Politics

Australia Is A Nation Of Dead Women, And We’re Becoming Numb To It

When women are murdered in Australia, it is no longer surprising.

domestic violence violence against women

Content Warning: This article discusses violence against women and domestic violence.

Last month, a woman died in Sydney. Her death, reported with a few lurid details about her life, gender and work, was remembered only briefly. We all moved on, and found something new to talk about, and the cycle continued. But her name was Kimberley McRae, and she was a human being, and we have lost her to violence. And it matters.

The epidemic of violence against women in Australia is ongoing, and horrific.

There have been too many headlines, too many funerals, too many grieving families, and too many men who have committed a heinous and violent crime. Women have suffered, again and again, at the hands of Australian men — and yes, in almost every instance of murdered women, the crime has been perpetrated by a man — who have taken it on themselves to weigh their lives and find them worthless, and have decided that it is their right to take that life.

I won’t mention the names of these men. Those names deserve to be forgotten.

I will remember the names of the women they betrayed, attacked, and harmed. Kimberley is one of those names. With her are so many more. Christine Neilan. Renxi Ouyang. Mhelody Bruno. Eurydice Dixon. Courtney Herron. Jill Meagher. Sarah Gatt. And my friend, and a young woman I loved and admired, Michaela Dunn. Dozens more.

These names aren’t a fact sheet. They aren’t statistics. They’re a list of real, living and breathing people who were taken away from us.

When Women Are Murdered In Australia, It Is No Longer Surprising

We are mourning so many of our dead sisters. We are mourning so many of our dead mothers.

We are mourning so many of our women, who have been taken from us through violence, but my concern is that, as a society, we are becoming almost numb to the deaths. Like the US, where gun violence has become such an accepted part of life that mass shootings are forgotten by the media cycle and public sentiment in a matter of days, our ability to sustain empathy and devastation in the face of the violence.

When women are murdered in Australia, it is no longer surprising.

It’s a tragedy that we acknowledge with a short burst of public interest; but the frequency of it has made it almost common place. Violence against women is not a novelty, it’s a fact of life. When a needle was found in a strawberry, the nation stopped, and the Prime Minister delivered speeches and promised laws.

When a woman’s body lies unnoticed in her apartment for a week, when a young woman is murdered while going about her job, when a young woman is murdered on a three-week visit from the Philippines, when women die every single day, the Prime Minister does nothing.

Counting The Dead

And it happens again, and again. In fact, according to statistics collected by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it happened once every 9 days.

The #CountingDeadWomen project has numbered our dead at 61 in 2019. As of this article, the number  is 5 in 2020. The number will, in all likelihood, be higher by the time this article is published.

This year, notorious troll Bettina Arndt, who has a history of defending pedophiles and targeting other women, was awarded an Australia Day honour for services to gender equality.

The award, given as a celebration of Australians who have contributed to growth of our society, was awarded to a woman who has openly criticised and attacked survivors of and advocates against domestic violence — including Rosie Batty, a dedicated campaigner who has fought for the cause of domestic violence while mourning her own child, taken by a violent man.

It throws into stark relief the attitude that this country has towards brutality against women. An attitude of reduction, complacency and ignorance.

The News Cycle

Kimberley McRae has become another statistic of Australia’s epidemic of murdered women, and this time, the coverage has been almost minimal.

Much like gun violence in the United States, it feels as though violence against women has become normal. There is a distinct pattern in reporting on these issues that treats them as episodic news pieces, that have their brief moment in the spotlight and are then relegated or forgotten.

And to be fair, it is the role of the media to reflect the news that takes place in a never ending, 24/7 cycle. However, the missing piece of the coverage is that we are seeing these deaths reflected as individual and isolated murders and manslaughters, rather than the interrelated, ongoing and unfolding epidemic of violence they represent.

In the current bushfire crisis, we don’t report on the fires solely as individual events — we cover each of them, but we talk about their impact, their place in a wider catastrophe and the tragedies and cataclysmic events that take place around them.

The violence we are seeing against women in this country is not reported with the same sense of cohesive tragedy.

But the truth is, there is nothing normal about dead women. And we need to remember and commemorate and grieve for every single life taken from us by violence. Because otherwise, it will never stop.


Joan Westenberg is a Sydney based writer and a proud transgender woman.