Programmes such as last night’s ABC Four Corners may be difficult for many people to watch, even if they haven’t experienced domestic violence. The account of the murders of Andrea Pickett and Saori Jones by their husbands reveals the attitudes of some police to women in mortal danger from their partners. Briefly, neither woman received the protection she begged for and deserved, as a human being in danger of losing her life. Neither woman should have died. Both deaths were preventable, if the authorities had cared enough to attempt prevention.
While both murders occurred in Western Australia, there is no reason to assume this attitude is peculiar to that state.
As a survivor of a violent home, I find programmes on the topic almost impossible to watch. Sometimes I can’t. But as a survivor I know the importance of bearing witness, particularly in the matter of domestic violence, that private violence, the violence that erupts behind closed doors, that violence everybody tries to hide.
There were some very brave people who tried to help Andrea and Saori. Andrea’s family took her and her children into their home, even though it made them targets for her husband’s uncontrollable rage.
A brave and generous couple helped Saori, because the Japanese woman had no family in Australia to whom she could turn. They also put themselves at risk from the possibility of retaliation by her murderous husband.
Andrea had thirteen children. Saori had two, one of whom was ten months old and still breast-feeding when his father killed his mother. In an unbearably ghastly act, the murderer told police he’d put the hungry infant to his dead mother’s breast to feed.
This man is now taking parenting classes in prison so he can claim his children when he’s released, after serving an inexplicably short sentence because the WA DPP decided he would be charged with a lesser offence than that of murder or manslaughter.
He owes this stroke of good fortune to the fact that his wife’s body was so decomposed after he’d kept it in a spare room in the house in which he continued to live with the children, that cause of death was difficult to determine. Even so, another charge could have been brought against him that would have earned him a sentence closer to twenty years.
These are the extreme outcomes of domestic violence, the ones we hear about.
In the four decades since feminists began political action that resulted in funded women’s refuges, there has been no decrease in domestic violence. We have learned how to better take care of the victims and survivors. But we have not learned how to prevent it in the first place. Anymore than we have learned how to prevent child sexual abuse.
Yesterday as I drove into town, I saw a young man and woman in a fight by the side of the road. Traffic was slow. I saw the man spit into her face, then hit her. I saw her run away. That’s all I saw. They were perhaps sixteen, seventeen.
What we need is far more research into violence in intimate relationships, and we need it urgently. What we need is a police force and a judiciary who take domestic violence as seriously as they do an assault by a stranger on the street. What we need are people who will bear witness, to our own experiences and to that of others, especially those who are not alive to tell their stories.
Whatever plans we currently have in place have spectacularly failed, and will continue to fail. How long will it take governments to accept this, and how many more victims of domestic violence have to die, and how many more survivors, including the witnessing children, will have their lives and their potential damaged, sometimes irrevocably?
This is everybody’s problem.
Vale, Andrea and Saori