VANESSA’S SISTER WAS MURDERED BY A VIOLENT PARTNER BUT HER LEGACY IS ONE OF HOPE
He was the man she was supposed to trust the most; he was her husband, the father of her children and he was also her killer. The high-profile murder case of Allison Baden-clay (pictured, right inset) is one most Queenslanders would remember. Highly publicised by media outlets throughout the country, the investigation unfolded before the eyes of Australians. The case, which later was revealed as a long-term domestic violence situation, found Allison’s husband Gerard Baden-clay guilty of murder and interfering with a corpse. However, despite this devastating and brutal ending, Allison’s family became determined to turn her legacy into one of hope, strength and positivity. Vanessa Fowler is Allison’s sister, and since the loss of her sibling she’s been doing everything in her power to use Allison’s story for good through the work of the Allison Baden-clay Foundation. “Our family thought because Allison’s case was such a high-profile one, we wanted to use it to make a difference. We felt like we needed to turn that sadness into something positive and make sure Allison’s girls and the community had a positive legacy for the future,” Vanessa said. With International Women’s Day just around the corner, the conversation about domestic violence, sadly, is one that never seems to lose its relevance. As the chairman of the board of directors of the Allison Baden-clay Foundation, Vanessa will be speaking on the Sunshine Coast for the iconic day on March 8. She will be sharing life-changing knowledge to help others understand the warning signs of domestic violence and what they can do to make a difference. “We didn’t realise domestic violence existed in so many different forms. We were, I guess, old school and were looking out for the physical signs but there is a lot more to domestic violence than just the bruised eyes and broken bones,” Vanessa said. “I’ll be talking about how we as a family on the outside saw what was going on, and I’ll be explaining the signs that we did see but at the time didn’t realise what they were.” Vanessa said watching her sister slowly distance herself from her family and her friends became such a gradual process, it wasn’t immediately alerting for those around her. “He was isolating her from us and in particular wouldn’t let the children come and see us. He blocked our numbers on the phone line so we couldn’t ring the home at Brookfield and she couldn’t ring us,” Vanessa said. “When we questioned her about it, she said the phone was broken and that they’d have to get someone to come and fix it. That was probably the spin that he gave her. “We didn’t realise, we just took Allison’s word for it — that the phone was really broken. “At the trial, we found out about the financial control. She had no financial independence. It also came out that he was checking her texts and her GPS and where she’d been that day to find out what she’d been up to. “If we’d of known some of those things back then, things may have been a bit different because we certainly would have stepped in. Even though we were always supportive, asking her if she was okay, she would tell us she was, and we wouldn’t delve any deeper because she was strong, independent and was determined to make her marriage work.” Many of the warning signs of domestic violence aren’t what you’d expect. Vanessa said often they were transparent and so subtle some of those closest to you could be suffering without you even realising. That is why the Allison Baden-clay Foundation focuses on education. To better equip men and women to first identify the signs that someone may be experiencing domestic violence, as well as empowering them with practical solutions to step in and help. “If a colleague is coming in early and staying late at work, if they become very quiet, or all of a sudden don’t have the cash to contribute to buying flowers for someone, a morning tea or work functions,” Vanessa said. “Those subtle things that you may not realise are all red flags. So we give people practical solutions to step in and let that person know that they are supported, there is someone there and they aren’t alone. “Because domestic violence is certainly very isolating.” Recently the Allison Baden-clay Foundation teamed with Griffith University to join its Mate Bystander Program. The program implemented by the university is working alongside young people to help them understand the level of abuse that exists in our culture. It encourages bystanders to recognise these situations and intervene. “When we came across the program we realised a lot of the things they talk about fit in with Allison’s story and what she experienced, so we approached them,” Vanessa said. “It’s now a program that weaves Allison’s story throughout and actually teaches people practical things they can do to firstly recognise the signs of domestic violence, that we perhaps should have known, and it also gives people things that they can actually do and say to support somebody they feel may be at risk,” Vanessa said. Vanessa said she believed everyday Australians needed to wake up and realise this issue wasn’t as distant as they thought. Despite the significant awareness that has been raised about the topic by various organisations and governments during the past few years, the statistics still reveal a terrifying reality. On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, as found by the National Homicide Monitoring Program. One in four women have experienced emotional abuse by a partner and 85 per cent of Australian women have been sexually harassed – and that’s just the cases that are reported. It’s undeniable domestic violence is an issue that continues to damage the Australian community so extensively the conversation about conquering it needs to grow louder. “We are always looking for men to also take on the responsibility and stand up and call out their mates,” Vanessa said. “Because it all starts with one derogatory comment or the language people use that gets the ball rolling. “By hosting these events, it’s continuing the conversation. It’s about letting people know that domestic violence doesn’t discriminate, it’s not just something that happens in low socio-economic areas. “We have had people come to us and say because I heard Allison’s story, I got out of the relationship, I took a look at myself, I looked at my sister, I looked at my work colleague and we got out. “We’ve had reports that people’s lives have been saved because of Allison’s story and our program.” Vanessa will be speaking at the first instalment of Venue 114’s four-part series In
Hosted by Seven Network presenter Jillian Whiting, the event will be a celebration of positive change and a better future. Tickets include lunch and entertainment, including a visiting stylist, make-up artist and photo flower wall. Guests are invited to wear a splash of yellow in support of the Allison Baden-clay Foundation and prizes will be awarded to the best dressed. Tickets can be purchased at scvenuesandevents.com.au/venue-114/ events/conversation. The event will take place at Venue 114 (114 Sportsmans Pde, Bokarina) on March 8 from 11.30am–2pm.
If you are experiencing any anxiety around your partner or this story raises any issues for someone in your life, please phone: Respect Counselling 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 737 732 or Dvconnect on 1800 811 811
HELPING OTHERS: Vanessa Fowler will be speaking on the Sunshine Coast for International Women's Day on March 8.