Tara Brown, Thomas Kelly and the devastating ripple effect of male violence.

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

In the quiet of my room, I stare somberly at the array of photographs on my laptop screen. Images of two young Australian men who, mostly, probably lived very different lives, and yet, shared more in common than they would ever know.

My eyes drift across to the first picture, an image of a 30-year-old man with clipped, dark brown hair and a kind smile that sits just below a scattering of stubble. He wears a black shirt, the fabric of each shoulder covered by the small, soft hands of his two sons. I take in their cheeky grins; the innocence shining from their eyes as they pose for the camera with their dad Rikki.

Rikki Brown with his children. Image: Facebook.


The image is beautiful, and yet, it hurts to look at for too long. Doing so fills my throat with a hard, rock-like lump that doesn’t want to leave and makes my chest physically hurt. So I pause, and move my cursor to the next tab – this one containing a photograph of a young teen in a striking navy blue suit jacket.

Unlike Rikki, he’s more polished. A microphone is poised before his pursed lips, and he wears a spotted, sky-blue tie around his neck. In the captions, I see his name. Stuart, it says. Though, I barely need to read it because I feel as though I’ve known him for many years now.

Stuart Kelly. Image: James Brickwood.


I’ve never met either of these men, and yet, I know more about them than I should. Mostly, that while Stuart and Rikki were very different people, each of these young men knew the pain of losing an older sibling to male violence.

Many Australians will remember the news in 2012, when Stuart’s 18-year-old brother Thomas Kelly was murdered by another young man, through a one-punch attack. Stuart was only 14 when he buried his brother.

Rikki, too, experienced this kind of devastation. He was only 22 when his older sister Tara Brown – just two years older – was run off the road and brutally murdered by her ex-partner.

Unfortunately, though, these heartbreaking commonalities are not where Stuart and Rikki’s stories end. 


Because both of these young men went on to take their own lives.

It’s one of the consequences of this form of violence that isn’t often spoken about – the unexpected ripple effect of male violence. As both a survivor of intimate partner abuse, and an author and speaker who works in this space, I know that the bulk of our conversations centre on the long-term impact of trauma on the individual. Yet, less is said about the impact on their families.

Whilst many young people will struggle with mental health issues throughout their lifetime (according to the WHO, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds globally), various studies have found that siblings who lose a brother or sister to violence are 1.5 to 2 times as likely to make an attempt on their lives.

When I heard of Rikki’s passing last month, I was reminded once again of just how far the ripples of trauma extend. I was devastated. Angry. In pain for his family, particularly Rikki’s mother Natalie, who I had the honour of meeting in 2016 when she stood alongside me at the opening of Brisbane’s first domestic violence memorial – a community project that I had founded to honour those lost to DV, including Tara.

I was also struck by the fact that – like Stuart Kelly – Rikki took his life in the lead up to an important anniversary; an all too common occurrence amongst those who have lost a loved one. His passing occurred just weeks before what would have been Tara’s 32nd birthday – eight years on from her murder. Likewise, Stuart passed away at age 19, just three weeks after the fourth anniversary of his brother’s death.


Listen to No Filter where Mia Freedman speaks with Kathy Kelly, mother of Thomas and Stuart Kelly. Post continues below.

As highlighted by non-profit organisation Friends With Dignity, upcoming anniversaries and birthdays can be a trigger for those who are bereaved. In a statement released last month, they noted: “... we may never know [why Rikki ended his life]. But what we do know is that the impact of domestic violence has long-term effects.” 

It’s something I understand, intimately – and one of the reasons I believe we need to speak openly with our young people about suicidal feelings and mental health. As a teenager growing up in a home with a perpetrator of domestic violence, I considered taking my life many times.

From the age of 10, depression was a painful, everyday experience; and by the age of 17, I found myself wanting to disappear forever. 

One year later my father took his own life, and two years after that, I was sexually assaulted.

I know what it’s like to feel that life will never get better; but more importantly, I know it can and does. I’m living proof that it is possible to hold space for our pain, and to also find a way through to the other side. 

One of the most powerful conversations I ever had, was with a woman named Sonia Anderson, who I interviewed many years ago for my book series, Reasons to Live: One More Day, Every Day. As someone who had lost a child to domestic homicide, I asked how she found the strength to keep living each day. 


"I’ve learnt that you have to live for your child, no matter what has happened to them," she replied. "After losing a child you feel very fake for a long time – your smile isn’t real – and you feel there’s no joy in life. It took a long time before I felt true happiness. 

"Sometimes it’s still a surprise to me when I feel happiness, but it’s a nice surprise. Deep down I know it’s fine to feel joy – more than that, it’s important,” she emphasised. “Be proud of feeling happiness. Seek it out. Choose life."

Sonia is just one of dozens of trauma survivors who I’ve interviewed in the past five years, and after working with many people who have experienced some of life’s worst tragedies, I’ve been shown – over and over – that we can not only survive, we can go on to rediscover joy and purpose.

I’ve thought a lot about Rikki and his family the last few weeks, and what I wish I could say to young people out there who feel that they’ll never be able to get past the pain of what they’ve experienced. And this is what I’ve landed on: 

Trauma and grief are not things that you ‘just get over,’ but as someone who has experienced so much of this myself, I want you to know that life can, and does, get better. Though your trauma may feel like a prison at times, it does not have to be a life sentence. One day, the bars will loosen. One day, you’ll find your own personal freedom. 


The goal when it comes to trauma recovery should not be to expect that you’ll never experience pain again, but instead, to get to a place where you can sit with that pain, and know that it does not define you. 

Never silence your pain. Don’t feel ashamed of reaching out for support. Make a promise to yourself that in the darkest moments, you’ll ask for help. As long as you keep reaching out, you can continue to find reasons to live.

Jas Rawlinson is an award-winning book coach and 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.

To support Rikki Brown’s partner and children, you can make a donation via this official GoFundMe.

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

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: Instagram/Facebook/NSW Police/James Brickwood