February 18th started like any other day. We all did our regular weekday routine. We got kids ready for school, got ready for work and went about our day. During the course of the day however, there was a news story, the details of which seemed incomplete. It was reported that an ex-NRL player had died along-side his three children in a car fire and a woman was injured and in hospital. When I first saw it, I automatically assumed it was a car accident. Cars don’t just spontaneously combust under normal circumstances
.As the details of “the woman” came to light, the nations collective hearts broke. Thirty-one-year-old Hannah Baxter had been doing what we all had done that morning—getting her kids ready for the day and in a split second, everything had changed. By the time the news reported that Hannah had died due to her injuries sustained in the fire, more details had emerged about the cause of the blaze and it seemed totally at odds with the initial framing of the story.
The footy player who had reportedly died along-side his children had set the blaze which killed them. But for his actions, Hannah and her three children Laianah, 6, Aaliyah,4, and Trey, 3 would all still be alive. To say he died alongside them seemed insulting. In no other situation would the perpetrator be referred to in this way. It’s the odd thing about adding the word domestic situation or former partner to a story such as this that I think makes people subconsciously a bit relieved.
It’s always felt to me that it implies a choice on the part of the victim and the collective community can be reassured there is not a random serial killer roaming the streets, just this one violent offender terrorising this one particular person. Not that people are not sympathetic and horrified, but it does somehow put some distance between you and the situation.
After watching Hannah’s family interviewed on Channel 9, I just felt broken. I know good men, the husbands and partners of friends, who broke down in front of the TV and some that had to get up and leave the room. Their grief and shock just poured through the screens into every house hold in the country. It must have been so hard, but you could tell that the three of them, Hannah’s parents and her brother were determined to be the voice for the four people who had their voices and their stories taken away.
When it was announced that there would be a Rally for Hannah held in Civic Park on March 4, I wanted to go and I wanted to take the kid. We arrived with several hundred other people. The speakers were from victim support groups and other organisations that work on the front lines of the crisis. Their speeches were passionate and fiery. I was happy that in the time between the murders and the rally, I was not alone in my emotions – swinging from heartbroken to pissed off.
Hannah did everything right; she left the relationship, the family said the police took the situation seriously, her family were supportive and yet she still became a statistic. There were some great practical suggestions about what people could do to help, which I found useful. For example,writing to your local member and talking about the lack of funding for local shelters so that if victims are fleeing a violent situation they have somewhere to go and stricter punishments for those who break an AVO already in place.
One I had never thought of before was that a lot of people wouldn't leave if they had to leave animals behind, as they are scared of what while happen to the animals if left in the hand of abusers. We heard horrific stories on the night of abusers either threatening harm or actually killing family pets as a means of control.
I urge everyone to check out local advocacy groups like VOCAL (Victim of crime assistance league) and even the Animal Justice Party social pages and see what you can do to make a difference because something needs to change. Also visit Small steps 4 Hannah, which has been set up by the family to raise money and awareness. Do what you canto make sure, as a nation we grieve these losses with less regularity than we have been. Visit www.smallsteps4hannah.com.au