In the wake of the brutal murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children at the hands of the man who was supposed to love them most, we have decided to revisit this brilliant and powerful essay written by the partner of another victim. Tom Meagher was married to Jill Meagher who was murdered by serial rapist Adrian Bailey in Melbourne in 2012. Tom wrote this for White Ribbon 18 months after his wife was killed, and the sentiment still rings true today. Tom reminds us not to see the perpetrators of violence against women as monsters – but friends, acquaintances, husbands, lovers, brothers and fathers. Who are indeed capable of the worst of human acts.
Trigger Warning: This post deals with issues of sexual assault and domestic violence and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.
One of the most disturbing moments of the past eighteen months of my life was hearing my wife’s killer form a coherent sentence in court.
Jill had been murdered almost six months earlier, and Adrian Bayley’s defence team were presenting a rather feeble case for a four-week adjournment of his committal hearing. Bayley appeared via video-link as I sat flanked by two friends and a detective. The screen was to my right, mounted high up and tilted slightly towards the bench. It was uncomfortably silent apart from the occasional paper shuffle or short flurry of keyboard clicks. I anticipated, and prepared for the most difficult moment of the day when Bayley’s face appeared on the big-screen TV, looming over the seat I then occupied. When that moment arrived, a jolt of nausea came and went, but the worst was to come, made all the more horrifying because it was unexpected.
The judge asked Bayley whether he could he see the courtroom. I don’t remember his exact words, but he replied that he was able to see his lawyer and half of the bench. I had come face to face with him before in court, but vocally, I never heard him manage more than a monosyllabic mumble into his chest.
This was different. There was a clarity of communication, sentence structure, and proper articulation. It was chilling. I had formed an image that this man was not human, that he existed as a singular force of pure evil who somehow emerged from the ether.
Something about his ability to weave together nouns, verbs and pronouns to form real, intelligible sentences forced a re-focus, one that required a look at the spectrum of men’s violence against women, and its relation to Bayley and the society from which he came. By insulating myself with the intellectually evasive dismissal of violent men as psychotic or sociopathic aberrations, I self-comforted by avoiding the more terrifying concept that violent men are socialised by the ingrained sexism and entrenched masculinity that permeates everything from our daily interactions all the way up to our highest institutions.