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To this day I deal with the trauma of having my children taken from me

July 09 2018 By Dr. Ann O'Neill, Our Watch Ambassador

My heart broke after reading the news in which two teenagers were ripped from life by their father.

Ann ONeill Image

The children's mother arrived home to discover her own worst nightmare. I know firsthand it's a loss that brings an excruciating emptiness that can’t be filled.

On August 22, 1994, while I was sleeping with my two small children – Kyle, 6, and Latisha, 4, my estranged husband, shot our two kids dead before turning the gun on himself.

Still to this day, I deal with trauma from that horrific night. Although my own personal nightmare will always be with me, I am determined to make sure that my children didn’t die in vain.

It has now emerged that the father’s decision to murder his two children was "premeditated and planned".

The research into familicide suggests that this is overwhelmingly the case with these offenses: they are planned and premeditated.

It is hard to fathom how a father – a man who is supposed to love, care for and protect his children, could carry out such a dreadful crime.

Often to help us make sense of these incidents, the media and public conversation around such tragedies perpetuate a variety of misunderstandings about the origins of family violence.

The man who "snaps" or turns violent out of the blue or the "good bloke" narrative are just some examples of how we search for excuses or justifications for bad men, who commit devastatingly bad crimes.
Through my own experience, my 20 years of social work practice and my ambassadorship with Our Watch, I know that family violence and violence against women doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

In fact, in most cases of family violence like mine and the most recent event, murder is often the last brutal act in a long history of violence and its prevalence in Australia is shocking.

Disturbingly, one in four Australian women will experience intimate partner violence, one in three has experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and one in four has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.

Of those women who experience violence, more than half have children in their care.

And family violence and violence against women doesn’t discriminate.
It happens in our leafy affluent suburbs, by our seemingly approachable neighbour down the road, and contrary to popular belief, it happens without the use of alcohol or elicit substances.

While I should acknowledge the media’s responsible reporting of the most recent family violence incident, the same cannot be said of some of the coverage that followed the Margaret River tragedy.

How family violence and violence against women is reported influences how we make sense of the issue and overly-simplistic pieces often misrepresent the nature, scope and seriousness of the issue.

We need to start talking about how we can stop these often-hidden atrocities from ever happening and the address the drivers which underpin them.

Stopping family violence and violence against women before it starts, begins by addressing gender inequality.
It starts with making the links between our sexist attitudes, behaviours and culture in Australia, and our national problem with disrespect towards women and violence against them.

We need to continue to challenge the problematic attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that pervade our society around family violence and encourage governments, businesses, schools and individuals to be better.

It is up to everyone to make this important shift so we don’t exist in an unequal environment where some men feel entitled to abuse, torment and murder women and their children.

Advocating for change is the job I never wanted, but given the injustice I’ve witnessed throughout my own life, I have made my life’s work.

While we may never be able to bring these two teenagers back, we can work to disrupt the deeply entrenched attitudes and behaviour that drive family violence.

This piece was originally published by The Sydney Morning Herald.