Trigger Warning: This post deals with issues of domestic violence and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.
“Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve let a murderer go free.”
In a dozen words, devoid of expletives or a trace of victimhood, my mother, Lorna Cleary, reminded her children why we so loved and admired her. It was just after 6pm on Tuesday, 14 February 1989, the seventh day of the trial of Peter Raymond Keogh for the murder of Vicki Cleary when mum levelled her gaze at the jurors as they fled through the foyer outside courtroom three. Not one of the jurors said a word.
I will never forget Valentine’s Day 1989, or the trauma my family suffered seeing our girl, Vicki, a 25-year-old woman blamed for the violence her ex-boyfriend inflicted on her.
Keogh had ambushed Vicki outside the kindergarten where she worked and stabbed her to death. Yet he was granted a provocation defence, found not guilty of murder and sentenced to less than four years in gaol. That verdict and that sentence were emblematic of the way our society viewed violence against women by men known intimately to them.
My sister had left her killer three months before the attack.
Our experience in court left me believing that courts were complicit in the violence perpetrated against women. I knew that society had to change.
For the past 25 years, I’ve sat in courtrooms listening to lawyers explain away the killing of women and heard countless grief-ridden stories from the families of murdered women.
I still bristle at the thought of a newspaper running the headline “Love Pulls the Trigger” after Christine Boyce was shot dead in front of her children by her estranged partner in 1987. Defence lawyer Bob Kent was allowed to exhibit nude photos of Christine to show she was ‘an attractive woman both in face and body… and that in those circumstances a juror might say, “I am prepared to say that an ordinary man in this man’s situation may well have lost control and acted in that way” [the photos show]… she is somebody whom we could well understand him to have a great passion for.’
All these years later, our courtrooms continue to deliver Not Guilty verdicts to murderous men. More than 60 women a year are murdered by a man with whom they’ve been intimate. Alongside, the murders are of the women (and their children) living in fear of a violent ex or current partner.
The latest woman to meet the same fate as my sister was 33-year-old Fiona Warzywoda. She had done what so many women are now prepared to do — leave a bad man. The truth is women have never been in greater danger than they are today. How ironic that it’s the modern woman’s preparedness to leave a violent or oppressive relationship that is putting her at risk: stay and be terrorized, leave and risk being killed. It’s a truly shocking and barbaric state of affairs. Unless the society undergoes radical changes, women will continue to die at the hands of possessive men.