‘Australia is broken’: Nation shell-shocked

Advocates for victims of domestic abuse have once again called for greater action to address the epidemic of violence against women after the horrific murder of Brisbane mother Hannah Baxter and her three young children.

Ms Baxter, 31, died from her injuries last night. Earlier, Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4 and Trey, 3 were found dead inside a burning vehicle in the Brisbane suburb Camp Hill.

Their father Rowan Baxter, 42, reportedly set the car on fire and shouted at witnesses to stop helping before stabbing himself to death.

Hannah and Rowan Baxter with their children.
Hannah and Rowan Baxter with their children.

Sherele Moody is the founder of the Red Heart Campaign, which highlights violence against women and children and pushes for action.

Posting on Facebook after the children's death, Ms Moody said Australia was "broken".

"It is fair to say that violence in Australia has reached heinous new heights. To burn three kids alive is just the most abhorrent act," she wrote.

"Their deaths coincided with news today that the national domestic violence helpline saw a massive increase in calls over the past year and many of those callers - women like Hannah - were not receiving the responses and support they needed.

"If our national helpline for domestic violence victims cannot cope, we will see many more women and children killed.

"Today, Australia really is broken."

EDIT: Hannah Baxter has died! These little children are dead in what appears to be an horrific deliberately fire in...

Posted by Sherele Moody on Tuesday, 18 February 2020

The helpline Ms Moody referred to is 1800 RESPECT.

Yesterday a report, commissioned by the federal Department of Social Services and published by the University of New South Wales, found the service was struggling to cope with a drastic and "unprecedented" increase in demand.

The total number of contacts to 1800 RESPECT more than doubled in recent years, rising from 69,000 in 2016-17 to 164,000 in 2018-19. According to the report, that was a "particularly high" rate of growth compared to the rest of the world.

On top of that, the report found the helpline was not well equipped to deal with repeat callers, who accounted for roughly a quarter of the total number.

In response, Social Services Minister Anne Ruston announced the contract to run the helpline, which is currently held by Medibank Health Solutions, would be opened up to tender for the first time since it was established in 2010.

Ms Ruston said the government "recognises there is a need to better support callers with complex presentations".

"Tragically in Australia every two minutes police are called to a domestic and family violence matter, and every day 12 women are hospitalised," Ms Ruston said.

"We are absolutely committed to ensuring 1800 RESPECT is able to continue providing the highest quality support for all Australians affected by domestic, family and sexual violence."

The successful tenderer is expected to be announced towards the end of the year.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

According to White Ribbon Australia, on average, one woman is murdered by a current or former partner every week.

Joanne Yates, the chief executive of Domestic Violence New South Wales, highlighted that disturbing statistic on ABC News Breakfast this morning.

"The prevalence of domestic violence across Australia is incredibly wide," Ms Yates said.

"The statistics tell us that at least one woman dies every week at the hands of a partner or former partner. Seventeen people are presented to hospital across the country every day as a result of physical assaults by partners or former partners."

And that only accounts for physical violence. Domestic abuse comes in a variety of forms.

"We know that domestic violence is a whole pattern of behaviours and a whole series of different coercive and controlling behaviours that occur between partners," said Ms Yates.

"And indeed, we know from research around homicides that, for women who leave their partners, the time just after they leave is the most critical for them and their safety."

She would not comment specifically on yesterday's horrific crime, as police are still investigating exactly what happened. But we know Ms Baxter had separated from her husband and was living at her parents' home in Camp Hill.

While Ms Yates acknowledged the pressure for greater intervention from the government on domestic violence - independent MP Zali Steggall was among those demanding such action this morning - she said the problem was really far broader.

"We keep going back to government because we say this is a government problem. Actually, this is a society and a community problem," Ms Yates said.

"We know that domestic violence is gendered violence. So this is about the inequality that exists between men and women generally.

"There are still toxic levels of masculinity. We expect men to behave in particular ways, we expect women to behave in particular ways. Those gender norms really do drive behaviours.

"So while we put money and effort into keeping women safe, we also need to look at the reasons why men choose to use violence against their partners. And we think it is time to put some extra resourcing and extra focus on intervention programs that are about tackling the reasons why men choose to use violence."

Ms Yates also suggested boosting programs that teach school-age children about respectful relationships and the use of violence.

"There are ways of being able to resolve your own stresses without resorting to violence. But school programs are really, really important, and we'd love to see a lot more funding and dedicated resources," she said.

The Baxter family. Picture: Facebook
The Baxter family. Picture: Facebook

Tracy McLeod Howe, the CEO of Childhood Domestic Violence Australia, was clearly frustrated as she spoke to Today.

Ms McLeod Howe said law enforcement, and society in general, needed to take "red flags" from potentially violent men more seriously.

"I'm not alarmist and I don't hate men or any of that but when I hear this happens I go, 'Not again,' because I think this will happen again and again and again unless we have systems in place, when we have those red flags, we take it seriously," she said.

"If someone shows you who they are, or even says these things as a threat, you should take it seriously. I think often we don't. I think the community finds it really hard to understand that maybe a good bloke could do this, and I'm not just saying blokes, but in this case it was a bloke. It does happen.

"If they show you who they are, believe them. If they say these things as a threat, believe them, and we have to take action."

And she called for a bigger focus on the children in domestic violence situations.

"We don't look at schools, preschools, the places where children are, in order to give them support and recognise red flags for them," said Ms McLeod Howe.

"If children aren't eating, if they're worried, if the mum says, 'I've got an AVO,' we're not taking action around the safety of children.

"I'm really mindful that three children are gone today, and that is three lives snuffed out, and this is not just a women's issue, or men's power and control - yes, that might be a thing - but what about these kids?

"I'm actually a bit fed up. I'm absolutely fed up with it, because nobody is listening to what the kids need. We don't do anything. Where does a child go - I'd ask you this question - where do you think a child at school today goes when they know, at home, there's domestic violence? Do you know where they go? They don't go anywhere."

 

 

 

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