HON­OUR­ING AL­LI­SON

VANESSA’S SIS­TER WAS MUR­DERED BY A VI­O­LENT PART­NER BUT HER LEGACY IS ONE OF HOPE

Life & Style Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - WORDS: ANNIE CAUGHEY

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

Con­ver­sa­tion.

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

Photo: www.ip­swich­first.com.au

HELP­ING OTH­ERS: Vanessa Fowler will be speak­ing on the Sun­shine Coast for In­ter­na­tional Women's Day on March 8.

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