TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic Material.
I felt sick reading the local news headlines this morning. Melinda Horner, a 36-year-old woman from Burleigh Waters, was murdered by her partner over the weekend. Another domestic violence statistic, just a few suburbs away from us.
It was only a couple of months ago that I was left reeling after hearing the news about Tara Brown, a beautiful, vibrant young woman from the Gold Coast who was bashed to death with a metal object in her car by her former partner, after he allegedly ran her off the road. Tara left behind a 3-year-old daughter, among devastated family and friends – most of whom were completely unaware of the fear she lived with every day. Even though I never met her, Tara’s death hit particularly close to home for me because we shared mutual friends and lived in the same city – but I think mostly because we were close in age. She actually reminded me of a dear friend of mine who spent a number of years with an emotionally and physically abusive partner – and for a long time I had felt so helpless about it. I felt so afraid that she would never leave him. Thank God that she did eventually – and I know how difficult that was for her. She’s a strong woman. The ending is not so fortunate for many others – and sadly, it wasn’t so for Tara either.
Horrifically, on the same morning that Tara Brown was killed in September, a 49-year-old mother of four named Karina Lock was shot dead by her husband in a Gold Coast McDonald’s. It was reported that Karina had left her husband and moved to the Gold Coast to make a fresh start with her teenage daughter, just one month before Stephen Lock had convinced her to meet up with him (despite a long history of domestic violence). Mr Lock was still under a domestic violence order when he shot his wife (Source: Gold Coast Bulletin, http://goo.gl/7tAaOo).
Now, Melinda Horner. In today’s news, Mel was described as a “vibrant person who loved life and had plans.” She had a loving family who were worried about her physical safety in the lead up to this tragedy, and had ‘begged’ her to go to the police after her partner had choked her when she tried to leave him just two weeks ago (Source: News.com.au, http://goo.gl/7tAaOo).
My heart literally aches for the families of Melinda Horner, Karina Lock, Tara Brown, and every other domestic violence victim whose names have been lost in the stats. I know firsthand that gutted feeling that comes with the knowledge that a loved one is in an abusive relationship, but I simply cannot fathom the devastation that the families and friends must feel when their lives are taken as a result. It’s brutal. Wrong. I can only imagine the shock, the grief, and perhaps worst of all, the lingering feeling that they might have been able to do something to prevent it from happening.
In April this year, the former governor-general Dame Quentin Bryce chaired a taskforce aimed at reducing family violence. The taskforce produced the Not now, Not ever report for the State Government, which released new statistics showing that about one in three women experience physical violence in Australia. One in three! Think about that for a minute! Statistically, you or one of your friends, colleagues or family members, have experienced or are currently experiencing physical violence.
Disturbingly, the report also showed that almost every week in Australia, a woman is killed by her former or current partner. Yep: almost one woman every week.
Some more statistics for thought: in Queensland alone, there are 180 cases of family violence reported to police per day (Source: ABC News, http://goo.gl/FnNI4a). The Gold Coast in particular has an incredibly high rate of domestic violence, with the Southport Magistrates Court recording the highest number of temporary protection orders and protection orders in all of Queensland (Source: City of Gold Coast, http://goo.gl/8MkZqc).
This is all happening in our city, on our watch – and disturbingly, the numbers have grown. They aren’t decreasing.
So what can we do?
Some extra government measures have been taken in recent months. In the wake of the deaths of Karina Lock and Tara Brown, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that her Cabinet would urgently consider a ‘death review panel’ to identify where the system had failed women who were killed by their partners or ex-partners this year. She also promised the fast-track of recommendations from Dame Quentin Bryce’s Not Now Not Ever report, including priority attention for anyone who attends a police station to report domestic violence (Source: Brisbane Times, http://goo.gl/7tAaOo). To follow that up, the Queensland government have since passed some harsher domestic violence laws, including offenders having their convictions recorded and raising maximum penalties for domestic violence order breaches (Source: Echo Daily, http://goo.gl/7tAaOo).
While such moves are important on a legislative level, I strongly feel that we as individuals have the biggest part to play in educating, supporting and advocating for our families, friends and neighbours. Your support can make a difference.
There are many organisations that work hard towards raising awareness about (and offering support to) victims of domestic violence. One of my personal favourites is White Ribbon Day, a nation-wide campaign to end violence against women specifically, held on 25 November each year. White Ribbon Australia is the only national, male led Campaign to end men’s violence against women, and they offer some amazing educational tools.
Supporting a friend who is in an abusive relationship can be frustrating, and even scary. In one of their resource documents, White Ribbon have suggested (rather accurately, in my opinion) that people often mistakenly believe that they have only two options in instances of actual or potential violence: intervene physically and possibly expose themselves to personal harm, or do nothing. They often choose to do nothing as a result – but when violence isn’t challenged, it leaves all of us feeling unsafe! White Ribbon list a number of support options for people who have a friend or family member in an abusive relationship, and also work hard to shatter many of the common myths and misconceptions around domestic violence. If you’re interested, you can visit their website here http://www.whiteribbon.org.au.
I think it’s easy to feel helpless in the wake of the deaths of these women, and especially in light of such daunting statistics. My heart still aches for the families of Karina Lock and Tara Brown, and it’s hurting especially for Melinda Horner’s family today. Keep their loved ones in your prayers.
For me, the bottom line is that it’s up to all of us to create a culture in which this is totally unacceptable. That’s the only way change will start to happen – person to person, little by little. Be brave! Start conversations. Build relationships. Offer support. Listen. Most of all, speak up. It might end up saving a life.
From above: Karina Lock, Tara Brown, Melinda Horner.
[Images from Queensland Police website.]