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Could we end domestic violence?

Mar 3, 2020 • 15m 10s

The murder of Hannah Clarke and her children has put Australia’s failure to grapple with domestic violence back on the national agenda. Today, Bri Lee on the changes we need to make to keep women and children safe.

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Could we end domestic violence?

174 • Mar 3, 2020

Could we end domestic violence?

[Theme music starts]

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am.

The murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children has once again put Australia’s failure to grapple with domestic violence on the national agenda.

There are steps we could take to better protect people from this violence, but governments are failing to act.

Today, Bri Lee on the changes we need to make to keep women and children safe.

A warning, today’s episode contains detailed descriptions of domestic violence and abuse.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:

When details emerged of the horrific act of violence that played out on a suburban Brisbane street last week, the nation struggled to comprehend it.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #2:

The car they were strapped into the back in was deliberately set alight by Hannah’s estranged husband, Rowan.

RUBY:

Bri, it's been two weeks since Hannah Clarke and her children were murdered and their deaths have forced a national conversation again about domestic violence. So what are the questions that are being asked now?

BRI:

So Hannah Clarke, 31, and her three young children, Aliah, 6, Layana, 4, and Trey, 3, were murdered on the morning of 19th of February in Camp Hill, Queensland.

RUBY:

Bri Lee is a lawyer and author. She writes for The Saturday Paper.

BRI:

Those murders have proven horrific enough to stand out amongst the national average of one woman each week being killed by a current or former partner and one child being killed almost every fortnight by a parent.

And the circumstances leading up to that morning of the 19th of February when the murders took place have been variously described as sort of classic and textbook cases of domestic violence. And what it really highlights is how far we still have to go in dealing with this epidemic.

RUBY:

Bri, can you tell me about the relationship between Hannah Clark and Rowan Baxter and the abuse that she experienced?

BRI:

Hannah Clarke's family have laid out very horrific and relentless patterns of abuse that she suffered at the hands of Rowan Baxter. Rowan was recording her on devices without her knowledge and photographing her movements.

He was demanding sex every night or, quote, forcing her to have sex with him every night. And I want to be really clear here that none of the family or friends used the word rape. But it is important to articulate that intercourse occurring under threat or coercion is rape. He controlled what Hannah wore. And the family realized in hindsight as well that he had tried to isolate her from them. They described him trying to drive a wedge between the family members. And these are all textbook examples of financial abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse.

RUBY:

Bri, what are the systems in place that are supposed to help people like Hannah?

BRI:

So Hannah left Rowan in early December 2019, taking the three children with her and then throughout December and January and into February, there were varying allowances made for him to have shared custody of the children that depended on his domestic violence orders and the agreements they were trying to come to.

Hannah's mother, Suzanne, said that Hannah was afraid to go to the police about Rowan's behavior towards her in case it made him even angrier.

Archival Tape -- Suzanne:

“She’d say, “I’m fine, mum, I’m fine”. I think she was scared to leave…”

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Man #1:

“She was petrified…”

Archival Tape -- Suzanne:

“And we had to wait until she was ready.”

BRI:

He was placed under the first domestic violence order, what we call a DVO in Queensland, after kidnaping their eldest daughter on Boxing Day in 2019 after an organised contact visit.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:

“He was helping her back to the car and he sort of just grabbed Laianah and started running.. and the kids were screaming, “Daddy, what are you doing, what are you doing?”. And Hannah dropped the gear and obviously ran after him. He didn’t even put her in a child restraint…”

BRI:

He then breached that order, including after allegedly assaulting Hannah. In one incident, Rowan printed out revealing images of Hannah and placed them in the family car and when Hannah confronted him about this, he tried to break her wrist in front of their children.

Nathaniel, Hannah's brother, told ABC 7:30 that when Rowan spoke on the phone to the children the night before they were murdered, Nathaniel thought and felt that Rowan had a plan and knew exactly what he was going to do the following morning.

Archival Tape -- Nathaniel

“It was just a vicious attack to make her suffer as long as he could, and that was it. It was… yeah… I still can’t get over it.”

