Mayang Prasetyo's murder and the problem with domestic violence reporting

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Friends pay tribute to Mayang Prasetyo

A transgender cabaret performer is killed by her boyfriend in a gruesome murder suicide in inner city Brisbane Saturday night.

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COMMENT

Yesterday, the Courier Mail in Brisbane reported on a gruesome murder that had been perpetrated in a Brisbane unit. On Saturday night, police discovered body parts believed to belong to Mayang Prasetyo, an Indonesian woman living here with her Australian boyfriend. Police had been called to the unit after local residents described an eye-watering smell. Once inside, they discovered what appeared to be body parts in a pot on the stove and stored in garbage bags around the apartment.

Marcus Volke is believed to have jumped over this fence to escape police before killing himself in a laneway in ...

Marcus Volke is believed to have jumped over this fence to escape police before killing himself in a laneway in Teneriffe, Brisbane. Photo: Kim Stephens

Ms Prasetyo's boyfriend, Marcus Volke, fled the scene when police arrived. He was later found dead in a nearby street after sustaining a self inflicted knife wound to the throat.

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To those of us familiar with the patterns of male violence against women, we understand this case to be one of the countless acts of intimate partner violence which sees one woman killed every week in this country. It is an obscene comment on the state of the world to understand that the most dangerous place for a woman is in her own home. In Australia, the issue of male violence against women isn't just a grave epidemic - it's an ongoing act of terrorism that is daily minimised and even outright ignored.

Anyone with a working knowledge of the violence prevention sector knows this to be true.

Mayang Prasetyo with Marcus Volke.

Mayang Prasetyo with Marcus Volke. Photo: Facebook

And yet, Ms Prasetyo - who, let us be reminded, was murdered, dismembered and then cooked on a stove - was unnecessarily and offensively described in the very second sentence of the Courier Mail's article as being 'a transgendered prostitute' - as if the nature of her sexual biology or profession have any bearing on the circumstances surrounding her murder, or any relevance to a society of people who ought to be horrified by her death. The Daily Telegraph's headline removed the murderer from the story entirely, screaming "Killed and cooked trans woman was high-class transsexual sex worker". The Herald Sun declared similar, but swapped 'transsexual' for 'shemale', while the front page of the Courier Mail's hard copy sexualised the murder by declaring "Monster Chef and the She Male".

In a culture which already targets women for violence, trans women are even more likely to face persecution and high rates of sexual violence or homicide. What part about that shocking reality makes it okay to post salacious headlines which reduce the victim of a heinous crime to every despicably retro joke about transgendered people, and transgendered women especially? Why are the circumstances of Ms Prasetyo's profession at all relevant to the fact her partner murdered her, dismembered her and then stored parts of her body in vestibules around their shared home?

Despite the nature of this crime and its neat correlation within a spate of domestic homicides that are under reported by the media and cultural attitudes, the Courier Mail's report made sure to identify Volke as having seemed 'happy and normal' days before the murder. His mother described him as being "one of those kids who would do anything for you, he had a feel for nature." And while it is important to acknowledge that the perpetrators of male violence against women aren't shadow monsters who live in the dark but normal men with jobs, friends and family members who love them, the treatment of abusers following murder-suicides all too often aligns itself with those who've pulled the trigger. In an addendum to the Courier Mail's original article, it says:

Mayang Prasetyo is believed to have been killed by her boyfriend Marcus Volke at Teneriffe in Brisbane.

Mayang Prasetyo is believed to have been killed by her boyfriend Marcus Volke at Teneriffe in Brisbane. Photo: Supplied

"Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467."

There was no reference to support services for women experiencing intimate partner violence. No resources listed for women who may be in fear for their lives. Only information provided for people (and in this circumstance, we can presume it is being directed at men) who may be contemplating suicide - as if the women they choose to murder along the way are nothing more than tragic postscripts to the real story, which is that of male depression.

Education about suicide and support services specialising in its prevention are of course vital, and I do not mean to diminish the need for those services in any way. But as a woman who understands the statistics around violence and women, I have grave concerns for how this shifting of conversational focus and preoccupations actually benefits the women who are victimised in astonishing numbers around the country. I don't particularly care about what kind of person Marcus Volke was, or how happy and normal he might have been. Happy and normal men murder their partners all the time. We should no longer behave as if the circumstances of their normalcy are what makes these crimes so shocking.

Marcus Volke killed and reportedly dismembered his girlfriend in their Teneriffe apartment before taking his own life.

Marcus Volke killed and reportedly dismembered his girlfriend in their Teneriffe apartment before taking his own life. Photo: Supplied

What I care about is that a woman has been killed in brutal circumstances; that she has become yet another statistic of the male violence against women that is still downplayed and still treated as a private, irrepressible force of nature. That she has also been humiliated and ridiculed in the process, turned into fodder for the kind of cheap gossip and cheaper jokes that normalise violence towards trans women and mark them as 'other', is an abhorrent reflection on just how little we take seriously the issue of gendered terrorism in Australia.

Another woman is dead, murdered in horrendous circumstances and left to rot by the man who was supposed to be her partner and equal. And it says an awful lot about our disregard for women's safety and dignity in Australia if three of this country's major newspapers seem to be focusing not on the shocking nature of those facts, but the apparently shocking nature of some of her body parts.

