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.


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.