BRI:

And Hannah had asked her mother, Suzanne, just the week before; “What happens to my babies if he kills me?”

RUBY:

Bri, a DVO, a domestic violence order, is supposed to work to protect women like Hannah. So what happened in this situation?

BRI:

Yeah. So one of the most alarming and difficult things to deal with in the aftermath of this crime and looking back sort of in hindsight in the months leading up to it, is that Hannah Clarke did everything a person is, you know, quote marks, supposed to do in a situation of domestic and family violence.

So she had a supportive network of family and friends who she kept in contact with. She reported Baxter’s violence to the police and he was placed under a DVO. She attended mediation with Baxter and attempted to find a compromise for their custody arrangements, including her offering a reasonable split of time between the two parents, which he rejected. She reported Rowan Baxter when he behaved in contravention to his DVO. But of course, in the end, none of that ended up being able to make a difference.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Bri, we're talking about the murder of Hannah Clark and her children. And since their deaths, questions have been raised about the way police, particularly in Queensland, are responding to domestic violence. Can you tell me about that?

BRI:

This entire conversation is taking place against the backdrop of a number of recent stories revealing what I would describe as a culture of disrespect for gendered crime within the Queensland Police Service in particular.

The Guardian reported on a woman who had to prosecute her own matter civilly. She was doused in petrol by her former partner, who subsequently acknowledged that he did so, and she had to take that matter on herself after police refused to charge the man due to a, quote, lack of public interest.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:

“Last year Queensland police were called to almost 80,000 domestic violence jobs, treating victims with more empathy has become a focus for officers.”

BRI:

In October last year, a senior constable pled guilty to using a police database to obtain the personal details of a domestic violence survivor...

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:

53 year old Neil Punchard was working as a traffic cop when he found the address of a domestic violence victim and gave it to her ex-husband…”

BRI:

...and sharing them with that woman's perpetrator.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #2:

“I’m always going to be in fear, I’m always going to have a safety plan which is beyond reasonable. Just the sheer misuse of that database, giving out my personal details - I’m never going to feel safe.”

BRI:

More recently, a huge investigation from the ABC earlier this year showed that the Queensland police reject one in five sexual assault reports compared to around about one in 20 in other states like Tasmania.

So when it comes to Hannah Clark's murder, the original investigating officer, Detective Inspector Mark Thompson, was removed from the investigation after saying his job was to keep an open mind about the events.

Archival Tape -- Mark Thompson:

“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 this an instance of a husband being driven too far?”

BRI:

And Police Commissioner Katrina Carroll later apologised for that comment.

Archival Tape -- Katrina Carroll:

“I apologise from the QPS to the victims or anyone who may have been offended or hurt by this.”

BRI:

And the detective was stood down from that investigation.

RUBY:

So why do you think it is that police are failing women who are experiencing domestic violence in this way?

BRI:

Yeah, something that the Queensland Minister for Women, Di Farmer, said to me when I interviewed her, and which I agree with, is that there is an inextricable connection here between culture and training slash resourcing.

And what we know is that perpetrators are extremely skilled at manipulating situations, at de-escalating the apparent severity of their actions. And I do believe there is an issue of a culture of disrespect and disregarding gendered crime.

But what that is inextricably connected to is a lack of training and resources. To be honest, I really feel for these officers. We are asking them to do a very difficult and specific job and not giving them the support and training they need to be able to do so properly.

RUBY:

Bri, I want to ask you a bit more about the things that can be done to make the system better. What other things do you think could make a difference?

BRI:

Mm. So one of the things that this case with Hannah Clarke and Rowan Baxter is that Rowan Baxter's behaviour is a really textbook example of what is described as coercive control.

So I will defer to Jess Hill's expertise. She wrote for The Saturday Paper about coercive control last year. She wrote that it's about isolation, gaslighting, micromanaging, degrading and threatening partners to such an extent that survival is all a woman can focus on.

