Forget the excuses about reasonable doubt. There was ample evidence to find Oscar Pistorius guilty of murder. Like all the other verdicts in Australia. Like the O. J. Simpson verdict and the verdict that drove Dominick Dunne to rabid activism in the USA, this was a verdict rooted in patriarchy and the unfettered rights ascribed to men. So deep are the assumptions about female culpability at work in courts here and worldwide, exposing them it is one of the great challenges of our time. Post feminism women no longer believe they must stay in a bad relationship or endure the abuse Reeva Steenkamp resisted on the night she was murdered. If the murder of a mother and her children in NSW isn’t enough, surely the Pistorius verdict is testament to the need for a royal commission into violence against women. Let’s start it in Australia.
The Monster Myth
It has clearly escaped the line of vision of some media presenters discussing Tom Meagher’s assessment of violence against women that the campaign against this form of violence over the past twenty years has been at pains to stress that our society is complicit in the violence. Again and again we’ve explained that the greatest danger to women is the man in their life rather than some monstrous stranger like Adrian Bayley. Again and again we’ve damned the courts for blaming women for the violence inflicted upon them and for turning wife killers into victims. Again and again we’ve asked how it is that violent men can walk through intervention orders.
Like so many other families we didn’t just lose our girl, Vicki, to an act of savagery, in a suburban street. We suffered the gravest, most debilitating humiliation as Vicki’s killer was offered a provocation defense, found not guilty of murder and sentenced to less than four years in gaol. In doing so the court not only normalised violence against women by intimate partners, it punished my sister and her family. In essence it punished all women.
Twenty-five years have passed since the Coalition Against Family Violence convened a meeting at the Melbourne Town Hall in an attempt to break the cone of silence. I’d only ask that those who now speak out against the scourge of male violence afford the campaign the respect it deserves. That 30,000 people marched down Sydney Road in the wake of Jill Meagher’s murder,
was in no small way due to the leadership of the women who led the campaign in those early days. Lest we forget!
Just another little murder
Time for a Royal Commission
On 26 August 1987 my 25-year-old sister was stabbed to death outside the kindergarten where she worked in Coburg.
Her killer used a fishing knife. He was her ex-boyfriend and was found not-guilty of murder due to provocation. He spent three years and eleven months in gaol. The court case was the reason for my 2002 book ‘Just another little murder’.
On Wednesday 33-year-old Fiona Joy Warzywoda, suffered the same fate as our sister, Vicki.
How can a man walk through an intervention order and do what this man did?
It is shameful that our society continues to allow men like this man to terrorise and kill women.
According to Victoria Police ‘more than 820 offenders, overwhelmingly men, breached intervention orders at least three times in the past financial year. Of these, 200 individuals violated orders more than five times and 15 committed more than 10 separate breaches in one year.’
We need a royal commission or judicial inquiry into violence against women, with attention to how the criminal justice system, the police, and other agencies deal with violence against women, what resources are needed if we are to protect women from violent men and how our society must change if this epidemic is to be stopped.
Taking it to the Club
Exploring and improving the role of women in sporting clubs might be just one of the strategies to combat violence against women. I’ll be in Drouin on Wednesday night (23 April) and Traralgon on Thursday morning (24 April) and Inverloch the week after (30 April) discussing the strategy.
With yet another woman murdered by the man in her life, this time in a Sunshine street, it’s surely time for a serious inquiry into what must be done. Maybe a royal commission is the only way to find the answers.
The Wife Killer Speaks
Everyone deserves a fair trial but I find it nauseating, listening to Oscar Pistorius weeping as he explains away the murder of his girlfriend. Shooting a robber in the toilet oblivious to the whereabouts of his girlfriend. Does anyone believe this? It so reminds me of Peter Keogh being led through unsworn evidence in 1989 as he explained away the killing of our sister. So cool-headed is Pistorius when delivering evidence designed to portray the killing as a consequence of mistaken identity. Tearful and sobbing when describing how he felt after discovering he’d shot his girlfriend.
Trained by his lawyer to say, ‘My Lady’ after every sentence, in deference to the judge, his evidence reeks of callous disregard for the woman he killed in an act of revenge.
Why did he say he never intended to ‘kill Reeva or anyone else’? Didn’t he shoot the person in the bathroom with intent? There can be no doubt Pistorius is being portrayed as the victim. At every turn we hear a commentator dwelling on the killer’s inability to speak about the aftermath. How refreshing to hear the prosecutor demand that he say he ‘killed Reeva…’
Time for a Royal Commission into ‘wife killing’?
