Another Year of Violence Against Women

Another Year of Violence Against Women

Warning: This article describes violence against women of various kinds including murder. Reader discretion is advised. It also contains spoilers for the shows Safe Home and The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

I was recently looking for some Australian drama to watch on television and an article listing ten top shows for 2023 included two titles that I had not heard of before. Both dealt with violence against women. The short write ups and the trailers sounded like they would both make for thought provoking viewing.

Safe Home is a four-episode miniseries created and written by playwright Anna Barnes. It is based on her own experience working in a community legal centre as a communications person. She wanted to tell the story of these women in an authentic, real way, but from outside a legal perspective. The production team had lawyers and a psychologist who had worked in the sector also advise the writing team. As such, it does feel very realistic, grounded, and scarily accurate in its portrayal of violence against women.

You have a country grandmother, Diana, whose husband controls her finances and movements. In one scene, we watch as she rings the bank to find out why her credit card has been cancelled. Her husband has done that without her knowledge, claiming it was lost, so he has to come in to town, pay for the groceries, and embarrass her in the process. Teenager Ry, who has been physically abused by her mother, has run away from home. A new job gives her an opportunity to start over, but with nowhere to live, another employee offers her a room in his share house and they start a relationship. When she sees abusive patterns repeating, he shows a humiliating video around the workplace taken while she was intoxicated. Cherry is an immigrant mother of two and has been brought to Australia by her successful business executive husband who has already attempted to drown her. She speaks little English and struggles to navigate the legal system which her husband can fight with both lawyers and cultural guilt. Grace is a very successful lawyer whose husband is manipulative, violent, and controlling. He is also a lawyer and uses the system to try to frame her as the violent, unstable one. When she finally escapes, he tracks her down and murders her. Navigating this is Phoebe, who has just moved to a women’s legal centre as a media spokesperson, trying to prevent the centre’s funding from being cut by the government, which would undermine all the work they do.

The show reads almost like a documentary. The anecdotes provided from women’s own experiences and by the family and friends of murdered women in Australia contain many of the same types of details.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is fictional, based on the book of the same name written by Holly Ringland. Alice Hart is taken in by her grandmother when her parents are killed in a fire. Over the seven-part miniseries, multi-generational abuse and violence are revealed. Alice, her mother Agnes, and grandmother June, are all victim-survivors of unfathomable violence. June has established a native flower farm where other women escaping domestic violence can find refuge and safety.

I watched both these series in December, lamenting the fact that the stories were all so familiar, despite being fictional. I was keenly aware that the year was coming to an end, and the annual tally of murdered women was approaching.

Counting Dead Women is a register of women murdered in Australia. Established in 2012 by Destroy the Joint, a group who “stands for gender equality and civil discourse in Australia”, their name stems from a sexist comment by radio host Alan Jones, who said that “women are destroying the joint.”

The researchers of this group perform the “task of maintaining the most credible and substantiated record of women killed by violence in Australia…We try to be accurate in our record, and we will not publish without a high degree of certainty, but we can’t know the full circumstances of each death until court cases or coronial hearings are finalised. We do our best to maintain a full and accurate register, based on our recording criteria.”

Their record for 2023, at the end of December, stands at 63 women murdered. Sadly, this number is likely to increase over the years, as more concrete evidence comes to light. For example, in May of 2022, five more women were added to the list for 2020 as court proceedings were finalised. There are also likely to be missing women who have actually been murdered but whom are never found, and Indigenous murders that may never be reported on.

The Red Heart Campaign is a similar register but includes children as well. It is coordinated by the Australian Femicide Watch, led by researcher and journalist Sherele Moody. It is an “ongoing journalism-based story-driven project tracking every known Australian woman and child killed as a result of murder, manslaughter or neglect from white Settlement to now.” Sherele’s Femicide Watch Instagram page lists three women already killed in 2024 by 7 January and 74 women killed in 2023.

When the Counting Dead Women statistics for 2023 are tallied, the following perpetrator results are found:

Male, Partner / Ex-Partner: 50.8%

Male, Known to Victim: 15.9%

Female: 12.7%

Male, Connection Unknown: 11.1%

Male, Family Member: 6.3%

Male, Policeman: 1.6%

Unknown: 1.6%

This means that for 2023, between 85.7 and 87.3 percent of murders of women were committed by men, and just over half were committed by a partner or ex-partner. 73 percent of the male perpetrators were known to their victims and included work colleagues, sons, and alleged friends. These are disturbing statistics. While more men are actually killed per year than woman, they are most likely to be killed by a male friend or acquaintance.

The sixth commandment is translated in most modern Bibles as something like “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). God has created humans in God’s image and as such, they have a spark of creativity, love, passion, joy, and knowledge that reflects God’s. To deliberately end that, is an act against God. The fact that it is deliberate though, means that there is usually planning, preparation, and a sense in which the perpetrator believes that they are “right” in acting this way. The attitude behind murder needs to be addressed.

Jesus hints at this in Matthew 5:20-22. Anger at someone else, even degrading thoughts about another, can lead to dangerous actions. Seeing women as “less” than men, treating them as possessions, viewing them as sexual objects, and therefore justifying controlling women, can be understood as a similar, and dangerous, slippery slope. Rather, we are commanded to love others, regardless of gender, and treat them with the same love, dignity, and respect that Christ showed his disciples (John 13:34).

If this piece brings up issues for you, help is available. The following support services can help.

Dr Katherine Grocott


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