How did we let Adrian Bayley happen?

Adrian Ernest Bayley arriving at The Supreme Court on Friday the 5th of April this year.

Adrian Ernest Bayley arriving at The Supreme Court on Friday the 5th of April this year. Photo: Pat Scala, The Age

Earlier this week, the judge presiding over the rape and murder trial of Adrian Ernest Bayley lifted a suppression order on his previous convictions. As details of his violent past came to light, fury began to build over the failure of the judicial system and the parole board to keep this "monster" behind bars. How could this have happened?

At the time of Meagher's murder, Bayley had been on parole for the brutal rapes of five St Kilda sex workers. Despite the viciousness of those crimes (the details of which have not been made public), Bayley received just under half of the maximum sentence. Due for release in 2011, he was paroled in 2008 after admitting he lied about the effectiveness of a sex offender rehabilitation program. Prior to being sentenced for the rapes of the five sex workers, he served three years of a five year sentence for the rapes of three other victims. He is a repeat offender, with a demonstrable history of violence and hatred towards women.

And yet, that question persists - how could this have happened? Bayley's original sentence was due to end this year. Paltry as it might have been, had the parole board not seen fit to release him, he would never have been on the streets of Brunswick that night and Our Jill might have been saved.

I want to tell you about another woman now. On October 11, 2011, Johanna Martin was found dead next to a Port Melbourne car park. Her body had been wrapped in a bloodstained sheet, with the cause of death thought to be from "prolonged and excessive force being applied to her neck from behind". Forensic pathologist Dr Paul Bedford believes Martin was strangled with some sort of ligature. In June, a handyman named Steve Constantinou will go on trial for her murder.

Advertisement

I don't know much about the 65-year-old Martin, other than facts gleaned from news reports. I know she was a mother and a grandmother, and that she loved shopping at the South Melbourne markets. I know that she took delight in flashy jewellery, and was a regular visitor to the theatre. She had a dog named Suzie, who she was regularly spotted with around the Port Melbourne area. Before her death, she was planning to visit her family in Holland and was apparently excited about an upcoming episode of Neighbours in which she was to play an extra. Her friends spoke of a larger than life personality. All of the sums of a life, neatly broken down and itemised for strangers to gain some insight into a woman lost.

But Martin was also a sex worker - some say Melbourne's most famous. As Jazzy-O, she worked as both a stripper and someone who sold sex to clients. The discovery of her body led to speculation it may have been sex-play gone wrong - theories since discounted.

Why am I writing about this? Because Martin was murdered only a year before Jill Meagher. Unlike Martin, Meagher's death garnered nationwide coverage (I wrote about it myself, and continue to be haunted by the circumstances of her rape and murder). After Meagher's body was found, 30,000 people marched down Sydney Road. Later, the annual Reclaim the Night march held in the same area drew more than 5000 walkers. I spoke at that event, and angrily channelled the rage I felt that a young woman just like me could be snatched off the streets, degraded, murdered and buried in a lonely hole to be forgotten.

How could this have happened?

To my shame, I did not mention Martin, that other woman whose body was desecrated and discarded without thought. Because I didn't know. Because the media, which includes me, perhaps doesn't care enough about the murders, rapes and violations of women not like us to pay it the same kind of attention. Martin's murder was reported on but not nationwide the way Meagher's was. It was only after I spoke that Phil Cleary, a tireless campaigner against the abuse of women, approached me to give me a stern reminder of women like Martin and his sister Vicki (who had been murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 1987). 

Perhaps it's too simplistic to reduce the widespread horror felt after Meagher's murder to Pretty Dead White Girl syndrome. While it's true that violent crimes committed against that particular group generally draw more attention than those committed against women marginalised by race, disability or class, there were other factors in Meagher's case that combined in a grotesque fashion to create a textbook scenario of nightmarish proportions.

Meagher was white, yes, and middle class. For the people of Melbourne, particularly those in the inner north, she was one of us. There was a love story attached in the form of a devastated husband. Bayley appeared as a "person of interest" at a crucial point in the dramatic arc of the story. And by the end of a neat seven day period, the Third Act had reached its conclusion. All that was left was to tie up the loose ends. To ask, how could this have happened?

In a way, we're stalled in that moment; as the details of Bayley's many crimes are made public, we're asking once again how this could have happened. How could a beautiful young woman with her whole life ahead of her, married to a loving husband, working in a decent job, a woman who wanted a family one day, a woman with friends and interests and a wonderful smile, a woman just like us - how could this terrible thing have happened?

It's simple. Because somewhere along the way, we allowed it to. Adrian Ernest Bayley was found guilty of raping five sex workers. And yet each of those crimes, as vicious as they were, was considered only serious enough to warrant the most minimal of sentences. After all, they're just sex workers right? They don't experience violence in the same way other people do. They have no respect for themselves, so we can't exactly respect them back.

The woman we value most - the pretty, white, middle class, loved one - was able to be brutalised in the most shocking of ways because we just didn't care enough about pursuing justice for the women we value least. And now Jill Meagher is gone, and we wonder how on earth that could have happened.

This article originally stated that Martin's murder took place only a few weeks after Meagher's. It has since been corrected. 