In shades of R v Dincer (1982) and so many other provocation trials since. a man has been found not guilty of murdering his wife due to provocation. So much for us scoffing at the crimes of other ‘less civilised’ societies:
A MAN who stabbed his young wife to death because she questioned his masculinity will spend at least nine years behind bars. Yassir Ibrahim Mohamed Hassan, 56, killed 24-year-old Mariam Yousif at their southwest Sydney apartment in April 2012.
On Friday, NSW Supreme Court Judge Peter Garling sentenced him to 12 years in prison with a non-parole period of nine years. Hassan was originally charged with murder but was found guilty of manslaughter by reason of provocation. The pair married in their native Sudan when Hassan was 45 and his bride just 16, before moving to Melbourne, where Ms Yousif had grown up.
The couple then moved to Sydney, settling in Wiley Park. “From about that time the marital relationship deteriorated,” Judge Garling said. He said a cultural disconnect and age gap between husband and wife triggered disagreements ranging from Ms Yousif’s approach to socialising, her brother, and differing child-rearing philosophies. At one stage, Ms Yousif went to live with her mother because Hassan ended the marriage under Muslim law, but she returned a few weeks later when he called to inform her “he had rescinded their divorce”.
On the day Hassan killed his wife, the pair had argued about a broken coffee grinder.
Ms Yousif called Hassan at work but he told her to wait until he got home. The judge said Hassan was an “unimpressive witness”, but his was the only account of what happened between his 6pm return home and Ms Yousif’s death in bed five hours later.
"He said that his wife said to him words to the effect that he was not a man … and that he should look in the mirror," Judge Garling said. Hassan plunged a kitchen knife into her as she cowered beneath the bedsheets. "He stabbed her at least 14 times," Judge Garling said.
“The attack was vicious, brutal and was completely excessive in all the circumstances.”
Then he took a shower and hid the knife in a cupboard before calling police to tell them there had been “trouble” with his wife, the court was told.
Judge Garling said he saw no evidence Hassan was remorseful - rather, he saw “a man who feels wronged”.Hassan was expressionless as an Arabic translator conveyed the judge’s comments. Ms Yousif’s mother and other family members cried and held hands in the public gallery.
Justicia - Blind to a flawed justice System
If only Chief Justice Marilyn Warren’s (Age Wednesday 11 December) defense of the courts and her colleagues on the Adult Parole Board had acknowledged some of the well-documented failings of the justice system. If only she’d expressed some disquiet about the system’s inability to stop the march of Jill Meagher’s killer, Adrian Bayley, and other woman haters.
Instead of addressing the considered concerns of those who believe the justice system has a flawed history when dealing with violence against women, the Chief Justice takes a scattergun approach, describing criticism of the board and its Chairs, Justices Simon Whelan and Elizabeth Curtain as ‘quite disgraceful’, the media’s reporting as ‘selective’ and the social media as prone to misrepresenting the deliberations of judges.
Justice Warren is right to point the finger at the Napthine government for playing the law-and-order card and to accuse some commentators of misrepresenting the deliberations of the courts. Dispensing justice is clearly not as easy as the tough-on-crime posse would have us believe and its administration should not become the victim of a cheap grab for votes. However the Chief Justice’s protestations should not come at the expense of an assessment of the system’s failures in dealing with violence against women.
How many women must die at the hands of misogynist recidivists like Adrian Bayley and how many men must be found not guilty of murder after killing a woman known intimately to them before Justice Warren will say there might be a problem? I became an activist for change and a critic of the justice system in 1989 when my sister’s killer was offered a provocation defence, found not guilty of murder and sentenced to less than four years gaol by Justice George Hampel. In the ensuing years provocation was so discredited that in 2005 the Labor government abolished it. Regrettably, that did not stop the killings or the confounding manslaughter verdicts for ‘wife killers’.
What Labor didn’t address, because it hadn’t thought about it, was the deep-seated prejudices that underpin trials involving ‘family violence’. Prejudices brought to life in atrocious courtroom narratives that blame women for their death. It came as no surprise to me that under the defensive homicide law that replaced provocation a string of men – R v Sherna (2009), R v Middendorp (2010), R v Grimmett (2011) - were found not guilty of murdering women known intimately to them. Now that law is to be abolished, yet no one is asking why replacing one law with another appears to change nothing.
