news

'She suffered in silence.' An open letter about the murder of my sister, Allison Baden-Clay.

At Mamamia, we have a year-round commitment to highlighting the epidemic of domestic violence in Australia. During May, Domestic Violence Prevention Month, we will not only raise awareness of the personal impact of violence, but do our best to ensure victims have access to help, and encourage those who abuse to take responsibility and seek help for their behaviour.

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

Dear reader,

The month of May brings with it the joy of the celebration of Mother’s Day, where we come together to celebrate the achievements of mothers, grandmothers, carers and women everywhere. 

Yet May is also a time when we remember those who have lost their lives to domestic violence and the families impacted by this heinous crime. It is an opportunity to raise awareness and support those who are victims and survivors. 

This is at a time when women are calling for change, pleading to be listened to, and asking to be believed. I am a part of this movement for change and have been for many years. 

My involvement began when my sister, Allison Baden-Clay was murdered at the hands of her husband in April 2012. 

Her story shocked and captivated the nation. It resonated with people in the community and was in the media almost every day, month after month. 

At the time, my family wondered why there was so much interest in Allison’s story. We soon realised it was because she was 'the girl next door', a neighbour, a kind friend. 

Allison was well educated, a high achiever, successful businesswoman, a loving and devoted mother.

Allison Baden-Clay on her wedding day. Image: Facebook. 

There is one very important thing that my family has learned over the last 10 years and that is that domestic violence can happen to anyone - all classes of people, all religions, all income and education levels. It doesn’t discriminate.

ADVERTISEMENT

It could have been anyone of us being controlled by a narcissist and dealing with abuse within the home. Allison, like so many other women, suffered in silence until her death.  

We as a family now look back and realise that there were signs of violence, although not always physical – and in hindsight, if we had known what to look out for then our lives and those of Allison’s three daughters may have been very different. 

Our lives were turned upside down 10 years ago and my parents never expected such a busy way of life for their retirement years.But they do it for the love of their three granddaughters and also their love for Allison.  

We have to take solace in the fact that we didn’t know what we didn’t know at the time. 

We have realised that when you know better, you do better. So we feel that it is important to educate people about the warning signs of both emotional and physical abuse. 

If we teach people to recognise there is very little difference between the two, perhaps fewer women will be dismissive of their dysfunctional relationship. Even as a bystander, you can influence the outcome for friends and family members at risk.

Allison Baden-Clay (left) Vanessa Fowler (middle) and their mother Priscilla Dickie (right). Image: Supplied. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The good news is that violence is preventable. It is not an inevitable by-product of the human condition. We are beginning to seriously examine how we can change behaviours and attitudes which have been long held in our society and create a culture where violence against women is unthinkable.

It is important to understand that gender inequality is a key driver of violence against women. 

Gender inequality provides the underlying conditions for violence against women. It exists at many levels in our society – from how we view and value men and women, to economic factors like the pay gap between men and women, to family and relationship roles and expectations. There is a strong and consistent association between gender inequality and violence against women.

Gender inequality highlights the unequal structures and practices that prevent women and girls from enjoying the same opportunities and privileges as men and boys. We must actively challenge inequality in the places in which we live, learn, work and play. 

When we use phrases like “it’s just boys being boys”, “don’t run like a girl, don’t cry like a girl”, from a young age, boys and girls start to believe there are reasons and situations that make disrespectful behaviours acceptable.

You might be surprised that when you say things like “it’s ok, he just did it because he likes you”, or “boys will be boys”, you are excusing disrespectful behaviours and embedding this idea in the mindset of young people. This is dangerous and has serious and long-lasting consequences. 

We need generational change. We need cultural change; we need to change the way we think about gender. We need boys to stop being boys and start being more human. We need to change our mindsets, and change the fact that people feel they can control others. 

We shouldn’t have to raise our daughters to protect themselves against mistreatment. We should be raising our sons to respect and value them.

Effective change cannot be achieved unless each and every one of us takes a personal interest and engages in promoting healthy and non-violent relationships in our homes, schools, work and the broader community. We also need to address the underlying attitudes and cultural beliefs that perpetuate gender inequality and socialisation that leads to violence against women and children.

My parents and I were honoured to attend the historic announcement in response to the Hear Her Voice report and we acknowledge the significant reform which the government has committed to over the coming years. The recommendations in the report called for significant change, and the reforms announced will have long-term implications. 

ADVERTISEMENT

As a family, we welcome the renewed focus on education, highlighting the importance that respectful relationship programs play within schools and ensuring our young people are a part of the solution and generational change required to alter the course of domestic and family violence.

Over the last 10 years since my sister Allison’s death, our Foundation’s work has centred on educating the community in recognising the signs of coercive control and realising that it is a pattern of behaviour that occurs over time.

Queenslanders are becoming more aware that domestic and family violence is not just physical and as such now know that abuse can manifest itself in so many different ways, some of which occur behind closed doors. It’s a distinct pattern of behaviour that research shows can and does, all too often, lead to homicide. 

The term “coercive control” is now a topic discussed more openly and accepted as just as heinous as that of physical or sexual violence. As this awareness grows, so does the public’s expectations that systems, procedures and laws keep pace to ensure women and children are safe.

ADVERTISEMENT

It is important to our family that Allison’s legacy is a positive one, and that, by sharing her story, we may help others.

Vanessa. 

Through The Allison Baden-Clay Foundation we educate the community on how to be effective bystanders and to recognise the signs of coercive control and the power imbalance that exists within domestic and family abuse. 

We also share our message through our annual Strive To Be Kind (STBK) campaign in July and our STBK Day which is held on the last Friday in July. 

Our message is focused on how ‘we all have a voice’- and that your voice can be used in many ways. It can be used to lift people up with a kind word or it can be used to tear people down. We can also use our voice to speak out to help those who may be suffering because there is more power when we support each other and work together.

It is important that we all work together toward a positive, safe and equal future for young men and women as this is the best investment we can make. 

It doesn’t take much to be a good human, it’s respect, honesty, integrity and compassion and each of you can play your part toward positive change by committing to speak out against derogatory comments, abusive conduct and disrespectful behaviour because you might not only change someone’s life, but you may also save someone’s life, perhaps a mother, perhaps a daughter, perhaps a sister, like mine.

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.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The Men’s Referral Service is also available on 1300 766 491 or via online chat at www.ntv.org.au.www.ntv.org.au.

Tickets to the 2022 Allison Baden-Clay Foundation Strive To Be Kind Lunch can be found here. The foundation also runs the Allison’s Gift program which is available to community and sporting groups, small business and corporates. More information can be found here.  

Feature Image: Supplied. 

Need help with tasks and jobs around the house? Complete this survey to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher