We want to tell you a story.
Andrea Pickett was an ordinary Australian girl. But unlike most teenagers who covered the walls of their bedrooms with posters of popstars, as a kid Andrea taped pictures of babies in every bit of spare space.
And in 2009, Andrea was stabbed to death by her former husband outside a relative’s home.
Andrea married young, anxious to start the big family she had always wanted. She did the things that mums all around the country do each and every day: She packed lunchboxes, brushed hair, made it out the door each morning with only seconds to spare and dropped the kids off at school.
In 2008 Andrea left her husband. She alleged cruelty, threats, abuse and violence on his part. In the years that followed she approached the police and other agencies for help as she continued to fear for her safety. As we now know, her fears were justified.
The ABC’s 4 Corners told Andrea’s story in harrowing detail last night:
One woman [Andrea] at deadly risk was virtually abandoned to her fate by authorities, who repeatedly failed or refused to act on her pleas for help. Why was so little done by police, prisons, parole services, the courts and child protection departments to stop her predictable, brutal murder?
[ABC 4 Corners] tells the story of women targeted by violent men and let down by the systems meant to protect them… Andrea’s story is not unique. There is significant evidence that victims of domestic violence are not being adequately protected, even when they make their situation known to the people who should protect them.
It can be easy to assume that what happened to Andrea was highly unusual, that it was a special set of circumstances, that it wouldn’t happen to anyone we know – but sadly that is not the case.
The most recent figures show that around 130 Australian women are killed as a result of intimate partner violence each year. In fact, one report has found that intimate partner violence is a bigger contributor to death, disability and poor health amongst women under 45 than obesity or smoking.
But unless these distressing acts of violence involve a celebrity, we tend to hear very little of them.
While a violent incident between two strangers on the streets of Sydney is front page news and attracts the attention of police and investigators in huge numbers, a woman who is at risk t of violence within the walls of her own home – is not always taken seriously.
Andrea repeatedly tried to get help from authorities, appealed to the police for help, told them of her fears that her husband would harm her and sought the protection of women’s shelters funded by the State Government. But she was turned away.
The WA Domestic and Family Violence Council explained to 4 Corners last night that 1 in 2 women cannot access a shelter when they need one, because there simply isn’t the space and resources available.
Andrea did everything she could to protect herself. She went for help, she told the police when her former husband repeatedly breached the restraining order she had taken out against him. And yet, her family says no proper investigation took place.
The terror and the threats continued and Andrea’s husband was eventually charged and convicted. He was supposed to serve a 14 month sentence but a ruling was given that he would be eligible for parole immediately. Immediately. A man who was essentially stalking his former wife and children, threatening her and her family and with a history of alleged violence.
Andrea’s former husband even admitted to a psychologist that he was still a physical threat to Andrea but it was held that given he would be in a town far away from where she was living, that was enough. 4 Corners reports that during his parole period, very little was done to monitor his movements and he had to report his whereabouts only irregularly.
And we know now how that story ended. Australian Governments launched a National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children last year. The plan was hailed as a historic achievement for the country, bringing together governments at all levels, all of them determined to make a difference for women who are living at risk of violence.
But a year on, it seems that little has changed. The laws in each state remain disparate, there remains inadequate enforcement of restraining orders and women’s access to support through shelters continues to be limited, as the sector is disastrously under resourced.
The threat of abuse and violence remains a daily reality for too many Australian women. And 4 Corners last night showed us that even where these women are able to find the confidence and the strength to speak out or to leave – there is little help available to them.
You can watch the 4 Corners episode in full here.
If this post brings up any issues for you, contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or go to their website. They are the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counselling service.
White Ribbon is Australia’s campaign to stop violence against women. You can donate to them here or, better still, get all the men in your life to take their oath to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.