This piece has been adapted from a keynote address delivered this morning at the Violence Prevention: It's Everybody's Business conference in Bendigo. Follow the hashtags #bendigopvaw and  #VPIEB14.

For 24 hour support, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732): The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

More resources here.

24 comments

  • Really great article, and important to note that the Age itself perpetuated exactly this paradigm in its reporting of the Victorian farmer who murdered his wife and children recently- the headlines all narrated the 'tragic strain' that he must have suffered- but the fact is he murdered three people, who were indeed turned into 'the postscript to a story of male depression' by this kind of reporting. It's so important that this gets written about- please keep doing it whenever it is (unfortunately) necessary!

    Commenter
    Anna
    Date and time
    October 07, 2014, 1:04PM
    • Absolutely - murder is murder, no matter what the reason.
      There are always stories leading up to such tragic deaths, but we should never lose sight of what all those stories and facts distil down to - murder. There is no excuse.

      Commenter
      JenJen
      Date and time
      October 07, 2014, 2:17PM
    • Well, you could take that as sympathy for a perpetrator, or perhaps the more rational approach of taking it as a search for meaning.

      Commenter
      rudy
      Date and time
      October 07, 2014, 3:47PM
  • The Author""Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.".There was no reference to support services for women experiencing intimate partner violence. No resources listed for women who may be in fear for their lives. "

    The first listings Lifeline and Suicide Call Back Service would give a female caller would be the relevant service provider for intimate partner violence.....They are often a genral referral service and will give out more specific service information tailored to the requirments of a caller. Also depending on where the caller is, they can give local services

    Commenter
    Carstendog
    Location
    Here
    Date and time
    October 07, 2014, 1:09PM
    • Yes, that is correct Carstendog but the link clearly states "for suicide prevention". It did not mention anything around 'if you are at risk of violence...', crisis or domestic violence lines specifically for women, etc which is Clementine's point.

      Commenter
      KC
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      October 07, 2014, 1:47PM
    • * Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467. from Sydney Morning Herald

      http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/slain-woman-was-family-breadwinner-mum-20141007-3hf9t.html

      Apparently the same AAP story in Fairfax, prehaps the story is the lack journalism standards as well, and not just in the News Ltd papers

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      October 07, 2014, 3:42PM
  • Ms Ford, sometimes I don't agree with you but I am with you 100% on this one. Whether or not Ms Prasetyo was trans or a sex worker is totally irrelevant to her tragic death.

    "There was no reference to support services for women experiencing intimate partner violence."

    The links in this site may help women who are experiencing domestic violence:

    http://au.reachout.com/what-is-domestic-violence

    Commenter
    Dr Kiwi
    Date and time
    October 07, 2014, 1:23PM
    • As is often the case with Clem I agree with the principle but feel that she ignores how the real world works. Newspapers, websites, TV shows etc all exist to sell advertising. If there is something that is completely irrelevant to what should be the story, but will get more readers/viewers if they incorporate it into the story then they will do so. It's terrrible, but that's the reality.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Location
      Hurrowhurrow@yahoo.com.au
      Date and time
      October 07, 2014, 4:10PM
    • Hurrow, you are correct. I noticed The Age carried a story the other day about a woman teacher who groomed a student for sex. Why the need for "woman"? What was the sex of the student? "That's irrelevant" is the correct response to both questions.

      I noticed that both Fairfax and News [sic] publications published swimsuit photos of Ms Prasetyo. Really, no other photos were available? Perhaps journalism ethics [sic] should be amended to mandate that if a stock photo of anybody must be used, it is to be a swim suit one (OK, the PM might personally prefer that for his own reportage...)

      One could take the reports of Volke being "so normal", more of an aggravating factor - the attack being all the more shocking because she has no indication it was coming. On the other hand, this would devalue the experiences of so many domestic violence victims who cannot, for whatever reason, just up and leave, regardless of whether they can see somehitng "coming".

      On a final note, what is a "woman"? Is it genetic (XX chromosone)? Physical (i.e. genitalia)? Or is the adoption of certain, albeit stereotypical, behaviours? (I could also ask what makes a "man", but that is a discussion for another day.) Unfortunately, for women (and men), quite often they don't like certain aspects of the "package" of behaviours they have chosen (make-up is OK, pay discrimination isn't). This state of affairs really won't change until every man and woman sports a buzz-cut, all manner of make-up is banned, and when clothes and shoes become utlitarian in purpose only - then there'll be no "other", as we'll essentially look the same.

      Commenter
      Lex
      Date and time
      October 08, 2014, 1:40PM
  • Thank you for this wonderful piece! As a transgender woman, I am so happy to see support and the realisation that above all else, we are women, regardless of our birth gender.

    I was thoroughly disgusted by the reporting from the likes of the Courier Mail who set out to denigrate and titilate. If the story had been about a cisgendered woman, how different would the media have covered it?

    Transgender people are one of the most discriminated against and misunderstood demographics in society. If only everyone would think like this article!!!

    Commenter
    Jane
    Date and time
    October 07, 2014, 1:58PM

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