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6 women. 6 deaths in 18 days: The other national emergency unfolding right now.

Update: This article was originally published on May 14, 2020. Within days of reporting on this issue, two more women died by violence in Australia. It has been updated on May 18. 

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

Two months ago, Australians were told that for our own safety we had to go home, close the door, and stay there. Most of us did it, and have indeed stayed safe from COVID-19.

But for some Australians, the biggest danger they faced was not outside the home, but within their own four walls.

The facts are frightening.

Since the start of May, six Australian women have been killed by violence. That is more than double the usual rate, which is already appalling enough.

Watch: The hidden numbers of women and violence. Post continues below video. 

Video by Mamamia

The pattern is grimly familiar.

Australian women harmed and sometimes murdered by men they know, men they perhaps loved and trusted, men who have fathered their children.

This is not acceptable.

And the bare beginning to making change is not just to reel off the dire statistics and move on, but to actually understand something of the tragedy that befell these women.

Here are parts of their stories, the best we can discern from police reports and media. Bear in mind that some of the key facts are allegations only, and it will be for the courts to decide the guilt or innocence of the men who stand accused.

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domestic violence australia 2020
Erlinda and Engracio Songcuan. Image: Facebook.
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On Saturday, May 2, just after noon on a cool autumn day, police were called to Woodcroft, in Sydney’s west, following a welfare report from a concerned family member.

There, they discovered the body of Erlinda Songcuan, 69, who had been left dead in the garage of her own home.

Inquiries led to the arrest of her husband, Engracio Songcuan, 73, whose car was found at Blacktown train station.

He was charged with murder. The couple had been married for 44 years and shared four children together.

A neighbour told 9 News that Erlinda was an “exceptionally nice” woman and “the best human being”.

***

domestic violence australia 2020
Ellie Price. Image: Facebook.
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Two days later, on May 4, another woman's body was found.

Ellie Price, 26, was found just after 2pm in a South Melbourne townhouse. She was the mother of a four-year-old son.

Her body suffered a "significant assault" and "may have been in those premises for a number of days, perhaps five days," Detective Inspector Tim Day said last week.

A nationwide manhunt began for the suspect, Ricardo "Rick" Barbaro.

"Barbaro and Ellie were known to each other and are believed to have been in a relationship from time to time since about October 2019," Inspector Day said.

Ellie's friend, Jasmin Owen, wrote on Facebook: "You were way too young miss El. I’m so saddened ... We had so much fun growing up together."

On Thursday, May 14, the search for Barbaro ended when he was found by police in Sydney's western suburbs, inside a luxury penthouse. He has been arrested and charged with an interstate warrant for murder.

Tracey Gangell, Ellie Price’s mother, told 7 News after her death: "The pain is just, you don’t think it happens to you, you think it happens to everyone else but not you."

***

domestic violence australia 2020
Britney Watson. Image: Facebook.

Two days after the discovery of Ellie Price, headlines emerged once more. Another woman had died.

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This time, it was 18-year-old Britney Watson. In the early hours of May 6, her body was found unresponsive by her family. Police say she was then put in a wheelie bin and pushed to Newman Hospital, about 50 metres from their home, in remote Western Australia. Emergency staff immediately called the police.

A boy known to her, only 17 years old, has been charged with her murder.

Britney Watson was a mother of two. She leaves behind a toddler son and a baby, who she gave birth to just four weeks prior. According to 7News, her friends and family called her a "good mum who’ll be loved and missed".

Within the space of four days, Britney Watson was the third woman to be found dead in Australia after allegedly being killed by a man.

A national horror.

***

In the early hours of Tuesday, May 12, another woman tragically lost her life from domestic violence.

On an isolated property in Victoria's East Gippsland, police responded to calls of an assault at 3.30am. They arrived at 6am - the delay due to the remote location - to find the dead body of a 65-year-old woman.

A 64-year-old man, known to the woman, has been charged with one count of murder. Their names have not been publicly released.

***

On Thursday, May 14, more tragic news emerged. Yet another woman has died by violence.

In the afternoon, at around 4:15pm, detectives in Perth, Western Australia, were called to a home on a suburban street in Broome where they discovered a woman in her 40s with serious injuries.

She had been attacked in the front yard of her property, reports ABC, and was taken by ambulance to Broome Hospital, where she later died.

A 25-year-old man from Cable Beach, who police say was known to the victim, has been charged with her murder and faced Perth Magistrates Court on Sunday via video link, according to Perth Now.

One local resident told ABC: "I don't think anything has happened like this before on the street… we're good friends with most of the neighbours, and as far as I would be aware this hasn't happened before."

***

domestic violence australia 2020
Frank and Loris Puglia. Image: Getty.
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On Sunday, May 17, another horrific incident occurred. This time, two parents were allegedly killed by their son.

Just before 2pm on a cloudy afternoon in Queensland, police were called to a bed and breakfast at Joyner, north of Brisbane.

There, they found the bodies of Frank and Loris Puglia. A couple, both 59-years-old.

On Sunday night, at about 6:30pm, New South Wales Police arrested a 31-year-old man more than 900km away, in Sydney's northern outskirts.

It is understood he is the son of the couple who died, and had been living at home with his parents, according to ABC

He has been charged with two counts of murder and unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

***

Six women. 18 days.

Again. These are not just statistics.

These are real people, whose lives have ended with all too real tragedies – all part of a national tragedy, likely exacerbated by the pressures that have come from the lockdown. But is the COVID-19 pandemic responsible for an increase in domestic and family violence?

The statistics seem up and down. Whilst Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said that hospital emergency departments were reporting an increase in significant injuries related to domestic violence, data published by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in April reported "no evidence" of an increase in domestic violence since shutdown was implemented.

As the Director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon, explains to Mamamia, these statistics could suggest that the pandemic has led to more silent victims of domestic violence.

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"For many Australian women and children, it's not safe to be at home. And I think what we are starting to see in the official statistics is the inability of people to access help - so the inability when you're confined to a home with your abuser to call the police, to call helplines, to reach out for help in the ways you may have prior," Dr Fitz-Gibbon told Mamamia's daily news podcast The Quicky.

"I think [the statistics] signal the increasing difficulty and barriers that women will be experiencing during this time."

She continued: "We can expect, unfortunately, a silence from victims during this time and it's why it's been so important for services to innovate and to think about the different ways they can keep victims visible and attended to at this time."

Listen: How to help women locked inside with their abusers. Post continues below. 

"The important thing is going to be, as the restrictions ease and as Australia moves into a recovery phase, knowing that family violence will continue to be a heightened national emergency. This isn't going away. We had a national emergency of family violence before COVID-19, it's most likely gone up during this period, and it will continue during the recovery," Dr Fitz-Gibbon said.

"We know that so many of the factors that can increase domestic violence are linked to the crisis we're in at the moment, around poor mental health, around financial instability and stress in families... It's really going to be about making sure that all options are available and resourced adequately to support the number of women during this period."

We need to focus on these women, know their names and care about their stories. We need to be outraged that we didn't do more, sooner, to end domestic violence.

We need more measures to protect women and anyone who is vulnerable to the potentially fatal outcomes of domestic violence.

This month, May, is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month.

We cannot let these women die in silence. That’s what their murderers would have wanted.

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.


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