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

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

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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.

Mayang Prasetyo with Marcus Volke.

Mayang Prasetyo with Marcus Volke. Photo: Facebook

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 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

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:

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

"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.

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.