I posted a story of yet another murder of a woman by her partner along with the message that every week in Australia, one woman is killed by a current or former partner. A comment posted in response read: Have we counted the children?
Tragically there have been some really shocking murders of children by their fathers: one that comes too readily to mind was the public filicide of Luke Batty by his father at a cricket ground earlier this year. The 11-year-old boy was killed in front of horrified onlookers after a cricket training session. His father was then shot by police and died soon after.
And who can possibly forget the case of Robert Farquharson, the man who drove his three young sons into a dam on Father’s day September 2005, leaving them to drown. I remember watching the news that night and it was fairly clear right from the first reporting that this was no accident and that Farquharson had chosen to take his sons’ lives. But if you want to find out why men kill their children you won’t find the answer in This House of Grief, Helen Garner’s latest book. Even so, her story is a gripping account of the long days spent in the court until the final verdict was reached, pronouncing Farquarson ‘three times guilty’.
But why did he kill his children?
Men who kill their children do so to punish the mother, experts say, with the final act of revenge often punctuating a history of domestic violence. The most recent figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology show there were 22 cases of filicide nationwide between 2008 and 2010. No to Violence acting chief executive Rodney Vlais said it was common for men to develop a victim mentality before killing their children. “They feel they have been hard done by when, in fact, this is not usually the case. It’s more often a sense of entitlement and privilege that they have. Men can feel so aggrieved in their own warped sense of being the victim that they will punish their partner through killing their children.” Farquarson was a desperate man in the months before he took his sons’ lives. Prior to the murders, the emotionally immature father was finding life very difficult having recently separated from his wife Cindy who was now living with a new partner. To his psychologist he admitted contemplating suicide and was urged to keep taking his anti-depressants but follow – up consultation was not attended. And the tragedy he caused was unfathomable, inexplicable and shocking.
And then there are the men who kill their whole family. At the beginning of the month we heard the gruesome news that a farmer Geoff Hunt, had killed his wife Kim, 41, and their three children before turning a gun on himself at the family’s property near Wagga Wagga in the Riverina. While we don’t know why this crazed and desperate man killed his wife and children and then committed suicide, surely the sensible course of action would have been to get some help, not kill. In the days that followed the tragedy, the press described Hunt as a loving family man who was under some strain. You couldn’t get a better bloke. The most gentle, considerate bloke… a pillar of society.
Author and journalist Nina Funnell takes issue with the media description of this man who has just killed his family and writes that if a man walked into a classroom and shoots the teacher and the students and then himself, this is called a massacre and he’s called a murderer. And yet when a man such as Hunt shoots his own children and his wife and then himself, the press paint him as a loving family man who was under some strain.
Language matters. Destroy the Joint are running a campaign to end violence against women (actually that should be written as male violence). We need to use the correct language and in this case name the person who commits the violence – that is the male of the species. So far this year there have been 54 murders of women by their male partners or ex partners – this is more than one murder a week. It is usual to refer to male violence in the home as domestic violence but this avoids naming the perpetrator, so yes, I agree with Funnell that language really matters and so does the killing of women which has to stop. No more murders of women and children by angry men who can’t cope when women leave them or things get too tough. It has to stop.