambassador.
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.
Featured image: Facebook