real life

'Hannah Clarke's death still haunts Australia. Her story could have been mine.'

Content warning: This story mentions domestic violence and suicide that may be distressing to some readers. 

There aren't a lot of dates, aside from birthdays and anniversaries, that stick in my mind. But February 19, 2020, is one I can't forget.

On that day, three years ago, I was sitting in my lounge room preparing for a domestic violence awareness speaking gig, when suddenly, a series of photographs stopped me in my tracks. Images that, by now, have been seen by millions across the world.

It was the wreckage of a burned-out car on a quiet suburban street – and beside it, a photograph of a woman and her three children.

At that moment, my entire body tensed; my gut dropping to the floor. "No," I breathed. "No, please, not again."

With a growing sense of sickness, I listened to the news update, breaking into tears as I discovered that, once again, a man had killed his ex-partner and children. As Australians soon came to learn, Hannah had only recently walked away from her husband, after coming to an understanding that the years of control, coercion, and abuse she had been subjected to for so long were – in fact – signs of coercive control.

At 31, Hannah had taken control of her future – but her freedom was short-lived. Because only months later, her ex-husband – the father of her children – decided to ambush and kill all four of them.

As a mother, it was almost unbearable to think about.


Hannah Clarke with her three children. Image: Facebook.

All day, I cried on and off, and as I curled up in bed that night, I lay awake, staring at the ceiling for hours or drifting in and out of horrific nightmares. Dreams of my father; memories of the past. And most of all, a sickening reminder that what happened to Hannah, could have happened to me.

I was only 10 when I first noticed the change in my father's behaviour. The way he switched from being my charismatic, loving protector, to an unpredictable, terrifying version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Being alone with him was something I came to dread, and despite the days or weeks where he was my happy, carefree father, those times never lasted long.


Throughout my teens, I lived with a constant fear of his emotional abuse; a world where floors were filled with eggshells and the four walls of our home felt like a prison. As a father and husband, his behaviour was the textbook definition of coercive control, and included financial control, jealousy, possessiveness, a need to know where my mother was, constant accusations that she must be having an affair, gaslighting (a form of psychological manipulation that causes a survivor to question their own memory), and DARVO (deny, attack, reverse victim order).


One of the hardest parts of surviving this time, was that I had no idea what to call this 'situation' – let alone how to get help. As a teenager growing up in the pre-social media landscape of the new millennium, I thought abuse was characterised by broken bones and bloodied lips. But in our home, my father's weapons were his words. The fear and intimidation that was evident in just a single glance, and the message it could send.

Jas at age 14 and Jas now. Image: Supplied.


In our home, Dad's abuse took many forms, from violently screaming at my mother, brother and I, and punching the back door so hard that it splintered down the middle… to removing the batteries in the computer mouse, or hiding the keys for the car so that we'd stay home (or so that my mother would be humiliated when she arrived late for appointments). He was illogical and irrational, screaming at me with monstrous rage if I didn't feed the dogs by a certain time, and yet, the very next night, leaving the dogs waiting for their dinner long into the night. 

Dad also had a knack for going out of his way to make me miserable if he knew I had something fun or important coming up. Whether it was my year 10 exams, or a sleepover with a friend, he made sure he picked a fight or belittled me, to shake my confidence and rip away any joy.

As time went by Dad's behaviour grew increasingly terrifying, and even when I did find the courage to call the police, nothing came of it. By the time they arrived, my father had switched back to his calm, collected alter-ego, and to my horror, turned to the officers and remarked, "The person you really need to investigate is my daughter. She abuses her little brother constantly."


That day, as a 16-year-old, was one of the most traumatic, devastating moments of my life. 

Though I'm sure the police saw through his lie, nothing came of my report – and now that I'd humiliated my father, we were in more danger than ever. If not for the blessing of a safe house (gifted by a woman at our church) I don't know what might have happened to us.

I thought we were safe; but in hindsight, it was this period of time where we were at the greatest risk of becoming statistics, because in relationships where coercive control is present, the victim has a 90 per cent chance of being murdered within the first six months of leaving.

"Why didn't they leave?" and "Why did she go back?" are two of the most common questions that people ask with domestic violence. While understandable, the truth is that most victim-survivors either don't feel safe enough, or lack the support needed to do so.

In my case, my mother had few options – aside from housing her two school children in a 22-year-old, two-door Toyota Celica – so when our nine months at the safe house ended, we returned home. While Dad had made some improvements while we were gone, it was only a matter of time before his control and anger issues returned. Like many perpetrators, he was far too good at hiding his abuse, and aside from two people I confided in, no one really knew.


