It has been reported that last week, handgun permit holder John Edwards shot dead his two teenage children at West Pennant Hills in North-Western Sydney, and later took his own life, because he was denied contact in a child custody battle.
It’s yet another family violence tragedy to hit the media headlines – with faces, names and horrific details of the terrifying last moments of the victims, 13-year old Jennifer and 15-year old Jack.
Mr Edwards was reportedly able to obtain a handgun permit, and obtain membership at a shooting centre in Sydney, despite his application raising red flags including a past apprehended violence order (AVO) that saw him refused by other clubs.
According to police, Mr Edwards was granted a Commissioner’s Permit because he did not have an “extensive history” of criminal behaviour.
Calls for change
The tragedy has led to widespread calls for change, finger pointing and community outrage, because time and again we read about how the ‘system failed’ the very people it was supposed to protect.
There has been criticism of the misuse of taxpayer funds, which many believe is doing little to nothing to address the underlying causes of family violence, as well as calls for tougher application of the regulations for firearm ownership.
The NSW Government has pledged $350 million towards family violence to underpin its ‘Family Violence Blueprint for Reform 2016-2021: Safer Lives for Women, Men and Children’ which is designed to provide:
“the framework for building an effective system that addresses the causes and responds to the symptoms of domestic and family violence… [i]ncluding strategies to prevent domestic and family violence, intervene early with individual and communities at risk, support victims, hold perpetrators to account, and improve the quality of services and the system as a whole.”
Despite this kind of well-intentioned rhetoric, the domestic violence crisis in Australia continues to grow.
A report by NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) earlier this year was scathing of a key initiative designed to combat domestic violence, concluding that it has failed abysmally across key assessment criteria. The failure meant that instead of being supported by a safety plan, high-risk victims were left isolated in high-risk situations.
New data released by the ABS suggests that approximately one in four NSW inmates is a family or domestic violence offender.
This means that of the 12,631 people behind bars in the state, 3030 are either facing a family or domestic violence-related charge or are subject to an apprehended domestic violence order (ADVO).
Another study by The Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network, which is being hailed as the most comprehensive snapshot of national family violence to date, assessed 152 domestic violence homicides around Australia between 2010 and 2014.
It found that almost 80% involved a man killing his former or current female partner. Of those, one-quarter of the men who committed intimate partner murders were under domestic violence orders.
While the data yields an enormous amount of information– much of it simply confirms what we already know – that family violence endangers an enormous number of women in our society.
Making a difference
Most government funding is currently directed towards supporting complainants.
And while this is certainly necessary, there are calls to look at the laws and regulations which enable perpetrators to continue committing crimes, and also those which allow for them to have access to deadly firearms. There are also calls for greater education campaigns, starting from the lower years of schooling.
There is no simple solution, but there are also calls from the family of Queensland woman Teresa Bradford – who was killed by her estranged partner David after his release from custody on bail – have called for a ‘one-stop-shop’ which can direct complainants to appropriate support services, rather than take a ‘shot in the dark’ at trying to get the right help during an extremely difficult time.
Teresa’s family says that in the weeks before the tragedy, Teresa faced numerous challenges in getting into ‘safe housing’. This was extremely frustrating and cost her valuable time – time that, as it turned out, she didn’t have.
Teresa was also the victim of lack of adequate communication about the man who threatened her and her children – as she was not informed about her former partner’s release from custody.
The long road to prevention
Prevention is always better than a Band-Aid remedy, and it will certainly take time to create a cultural change in Australia.
But with the right investments, education and a concerted effort by governments at all levels, we can hope to have our children grow up in a situation where family violence is neither enabled nor tolerated.
Standing up as individuals
And while we look to law makers and politicians to sort out better solutions, as a community we also need to take responsibility.
This starts with changing what we’ve come to think of as ‘acceptable’ behaviour – from the language we hear children use with each other in the playground and low level ‘bullying’, to the way adults speak to and deal with one other.
All parents need to lead by example, and have open conversations about what it means to respect others.