The documentary Conviction, aired on ABC last night, has revealed some shocking details about the 2012 murder of Melbourne woman Jill Meagher and the investigation that followed. In the wake of these revelations, we’ve decided to revisit the brilliant, powerful essay Jill’s husband Tom Meagher wrote for White Ribbon 18 months after her death — the sentiment of which still rings true today.
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.
Bayley’s appeal was dismissed, but I left court that day in a perpetual trauma-loop, knowing I needed to re-imagine the social, institutional and cultural context in which a man like Adrian Bayley exists.*
Three days after Jill’s body was found, 30,000 people marched respectfully down Sydney Road. I watched on TV as the long parade of people reacted to their anger at what happened to Jill with love and compassion, the very opposite of everything Bayley represents. I remember my sister’s voice from behind me as I fixed my eyes on the images saying, “wow, people really care about this.”
After the court date where I heard Bayley speak, that infinite conveyor belt of the compassionate replayed in my mind. People did care about this, and for whatever reason people identified with this particular case, it was something that I hoped could be universalised, not localised to this case, but for every instance of men’s violence against women. The major difficulties in mobilising this kind of outrage on a regular basis is that most cases of men’s violence against women: