news

Hannah Clarke had to leave her relationship. But like so many women, she still wasn't safe.

If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. In an emergency, call 000.

This post deals with domestic violence and might be triggering for some readers.

Despite increased awareness and understanding of domestic violence, the same questions are asked of victims, again and again.

“Why did she put herself in a dangerous situation?” “Why didn’t she leave?” 

Hannah Clarke had left.

According to relatives, the Brisbane woman had scooped up her three children and moved from their family home in Carindale in December. It seems she had the resources and the support system that so many lack. Even then, it wasn’t enough.

The 31-year-old and her children — Lainah, 6, Aaliyah, 4 and Trey, 3 — died this week from injuries sustained in a car fire allegedly lit by Hannah’s estranged husband.

Watch: The hidden numbers of domestic violence… Post continues after video.

Video by Mamamia

On Wednesday morning, emergency services were called to a quiet street in the suburb of Camp Hill to reports of a car engulfed in flames and people trapped inside. What should have been an ordinary school run appears to have become the sickening scene of family violence. The children died in that car, Hannah died overnight in hospital, and the man who claimed to love them died on the footpath with self-inflicted wounds.

Allegations of previous abuse have been drip-fed to the media. There are reports of repeated physical violence, and her family have spoken about helping her escape the relationship.

So yes, it seems Hannah had left. But as it does for so many, the danger followed.

One of the most at-risk times for a person in an abusive relationship is when they leave. It’s one of the few black-and-white aspects of the immensely complicated issue of domestic violence.

In 2018, The Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network published research into intimate partner homicides in Australia over a four-year period. They looked specifically at the 152 killings that followed an identifiable history of domestic violence. And they found that almost half of the men who killed a former female partner did so within three months of the relationship ending.

Why?

Domestic violence is typically an exercise in coercive control — a pattern of behaviour designed to trap a person in a relationship.

Listen: A former abusive husband shares what changed him.

As Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW, previously told Mamamia, “Domestic violence is not just about broken bones and bruises and visits to the accident and emergency department. It’s a pattern of abuse of power and control usually felt by one partner over another, and there may be a number of different sort of types of behaviour that are occurring.”

ADVERTISEMENT

That could include physical violence, emotional manipulation, social isolation and financial abuse. The abuser may have complete control of all the bank accounts, for example, or have gradually cut their victim off from their family and friends. Or they may even simply have reduced their victim’s self-esteem to the point of resignation and self-blame. (You can read more about the signs and impact of coercive control in our previous article here.)

That desire for dominance doesn’t always stop when the victim leaves. Researchers have pointed to post-separation violence as an attempt to gain or reassert control over the victim, or even to punish the victim for leaving the relationship.

Sadly, the law is limited in its capacity to protect victims who do flee. Protection Orders, for example, can be incredibly effective at reducing violence — and they do in the majority of cases — but that effectiveness relies on the cooperation of the accused. Without that, they are little more than a piece of paper. In fact, the ADFVDRN research found that one-quarter of the men who committed intimate partner homicides were under domestic violence orders at the time.

Clearly, walking away can be dangerous, but so is staying. And therein lies the heartbreaking, untenable dilemma of so many victims.

Thankfully, many will be able to leave and pursue lives free from violence and fear. And there are incredible services available to support people through that process.

1800 RESPECT, for example, can advise on creating a safety plan for their particular circumstances, including what to pack, where to go, what to do with pets and so on. State government family services also have resources online, plus free legal services can offer advice on custody and protection orders, many banks can assist with emergency funds, and a number of charitable organisations offer crisis accommodation.

It’s disgusting (and plenty of other things) that anyone is forced to make these considerations because of the actions of a loved one. But it’s a necessary reality in this country, a place where an average of one woman is killed every week by their current or former partner.

Through all the grief and the helplessness and frustration and victim-blaming, it can help to remember that there is hope in the ever-increasing awareness about the scale of domestic abuse and in the concerted push to strengthen anti-domestic violence legislation and broaden essential support services. There is hope in the thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to prevention, to working to understand what leads people to harm their loved ones, and how governments, schools and organisations can intervene.

In the meantime, as individuals, we can learn how best to support women in our lives under coercive control, and manage our own attitudes to domestic violence and educate those around us. Lesson one there: the victim is never at fault for any of it; not for the abuse, not for how they respond to it, not if they stay, and certainly not for any violence that follows them when they leave. Not in what happened in Camp Hill this week. Not ever.

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277

Lifeline: 13 11 14

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

00:00 / ???