Photo: Baxter with her kids before they fell victim to the brutality of her husband. Source: Internet. - Photo: 2020

Epidemic of Domestic Violence Shocks Australia

By Kalinga Seneviratne

SYDNEY (IDN) —The gruesome murder of a 31-year-old mother Hannah Clarke and her three small children aged 6, 4 and 3 years, by her estranged 42-year-old husband Rowan Baxter, a former footballer, has shocked the nation and brought into the spotlight an epidemic of domestic violence in Australia that has gone largely unchecked for years. It has also got Australians questioning the attitude of men towards women with their greater tendency towards violence against women.

Clarke who had left the family home with her 3 children about a year ago, has been stalked by her husband over a child custody battle. On February 19, while she was taking the 3 children to school, he barged into the car in a Brisbane suburban street, poured petrol on the occupants and set the car on fire. He later died of self-inflicted stab wounds at the same spot, while the 3 children died instantly and the mother died of burns to 97 percent of her body, in hospital the next day.

This is an incident that will shock any nations. A visibly shaken Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a media briefing shaking his head: “Australians all over the country are just shocked, saddened and devastated about what has happened in a suburban street … our hearts are just full of grief.”

Dr Heather Nancarrow, chief executive of Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, has called for an emergency national summit to address the issue of domestic violence where an increasing number of women are being killed by the ex-husbands or ex-partners. “Men and women struggle with the end of a relationship, but it’s men who kill women and kids,” she said. “We have to come to terms with the fact that we’ve got a major problem in Australia with men killing women.”

Statistics on domestic violence in Australia is alarming, especially its impact on women and children. According to the Australian Institute of Health Welfare (AIHW), “Family, domestic and sexual violence is a major national health and welfare issue that can have lifelong impacts for victims and perpetrators.”

According to AIHW’s website, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 16 men in Australia have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous cohabiting partner, while 1 woman is killed every 9 days and 1 man is killed every 29 days by a partner. Available statistics indicate that in 2016, 2.2 million Australians have experienced physical or sexual violence from a previous or current partner,

On February 21, the police officer investigating the Clarke case was moved out after he made what was deemed an insensitive comment at a media briefing.

Inspector Mark Thompson had stressed that: “Our job as investigators is to keep a completely open mind. We need to look at every piece of information and, to put it bluntly, there are probably people out there in the community that are deciding which side to take, so to speak, in this investigation.”

He added: “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 by issues that he’s suffered, by certain circumstances, into committing acts of this form?”

The comment was seen as defending Baxter’s brutal behaviour and as well as other men who have acted similarly. A shocked nation was in no mood to entertain arguments sometimes put forward in defence of men (who suffer from marriage break downs as well, especially over child custody issues) – such as the “feminist industry” who often complain about men and fabricate stories to get the sympathy of the family courts and other government agencies, which many men feel are biased towards the women.

Mood at the moment is firmly towards reforming the way men treat women in the Australian society. The Government was quick to announce on February 21 funding for men’s behaviour change programs to address domestic violence. Social Services Minister Anne Ruston announced AUD2.4 million (USD 1.6 million) for four behaviour change programs targeting men who want to end their use of controlling or abusive behaviours.

“Violence against women and children is abhorrent. It is as simple as that and we must never make excuses for these sorts of behaviours,” Senator Ruston said in announcing the funding scheme. She added that men needed to “take responsibility” for their attitudes and behaviours and seek help to change them. She also said that the government “does not support programs which would expose victims to further harm”.

The program that will run until June 2022 will involve group sessions, counselling and home visits, that will take place in the 3 states with the highest cases of domestic violence – New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

This funding comes on top of another government action plan to combat violence against women which has a budget of AUS 340 million (USD 228 million) over 3 years. This scheme was announced in August 2019, which gives top priority to preventing violence before it occurs.

The plan – the fourth in a series of “action plans” that sit under a national scheme to reduce violence against women – says many women still experience violence every day in Australia. Police are called to domestic and family violence matters every two minutes, while 12 women are hospitalised every day due to domestic and family violence.

In announcing the plan, the Government said that “responsibility for the prevention of violence against women must move from being the focus of a small but dedicated specialist sector, to become a core priority for all industries and areas of government.”

Patty Kinnersly, CEO of ‘Our Watch’, a non-governmental organization that is fighting to stop violence against women in the Australian society, argues that, violence against women is a national emergency and it needs our urgent attention. “We need a shared, consistent and mutually reinforcing approach, where all levels of government, business and the community contribute to creating a safer Australia built upon respect and equality,” she says. 

Former Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, whose 11-year-old son was murdered by his father in 2014 issuing a statement to the media about the murder of Clarke and of her children described the domestic violence epidemic in Australia as “the most pressing issue of terrorism” the nation faces. “This unspeakable act of violence should give pause for all our elected leaders to think deeply about their leadership on this epidemic,” she warned. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 February 2020]

Photo: Baxter with her kids before they fell victim to the brutality of her husband. Source: Internet.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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