I think most people would agree this is precisely what Rowan Baxter was doing for. What we saw is that from the moment Hannah went to the police, it was then a matter of weeks before an actual death. More in this case, multiple deaths occurred. And what that really highlights is that until we get to the point where we acknowledge coercive control as domestic and family violence, we're not going to be able to solve these problems. And so this event has really renewed pressure and calls for Queensland and perhaps other states and territories to consider legislating coercive control.

Another much simpler answer is simply more funding for services that help women experiencing domestic violence. Angela Lynch, the CEO of Women's Legal Service Queensland, said in November last year that around 40 per cent of calls to their service go unanswered at the moment due to a very simple fundamental lack of funding and resources.

And without wanting to at all be insensitive, it must be acknowledged that as a white woman with English as her first language, with no physical or mental disability, Hannah Clarke represents a demographic who, statistically speaking, would have been receiving the best possible treatment and resourcing from the system and best placed to access it.

And they are really alarming thing here in this case is that if the system failed someone like her with everything she did right, what message does that send to other women in abusive relationships right now, especially those potentially from even more marginalised backgrounds or who don’t have the resources that Hannah had.

RUBY:

Okay so Bri, where is the political leadership on this?

BRI:

Well, on the one hand, there does appear to be a political will at a national level to do something.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:

[Voices singing Amazing Grace]
“It took a tragedy to bring our nation’s leaders together, putting aside their differences.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:

“As we gather here tonight, there are no parties…”

BRI:

The sort of, you know, particular horrificness of this instance has meant that, you know, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, acknowledged that the system failed.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:

“We must reflect on how and where the system failed Hannah and her children as it has failed so many others. It’s so frustrating. It’s so devastating.”

BRI:

Anthony Albanese, leader of the opposition, has renewed his call for a national domestic violence prevention summit.

But as we know, actions speak louder than words.

The federal government is currently undertaking a review into the family law system in response to pressure from One Nation. And that's despite the fact that none of the recommendations from the last family law inquiry have been enacted yet. And this new inquiry has, as its deputy chair, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, who responded to Hannah Clarke and her children being murdered by saying that not all men should be demonised because they can be, and I quote, “driven to this”...

Archival Tape -- Pauline Hanson:

“Hopefully the family law inquiry will get to the bottom of it, but don’t bastardise all men out there, or women for that matter, because these things happen.”

BRI:

And so while there has been political debate on the ground, things are definitely getting worse.

RUBY:

How so?

BRI:

In the week following the murder of the Clarke family, Women's Legal Service Queensland have reported a significant increase in the number of calls they received from women whose partners have threatened to do to them what Baxter did to Clarke and their children.

RUBY:

Bri, thanks for talking to me today.

BRI:

Thank you for having me.

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[Theme music starts]

RUBY:

Also in the news today…

A new report has found at least 80 thousand Uighurs have been transferred from Xinjiang to work in factories across China.

The report, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, used public documents, media reports and satellite imagery to identify 27 factories using labourers transferred from Xinjiang.

The report claims the conditions in the factories “strongly suggest forced labour”.

The factories provide goods for huge global brands including Apple, Nike and Volkswagen.

And in the US two Democratic hopefuls have dropped out of the party’s Presidential race following the South Carolina primary.

Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg have announced they’re withdrawing from the battle to lead the party’s ticket at this year’s general election.

Steyer and Buttigieg came third and fourth in the South Carolina vote and quit after acknowledging they lacked a credible pathway to the candidacy.

Six candidates remain in the race, with Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden widely considered the frontrunners.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see ya tomorrow.

[Theme music ends]

The murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children has once again put Australia’s failure to grapple with domestic violence on the national agenda. There are steps we could take to better protect people, but governments are failing to act. Bri Lee on the changes we need to make to keep women and children safe.

Guest: Author and writer for The Saturday Paper Bri Lee.

Background reading:

Queensland’s domestic violence struggle in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Ruby Jones. The show is produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, Elle Marsh and Michelle Macklem. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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174: Could we end domestic violence?