114 comments

  • Pretty poor research here, Jazzy O was killed in 2011, about a year before Jill Meagher. I remember it clearly because the story was well covered on the news and in the newspapers. While it's easy to make the assumption that Bayly received shorter sentences for his prior convictions because his victims were prostitutes, without actually looking at the cases it's impossible to say that the judge didn't hand down each sentence in accordance with the law - not morality. That is a judge's job after all.

    Commenter
    Scenic
    Date and time
    June 14, 2013, 8:53AM
    • Correct, Jazzy-O was well covered in the media. The only difference is Meagher was missing (with hopes she was still out there), so there was a huge public campaign to find her which gained momentum as a result of her involvement in the media industry.

      Commenter
      Mick
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      June 14, 2013, 12:40PM
    • I'm not sure that it's an assumption. Some details of these offences have been published, and certain factors appeared to me to be aggravating. Whatever the case was here, it is certainly true that there are many other cases where initial complaints have been trivialised or ignored when the complainants have been sex workers or drug users. Then, when the behaviour escalates to brutal rape and murder of a woman who is neither of these things, these women are called for their similar-fact evidence. How must it feel--even allowing for the differing threshold--to only be called as a witness on someone else's behalf, and be denied that for yourself?

      Commenter
      Shashlik
      Date and time
      June 14, 2013, 12:55PM
    • Yes, and thank you to the other people who pointed out that mistake. It's been fixed now. In a crude way, it's a good example of how the murders of women like Johanna Martin don't seep into the public consciousness that I didn't even get the date right initially. Mea culpa.

      Commenter
      Clementine Ford
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 14, 2013, 1:09PM
  • Thanks, Clem. Very well said.

    Commenter
    John
    Date and time
    June 14, 2013, 9:10AM
    • +1

      Sex workers being raped and murdered - the way we 'feel' about that is at the pointy end of how we feel about all women being raped and murdered.

      It's not so bad, they're just prostitutes right?

      It's no different from all the other "they deserved it" bollocks:
      her skirt was too short;
      she was drunk;
      she chose to go home with a footy player;
      she didn't cook his dinner nicely;
      she left him;
      she got custody of the kids;
      she acts a lot older than her age;

      on and on and on - she deserved it, right?

      WRONG.

      Commenter
      womans war
      Date and time
      June 14, 2013, 3:48PM
  • So does someone want to tell me, yet again, how safe sex work is?

    The fact is that prostitutes are routinely beaten, raped and murdered by their clients, but any attempt to discuss this issue is obfuscated by a choice brigade who insist that prostitution is normal, socially responsible, safe and inevitable, the johns are all really "nice guys" who deserve sex, and anyone who disagrees with the notion of a flesh trade in underprivileged women is a prude.

    If you want evidence that our society does not give a toss about sexual violence against women, particularly sex workers, look no further than the laughably inadequate sentence given to Adrian Bayley for viciously raping no fewer than FIVE women.

    What message was he sent about the seriousness of his actions?

    Commenter
    Red Pony
    Date and time
    June 14, 2013, 9:11AM
    • Who is telling you how safe sex work is? Undoubtedly there is a lot of pretty horrible stuff that goes on, presumably the vast majority of it away from the legalised work at brothels and on the streets instead. Nobody wants that to go on, but unfortunately it does. The answer to that though is to get sex workers off the streets and into brothels where they are safer. Sex work is going to go on whether we want it to or not, at least we could make it safer for the people involved.

      And yes, some of the women involved are underprivileged and many wouldn't be doing it if there were an equal paying alternative available. But your contention always seems to be that all sex workers are in that position whereas the reality is that there are plenty who are not, as we regularly see in the comments.

      I find it terrible that someone like Bayley is given such a ridiculously short sentence and then allowed out early. But I have no say in what sentences are given out by judges and who is given parole. The answer to me is legislative, there should be minimum sentences for violent and sexual crimes with no parole. If we can't stop crime from occurring (and the reality is we can't) then we can at least get criminals off the streets for as long as possible.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      June 14, 2013, 12:37PM
    • There is no point here about how safe sex work is or not. The point is that sex workers aren't afforded the same level of protection from society as other women, because society tends to judge sex workers as less. I understand you have an opposition to sex work, but I'm not really sure what your point is or why you're using the opportunity of an article discussing the minimisation of harm done towards sex workers as a way to argue that their line of work is dangerous.

      Commenter
      Clementine Ford
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 14, 2013, 1:12PM
    • Actually, there is a point here about the safety of sex work, Clem. Whenever this issue is discussed, it's virtually taboo (even on this forum) to question the legitimacy of this "profession", the attitudes of men who buy sex, and the extent to which prostitution actively encourages both violence against women while dismissing its effects as trivial or inconsequential.

      Adrian Bayley used sex workers to practice his fantasies of domination and control. Then he moved on to doing it for real. The acceptance and availability of the flesh trade, and the lack of effective protection for sex workers, meant that he was able to do this with ease. Even when caught, his sentence was totally inadequate, not just because society fails to protect sex workers, but because it simply does not take violence against women seriously.

      I find it difficult to reconcile the content of this article with your previous writings in support of the sex industry.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      June 14, 2013, 2:47PM

More comments

Comments are now closed