On the morning of February 19, domestic violence perpetrator Rowan Baxter murdered his wife and three children setting them on fire. Hannah Baxter and her three children were on their routine commute to school when Mr Baxter entered the car, doused his wife and children in petrol, and set them alight. The three children were pronounced dead at the scene, while the mother died later in hospital due to her severe injuries. Mr Baxter was also confirmed dead on the scene after allegedly stabbing himself to death.
Prior to the incident, Ms Baxter had been living with her parents as she was involved in a custody battle with her estranged husband. Police confirm receiving domestic violence reports prior to the incident.
This horrific accident was followed by a contrast of media reportage. Mr Baxter, an ex NRL player was heralded as a ‘sporting hero’ and ‘good bloke’ caught up in a messy domestic dispute. Ms Baxter and her children were initially reported to only have ‘died’, without significant reportage on the terrifying circumstances that caused them.
“Ex-footy star who died in burning car showered kids with love”
— paigs (@goodtimegh0ul) February 19, 2020
This exploded public outrage, claiming the reports were victim blaming and ignoring the problem of domestic violence in Australia.
In further reports, media covered the incident as a domestic violence murder-suicide, while raising awareness about the problem of gendered violence in Australia.
Public figures such as Bettina Ardnt pushed back against sensationalised reports of gendered domestic violence. Ardnt received significant outrage over her comments, and received an official complaint by Tim Smith MP for her Order of Australia medal to be revoked.
Upon further reflection I think these comments are so grotesque that this woman must not be awarded an AM, which was announced on Australia Day. I hate saying that, but she must not be recognised in any way as an outstanding Australian. https://t.co/tub8RixMzL
— Tim Smith MP (@TimSmithMP) February 21, 2020
Similarly, Pauline Hanson pushed back on media claims of gendered domestic violence, which was also received with outrage.
“This is why I have pushed for the Family Law inquiry, to get behind what is happening, all this. This has been for a week, nearly every day, in the news.. but we don’t hear much about it when a woman murders her children,” Hanson said.
“A lot of people are driven to do these acts for one reason or another… but don’t bastardise all men out there, all women for this matter… because these things happen.”
But, Pauline, these things do not ‘just happen’. There are deep cultural and systematic problem which lead us here.
1 woman a week is murdered by domestic abuse.
79% of intimate partner homicide victims were women.
Male victims of domestic violence are usually victims of male perpetrators.
Comments by Ardnt and Hanson abscond the perpetrator of responsibility, joining the rhetoric that perpetrators are not culpable for their crimes.
It asserts the problem is with women, the children, the family, anyone else who isn’t the perpetrator.
When instead, there is a mountain of evidence (see NSW Government, One In Three, Our Watch), which proves that domestic violence and abuse, are crimes committed by perpetrators who terrorise their victims to exert and maintain control (Jess Hill).
Not because they were pushed too far.
These comments only work in sustaining the violence problem. In a society that believes in facts and family, it is terrifying public figures are reinforcing the false rhetoric that men are fraudulently blamed for acts of domestic abuse.
In reality, women and children are affected disproportionately by domestic violence due to gendered issues such as lack of resources, fearing for their lives, physical subordination, and fear of family separation. Women too, are held to extremely Family Court standards, with judges often siding with fathers, in the “women against men” rhetoric.
It is also important to add, recognising gendered systemic issues do not vilify all men, but works in favour for all in our society. With more emotional support strategies, prevention programs, safe spaces, and community understanding, we could eradicate domestic violence for good. Institutions that tackle domestic violence, work with both victims and perpetrators, in hopes to reform the cultural problem.
Most people know good and honest men, this will not change. But understanding men are disproportionate perpetrators in domestic violence should.
Family violence support services:
1800 Respect national helpline 1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line 1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line) 131 114
Relationships Australia 1300 364 277
If you would like to make up your own mind about domestic violence , here is a reading list:
See What You Made Me Do – Jess Hill
Blame Changer – Carmel O’Brian
One In Three
Hannah Clarke Murder Domestic Violence What We are Getting Wrong