opinion

Some are asking what 'drove' Rowan Baxter to murder his family. As if he was only a passenger.

If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic violence, call 1800RESPECTon 1800 737 732. In an emergency, call 000.

What happened at Camp Hill this week was inexcusable. A mother and her three children murdered by the man who claimed to love them. (I won’t be speaking his name in the rest of this article.)

Yet the deaths of Hannah Clarke, 31, Lainah, six, Aaliyah, 4 four and Trey, three, have been followed by all-too-familiar rhetoric…

The man who chose to ambush his own family on their Wednesday-morning school run, ignite their car and leave them to burn, must have been somehow ‘driven to it’.

Watch: Violence against women… the hidden numbers. (Post continues below.)

Video by Mamamia

It’s right there in news stories about his custody battle and “loving” Facebook posts about his family.

It’s in social media comments about him finding ‘the only way to be with his kids forever’.

It’s in stigmatising presumptions that he was mentally ill, or that his limited football career may have caused brain damage.

It’s in language like ‘tortured’ and ‘he snapped’.

On Thursday night, it was even explicit in speculation by a member of the Queensland Police. Speaking at a press conference, Detective Inspector Mark Thompson pondered: “Is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues that he’s suffered..?” (The force has since issued an apology and Thompson has been stood down from the investigation.)

With each phrase, each headline, each comment, the responsibility for this crime is leveraged a little further off the shoulders of this man.

‘Driven to it’… as if he was merely a passenger, as if he had little choice.

This was a man who subjected Hannah to repeated violence and abuse throughout their relationship.

Queensland Police have confirmed they’d dealt with him on a number of occasions and that he was under a Domestic Violence Order and the force’s Vulnerable Persons Unit had also been involved, offering counselling to Hannah and the children.

In December, with assistance from her parents, she was able to take her little ones and leave. Unlike so many people in an abusive relationship, she had a place to land, means to survive, a support network. It still couldn’t keep her safe.

This was a man who was controlling, manipulative and violent until the end.

He didn’t become dangerous because Hannah left. Hannah left because he was dangerous.

HANNAH BAXTER
Hannah and her beautiful children. Image: Facebook.
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Of course, it's only human for us to scramble for an explanation for this crime, to ask 'how could this happen?' It's shocking and unnerving and difficult to understand, even though it's happened before — now eight times this year alone, according to Destroy the Joint's Counting Dead Women initiative.

We want to say 'this happened due to X', because it gives context to the horror, because we want to think it can be prevented, and because then we can search our own lives for that thing. We look for an explanation because we want to feel that we are safe. As individuals and a community.

And so, people say, X = the broken family court system. X = disempowerment of men. X = a heartbroken father who snapped.

But would any of that actually satisfy the question? Does any of that make sense of what he did?

To suggest the murders of people like Hannah, Lainah, Aaliyah and Trey can be somehow explained is to suggest that they are inevitable or — worse — justified, even in some small way. Look at their faces above as you consider that.

In reality, the domestic violence equation is anything but simple. Police and governments and researchers and criminologists and welfare organisations have been working to unpick it for years, knowing it's bigger than any of them alone. They have pointed to certain elements that factor into the issue as a whole (a few among them: misogyny, gender, prior exposure to abuse).

But none that excuses it in the individual.

There was no heartbroken Brisbane parent 'driven too far'. There was no 'mentally ill monster' in Raven Street.

There was only a man who plotted and perpetrated the deaths of his family, who told bystanders not to save them from the flames, who took his own life and died on the footpath unable to live with what he'd done.

There was only a murderer.

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.

Feature image: Facebook.

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