News Madonna King: Women living in fear need more than lip service from PM

Madonna King: Women living in fear need more than lip service from PM

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I wish Scott Morrison could read my emails this week.

Dozens and dozens from women, and a few men, from all over Australia who want to tell him about the hell domestic abuse is causing them.

Women like Leah, who pleaded to meet me after I looked into the brutal murder of Hannah Clarke and her three young children, who were all burnt to death at the hands of her husband Rowan Baxter.

That homicide was the first time Rowan Baxter had physically abused Hannah, but he had waged a campaign of coercive control for years.

Coercive control refers to non-physical domestic abuse, and is often a precursor to domestic homicide. In Hannah’s case, Baxter told her what to wear and who she could see, listened in on calls and followed her, abused her emotionally and stole all her autonomy.

He killed her and their children after they escaped; murders that have sparked a nationwide call for coercive control to be criminalised, as it has been in some other countries.

The threat of domestic violence has many women looking over their shoulders.

Leah is one of the women who daily looks over her shoulder, and wonders if, or when, she’ll be found by the person she fears most in the world.

“No one’s really listening,’’ she told me. “There’s a lot of us living in fear. Our whole life is moving; refugees in our own country.’’

She says little things aren’t understood when a victim escapes a domestic abuse perpetrator. Like losing belongings because you move in a hurry, not having an ID because that leaves clues to where you might be found.

“You go days without eating or changing. Do you know that?’’

The system might give you a room for a night, but it can’t help you. You’re still by yourself. You still live every day in fear.’’

Prime Minister, this is an Australian voter. A mother. A victim of coercive control.

Samantha wrote to me while packing her bags to move out. Her daughter is at Schoolies.

“My other daughter (is) in the middle of exams and (we) have nowhere to go’’. This is an educated woman; a teacher.

“The family court corruption is utterly disgraceful. I would not have believed it unless I’d seen it myself.’’

Labor MP Dr Anne Aly revealed she once was a victim of domestic violence and is appealing for more action to tackle the scourge. Photo: AAP

Kim and Kate and Helen wrote too, although their names have been changed because they know one slip-up could mean the man who’s threatened to kill them will find them.

All of them talked about the powerlessness they felt at the hands of perpetrators who didn’t leave bruises. And how no one seemed to be listening.

“I never knew that women go through what I have endured and I grieve for the person I once was,’’ Molly wrote.

And Tom. “I’ve had some recent experience myself from the other side. Can you please give me a call?’’

The funeral of Hannah Clarke and her children was attended by PM Scott Morrison, among other politicians.

Scott Morrison sat in the front pew at the funeral of Hannah and her children, along with a list of other politicians and dignitaries who were all dutifully captured on camera.

He can say fighting domestic abuse is a state issue (and coercion would need state legislation).

But domestic abuse should be everyone’s issue – and by taking a front seat at Hannah Clarke’s funeral, the PM chose to put himself in the decision-making seat.

Now in quarantine, his staff say he’s too busy to talk – despite finding the time to cycle and upload a few snaps of himself rocking casual shorts and thongs.

What about if I forwarded just four questions? Yes, they said, do that. So I did.

The questions

  1. The Prime Minister went to Hannah Clarke’s funeral and spoke to her parents. They’d love to see coercive control put on the national agenda. Is this something he would consider and how might it best be raised?
  2. Does he believe that the public understand coercive control or is it a term that we need to make more part of our conversations?
  3. He has two young daughters. As a father, how does he talk to them about healthy relationships as they grow older?
  4. How big of an issue does he think domestic violence is in Australia and what makes him say that?

None of them too difficult.

The answers popped back, with a request by his media staff to attribute them to the Prime Minister.

PM Scott Morrison did not address the simple questions asked. Photo: AAP

“The murder of Hannah Clarke and her beautiful children was a terrible act of depravity, a blight on our nation, and their deaths a terrible tragedy.’’

Blah blah.

“I had the great honour to speak to Hannah’s family at her funeral, where I extended love and sympathy.’’

Blah blah.

“I said in Parliament at the time, that it was a time for us all to reflect. That there are never any excuses – there are none – or justifications for the evil that Hannah and her children experienced. Never, not under any circumstances.’’

Blah blah.

“For those who need it, help is available now.’’

Where Prime Minister? And does any of this answer any of the questions asked?

Or is it ridiculous to suggest you read the emails sent to me on domestic abuse when, obviously, you don’t read your own?

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