Since 2012, an online community called Destroy the Joint has run the Counting Dead Women Project. The researchers investigate, count, and document the number of women who are murdered each year in Australia. These femicides, most of which relate to domestic violence, are published regularly on their Facebook page. The group is named after sexist comments by radio announcer Alan Jones, who claimed that ‘women are destroying the joint’. Their story states that ‘Destroy The Joint stands for gender equality and civil discourse in Australia’.
The majority of women who have been murdered in Australia in 2020 were killed by family members, most commonly their partners or ex-partners. This is the same in the case of children, who are much more likely to have been killed by their fathers. While more men have been murdered than women in Australia this year, most were killed by other men not related to them. Very few were killed by family members, and even less by the women in their family.
In her research paper Intimate Partner Femicide, Jane Monckton Smith outlines an eight-stage progression from pre-relationship to the homicide. Stage One, Pre-Relationship, acknowledges that there is a history of abuse, control, and stalking in the previous relationships of the perpetrator. Stage Two, Early Relationship, is characterised by gaining commitment by the victim. Many of the attentive and romantic gestures are present, but in fast succession. Stage Three, Relationship, sees a confirmation and commitment to the relationship by the victim coinciding with a belief in the right to control by the perpetrator. This can be seen in restriction of movement and contact, financial control, stalking, and physical and sexual abuse. Stage Four, Trigger/s, is where separation is hinted at or achieved by the victim and the perpetrator believes they have lost control, and therefore status. Only the male has the right to end a relationship. Stage 5, Escalation, sees an increase in the type and frequency of controlling behaviours in order to re-establish control. Perpetrators may share details of this with other men to get passive solidarity in order to justify their behaviour. Stage 6, A Change in Thinking/Decision, sees the perpetrator move from trying to keep the victim in the relationship to destroying her for leaving. The relationship is, only now, irretrievable in their thinking. Stage 7, Planning, has the perpetrator preparing for the killing. Research, purchasing weapons, stalking, planning on disposing of the body, etc. are all examples of preparation. The final stage, Stage 8, is the Homicide itself. The murder can be excessively violent, even in cases where there was no violence before. Children and others blocking the murder can be included in the killing. Monckton Smith concludes that frameworks of coercive control, feelings of entitlement and male privilege, and justifying behaviour are more accurate predictors of future homicide rather than simply the presence of domestic violence.
I started to make a neckpiece after hearing of the tragic murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children – Aaliyah, Laianah, and Trey – by her estranged husband on 19 February 2020. By then, she was the eighth woman to be murdered this year. I was aware of the statistics that one woman a week, on average, is murdered in Australia. It was an act of memorialisation, of remembering these women, almost half of which were not named in news reports at that time.
Responding to these deaths is tragically a work in progress. So far, in 2020, Australia has seen 29 women killed. I have constructed copper female figures and enamelled them in different colours to highlight their uniqueness and individuality as they stand in for those killed. My (naïve?) dream is that I will not have to add any more to this necklace by the end of the year. Statistics, however, seem to show that this will not be the case. In 2019, there were 61. In 2018, there were 63. In 2017, there were 53. In 2012, there were 69.
For 2020, the following women have been killed in Australia:
- Kimberley McRae (unknown connection male)
- Christine Neilan (unknown)
- Unnamed (husband)
- Maude Steenbek (male neighbour)
- Unnamed (stepson)
- Unnamed (known male)
- Alexis Parkes (male partner)
- Hannah Clarke and three children Aaliyah, Laianah, and Trey (ex-husband)
- Unnamed (unknown connection male)
- Ann Marie Smith (carer neglect)
- Maree Collins (male neighbour)
- Kim Murphy (ex-partner male)
- Lesley Taylor (son)
- Jacqueline Sturgess (ex-husband)
- Ella Price (known male)
- Erlinda Songcuan (husband)
- Britney Watson (known male)
- Unnamed (known male)
- Unnamed (male relative)
- Loris Puglia (son)
- Kamaljeet Sidhu (husband)
- Karen Leek (unknown connection female)
- Ruth Mataafa (ex-partner male)
- Gabriella Delaney (brother)
- Unnamed (known male)
- Emerald Wardle (partner male)
- Karen Gilliland (ex-husband)
- Liqun Pan (known male)
- Roselyn Staggard (son)
Scripture speaks of humans being made in the image of God, the imago Dei (Genesis 1.27). As such, human beings are endowed with immense value. They are precious and are to be treated with dignity, love, compassion, and care. Intimate partner violence and femicide are extreme examples of the dehumanising of another person and of distorted concepts of male superiority.
Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson’s in-depth reporting of domestic violence in the Christian church (as well as other religious bodies), demonstrates a clear link between domestic violence and male headship theology. Hannah Wagner, in her article, Femicide is a Christian Issue, concludes:
Christianity’s history is rooted in patriarchy. Because of this, the fundamental belief that women are inferior is embedded in much of the Christian culture, especially related to how men and women interact. Dismantling the remaining remnants of misogyny in our theology should be at the forefront of Christian discussion.
This year-long memorial project has revealed a terrible emotional, social, and human cost as children, families, and communities are affected. Sexism, misogyny, and violence against women are issues that must be addressed by the church, by society as a whole, and also by men willing to listen and stand with women.