Dad's behaviour grew increasingly unpredictable over the next two years. I was now 18, and his ability to control me was diminishing. I was beginning to speak up; I was fighting back with hot, angry words and defending my mother. Dad felt like he was losing power, and I was increasingly in the firing line.

Jas at age 18. Image: Supplied.


One day, while driving home from town, we approached an old, wooden, one-way bridge. It was one we'd driven over thousands of times – always cautiously, due to the blind-spot on the road – but that day, he mashed his foot against the accelerator and flew towards it. 

From where I sat in the backseat, I could hear my mother’s screams; the confused pleas as we drew closer. "What are you doing?! Slow down! Stop! STOP!"

But he didn't listen. 

We flew towards the old weathered bridge and rocketed around the corner, my brother and I holding our breaths. To our relief, we made it over before another car came along. If we hadn't…we likely wouldn't be here today.

We survived that day, but the message was clear: My father was the one in control. Not us.

When I look back at that period of time, I wonder if I would be alive today if it hadn't been for the fact that, just a few months after I finished school, my father made a decision to end his own life. 

It's a horrible thing to think about; because despite all the pain we went through, I never wanted him to disappear in that way. I just wanted him to get help. To understand where his need for control was coming from, and to commit to finding the support needed to be the husband and father he could have been.

But deep down, I know that if he was still alive, there's a chance that the rest of my family may not be.


Over the past decade I've mentored, befriended, and listened to the stories of so many women who've lost children or family to domestic homicide, and yet, Hannah's story is one I've found hard to shake. It is one of the most visceral, horrific, real-life examples of just how dangerous coercive control can be.

I was reminded of this again, this week, as Hannah's parents Sue and Lloyd Clarke announced the release of Hannah's Story – a brand new podcast that brings listeners into the never-before-shared stories from her personal life, and the red flags that led to that day in 2020. As Lloyd shared, Hannah only got 11 weeks of freedom before she was murdered.

It's chilling – and more so, it's one of the biggest reasons we need advocates, educators, and policymakers to shout from the rooftops about just how dangerous coercive control is, and to provide safeguards for victim-survivorsMany – like Hannah – still believe they're not being harmed, simply because there are no bruises. I know I felt like this as a young woman, and it caused me to enter many unhealthy relationships after my dad's death.

I feel incredibly lucky to have survived my youth, and it has become the driving force behind the work I do as a resilience and anti-abuse speaker, advocate, and author. Given that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 8 men have experienced intimate partner violence since age 15, we know that many of these relationships will have included coercive control, and it's imperative that we ensure victim-survivors not only recognise the signs, but are able to get the support needed to live free from abuse.


It's something that Sue and Lloyd Clarke hope the Hannah’s Story podcast will help achieve. 

"These red flags – once they start adding up it becomes a worry," shared Lloyd. "If people see someone they know [perpetrating abuse], stand up. [Say] 'Let's have a coffee. Let's have a conversation. Let's get you some help. That's not how a relationship should be – you can't have unequal power.'"

Sue Clarke also wants people to know that there is hope; and that perpetrators need support too.

"We don't want victims to feel there's no hope and no help... there certainly is. We want victims to know that... and perpetrators. A lot of men don't realise they're doing this, and they just need a bit of help [so they can get] back to being great people."

Coercive control is an ongoing conversation, and one that cannot only centre around survivors. We need people – particularly men – to stand up and support the surrounding men. I know that if only my dad had had a strong community of other men to hold him accountable and check in, his abuse may have stopped. Because abuse thrives on silence. It relies on a culture of bystanders.

The day after Hannah's death in 2020, I stood before grieving members of her community to speak about the red flags of domestic violence, and finding healing after abuse. The message I want to leave you with, are the following words from my speech.


"Don't be afraid to take action. If you think something may be going on in your neighbourhood…speak up. There's no harm in being wrong. If you call the police and it turns out to be nothing... there's no harm in that. But it's so much worse if we have an inkling something is wrong and do nothing. [Choose not to] be a bystander."

Watch: Jas Rawlinson discuss domestic violence during her talk for Hannah Clarke's community the day after Hannah's death.

Video via Facebook: Jas Rawlinson - Book Coach & Resilience Speaker.

Jas Rawlinson is an award-winning book coach, resilience speaker, and the best-selling author of ‘Reasons to Live’ and ‘The Stories We Carry.’ Order her books here, or connect with Jas via Instagram or her website.

If you or someone you know is at risk of violence, contact: 1800 RESPECT.

And if you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Supplied.