Domestic Homicide as a Significant Crime Problem for Australia
Domestic homicide is a significant crime problem for Australia. The following essay will specifically dive into intimate partner femicide referring to case studies and presenting statistics in order to show the significance of this crime. An in-depth discussion of the motivations, causes, and responses of communities, media and authorities in relation to domestic homicide will be discussed. What, Where and How? Crime Statistics Australia defines domestic homicide as “incidents involving the death of a family member or other person in a domestic relationship”. Filicide, parricide, siblicide, intimate partner and other family are all categories of domestic homicide. However, the ‘National Homicide Monitoring Program’ found that intimate partner homicide accounted for two-thirds of all domestic homicide in 2013-2014. It was also noted that 79% of these victims were in fact female, making intimate partner femicide the most significant category of domestic homicide and therefore the focus of this essay. The devastating reality of this crime is that it’s often committed in a victims own home where one should feel most safe and by someone they love, who they should most trust. There is no specific capability needed in order to achieve this crime. It can be committed with knives, beating, balconies and it can happen 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. This means anyone is capable of this crime at any time of day. A report of the ‘Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network’ states out of 121 intimate partner femicide offences from 2012-2014, 44% occurred in a shared home whilst 23% occurred in the victim’s residence. In other words, most offenders have 24/7 access to their victims making the opportunity for this crime easy.
Whilst the capability for intimate partner femicide is easy, what motivates one to commit this hideous crime? In most cases, a long history of domestic violence and abuse prior to the homicide can be uncovered. Dr. Belinda Parker from the Queensland University of Technology found through the analysis of 150 Australian murder cases that men who kill women are shown to frequently use violence as a form of control over their partner. It was also concluded that femicides committed by men are often stemmed from outbursts of jealousy and possessiveness where they use violence against their partners to receive a sense of power, dominance, and control. The abuse and torment is unfortunately quite commonly tolerated by many women thus leading in tragic cases of homicide. According to the ‘Annual Statistical Review 2016-17’ of the Queensland Police Service, out of the sixty thousand domestic violence-related offences they attended in 2014, one thousand involved strangulation. Strangulation has been associated with power and control which further proves domestic violence as being a matter of dominance.
Victims commonly share characteristics of low self-esteem, dependency on their partners and feeling to blame for the violence (J.M, 1989). Perpetrators also share characteristics, commonly of substance abuse (which allows situations to escalate quickly), and also a form of dependency on their partners which is why a woman attempting to leave a violent relationship is often a trigger point for severe violence or homicide. In 2011, Lisa Harnum was thrown off of a 15-foot balcony by her at the time fiance Simon Gittany. There was however years of abuse where Gittany would be extremely controlling and slowly isolate her from all family and friends. Ms. Harnum was said to have confided in her mother the day before her death expressing her fear for her life but her attempt to leave the relationship sent Gittany into a rage where Harnum ultimately lost her life.
Response of Community and Authorities
Cases of intimate partner femicide come as a shock to the community. It is often unexpected and creates a sense of fear within society. Victims of domestic violence will often underestimate their situation or be too frightened to seek help, so many stories go unheard and happen behind closed doors. As horrible and as devastating as the outcomes of intimate partner femicide is, they make great stories for the media. The violence, scandal and gore appeals to the hunger of society. Allison Baden-Clay was reported missing by her husband (Gerard Baden-Clay) in 2012 but it was only a matter of weeks before her body was located and Gerard was charged with her murder. This caused community outcry and a sense of injustice for their three young children who lost both their mother and father. It was only after Allison’s death that her isolation from family and friends and Gerard’s dominating behaviour towards his wife was become aware of. Although the media’s platform gives the topic attention and gets individual cases spoken about, the publicity has not been seen to make the issue more preventable or encouraged victims of domestic violence to reach out for help. Australian police are dealing with an estimated 657 domestic violence matters on average every day of the year (C.B, 2015). According to ‘Crime Statistics Australia’ in 2012-2014, 106 offenders had a prior history of domestic violence and 71% of these offenders were involved in a domestic homicide. This suggests authorities dealing with these offences and offenders are not responding properly or doing enough to prevent and predict a fatal outcome.
Domestic homicide and more specifically, intimate partner femicide is a significant crime problem in Australia. It can happen at any time of day, by the least expected offenders and motivated most commonly by a hunger for power and dominance. Communities want to be protected and authorities must take further steps to ensure crime rates do not continue to arise.
Whilst intimate partner homicide is a significant crime problem for Australia, it is preventable. The following essay will put forth reasoning as to how and why it can be prevented as well as presenting strategy in order to stop it. There are three aspects of crime prevention. Those being motivation, opportunity and capability. The capability and opportunity for intimate partner homicide is always available therefore is extremely hard to eliminate as a source of crime prevention. Motivation however, can be prevented. In order for an intimate partner homicide to occur, motivations must exist. Developing an understanding of offenders behaviours and their motivations can help society identify risk factors and interfere before a fatal outcome. Considering there is usually a long history of domestic violence before the homicide is committed suggests it is possible to intervene before the situation escalates but for that to be done the risk factors need to be identified. Multiple proposals can be made in order to prevent domestic homicides from different directions.
Firstly from the victims side. Being a victim of domestic violence may mean, they have been in contact with the health system (doctors and hospitals) due to injuries from abuse. If violent and suspicious injuries are assessed more thoroughly perhaps victims’ can be approached sensitively about their possible situations and it can be dealt with appropriately and before it gets more severe. Currently the health system is partially ignorant to these situations and has therefore created missed opportunities for involvement and interference. People who show signs of being at risk of domestic violence need to be better identified and made aware of their risk and the programs set in place that can help themselves and their partners for a better outcome. A second proposal is creating a self-admitting offender program where people at risk of committing any form of domestic violence or homicide are taught how to better manage their anger and strategies to prevent fatal outcomes. In order for people to take part in this program, it should be advertised on a wide variety of platforms. This could include school, social media and television commercials. Risk factors and warning signs of offenders relating to domestic homicide should be displayed in a clear and serious manner where people are not made to feel ashamed about needing help but highly encouraged. Advertising the fact that there are biological theories for male perpetrated homicide may encourage more males to recieve help by acknowledging their feelings and actions as real issues rather than disregarding it as something within their control. For those who have previously gone to court due to domestic violence, it could be made a court order to attend sessions of the program in order for offenders to evaluate their own actions, identify their own warning signs and get help.
Results from police data show that a large number of offenders re-offended in the weeks and months following a domestic violence incident (M.A, B.H, B.R, 2015). This shows that currently offenders are not having enough done for them to not offend again so perhaps another program is needed and can help save lives. Although intimate partner femicide is a significant crime problem in Australia, more can be done in order to prevent it from happening.