Beneath the media generated hysteria about the dangers faced by women on the street in the aftermath of Jill Meagher’s 2012 murder a fundamental question was swirling in people’s minds. Was Bayley – a multiple rapist - on the street only because the justice system is blind when it comes to violence against women? The parents of Colleen and Laura Irwin asked the same question in 2006 after their daughters were raped and murdered by William Watkins, a violent misogynist and convicted rapist, living next door.
The stabbing murder of Adriana Donato in Aberfeldie in August 2012 by ex-boyfriend James Stoneham was the archetypical ‘domestic murder’ except that the killer pleaded guilty, thus sparing Adriana’s family a demeaning courtroom narrative. Yet in a decision I found mystifying, Justice Croucher, ruled that he was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Stoneham – alleged to have been suffering depression - had actually intended to kill rather than inflict serious injury. I believe, based on the facts, that men who kill in such circumstances never intend only to inflict serious injury - Stoneham had told people of his intention to kill Adriana - and that the judge’s finding could lead some to believe the killer was a victim, something redolent of the old provocation law.
That Justice Croucher cried, described the killing as chilling and devoted an hour to his sentencing remarks clearly indicates that judges now understand the importance of offering comfort to the family of a murdered woman. Justice Warren has every right to claim this as progress. However what cannot be disputed is that historically, violent men, the bloke who killed my sister, William Watkins and Adrian Bayley and so many others have been treated with kid gloves while dead women continue to be pilloried in courtrooms. If Justices Whelan and Curtain were ‘hung out to dry’ as the Chief Justice claims, maybe they were the scapegoats for a justice system in need of deep reform.
You be the Judge
James Stoneham lures his ex-girlfriend to a park in Aberfeldie and fatally stabs her. The judge, Michael Croucher, says he couldn’t establish beyond reasonable doubt the killer intended to kill and therefore reduces the sentence to a minimum 14 years. The girl, 20-year-old Adriana Donato had tried to placate Stoneham in the preceding months but it was to no avail. How could a judge conclude - the court heard Stoneham told friends he was going to kill Adriana - it was questionable whether he intended to kill?
As I learnt when my sister’s killer was found not guilty of murder due to provocation in 1989, the sympathy bestowed on men who kill the ‘woman in their life’ knows no bounds. The real issue here isn’t the sentence. It’s the way our society, and this includes judges, continues to ameliorate crimes against women by an intimate or estranged male partner. This should be the source of our outrage.
It’s time for a genuine parliamentary inquiry into the way the courts treat violence against women.
NO END TO THE ‘WIFE’ KILLINGS
Another woman killed by the ex in what a spokesperson called ‘a domestic’ says The Age. Just what does that mean?
The head of the DPP, John Champion, has appealed a recent manslaughter sentence in relation to the killing of a man - by another man - in St Kilda, calling it manifestly inadequate. We said likewise when our sister’s killer received less than four years in 1989. The DPP did not accept that Justice Hampel’s sentence was manifestly inadequate. John Champion had defended the killer, Peter Keogh.
Crime and Punishment
Rob Hulls wrote the following in Monday’s 4 November’s Age about the current mobilising of discontent in the face of recent acts of violence in Melbourne:
I sent the following response to The Age letters section but received no reply:
Rob Hulls (Age Mon 4 Nov) is right to ask, ‘What if we recognised that preventing crime frees up resources that could be spent on hospitals and schools, rather than a plethora of prisons? What if we replaced this division and adopted a goal of ”no more victims” - halting the accumulation of damage for all concerned?’ How about we address those questions after Rob first explains why the justice system routinely extinguished the human rights of so many female victims and refused to develop strategies to stop the reign of terror of misogynist men, like my sister’s killer and Adrian Bayley? Who could deny that the courts have failed to deal properly with violence against women, rape and ‘wife killing’ in particular? It was this telling failure that spawned the anti-violence campaigns begun some twenty years ago. Feminists such as Jocelynne Scutt and those who drove the Women’s Coalition Against Family Violence should be proud of the humanism and sophistication of their campaign. My writings have not been driven by a law and order imperative but by a similar desire to change the public narrative, including the courtroom narrative. Until we offer a real answer as to why the provocation law was tolerated for so long and how its successor, defensive homicide, came to be used so successfully by ‘wife killers’ Rob’s questions will fall on deaf ears and ‘law and order’ will be the catch-cry.