This is why we will keep counting the dead women

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The need for survivors to be champions

Luciane Sperling believes women like herself need to get the word out about how strong survivors of domestic violence are.

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Whatever happened to domestic violence? It's still destroying lives every day in Australia but for our government, it looks like it no longer matters.

What did the Prime Minister say about domestic violence at the launch of the Liberal campaign on the weekend? He reminded us of his first announcement, just after he became PM. Nothing more. Not a single initiative and certainly no more money.

This is the political party which says it wants jobs and growth – but the Coalition refuses to recognise the huge drain on the economy of domestic violence, on the path to costing Australia nearly $10 billion annually. 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Andrew Meares

It refuses, for instance, to fund community legal centres. The National Association of Community Legal Centres has released its Federal Election Scorecard; and it puts the Liberals last, by far.


The centres are at the coalface, working to protect women from domestic violence. Their funding has been slashed. They wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister begging for help which he has ignored.  For their pains, they were mocked by Attorney-General George Brandis who claimed their concerns were "boutique controversies" and that funding had been maintained.

Bill Shorten for Labor was better. At least the Labor launch acknowledged the war on women.

February 1: The body of Sharon Michelutti (48) was found in a bedroom in a home in Riverwood. Her partner, Gavin Debeyer (50) has been charged with her murder. Click for more photos

Women lost to family violence in 2016

Violence against women has claimed the lives of 34 women in Australia so far this year. These are just some of the women who have died. Thanks to Destroy the Joint for caption information; the group records every death due to violence against women in Australia.  Photo: Facebook

"My government will provide the resources, support and leadership to tackle the most devastating and extreme manifestation of gender inequality: violence against women.

"We will properly fund the frontline – you know the frontline – community legal centres, counsellors and safe housing for women and children."

The Greens at least have policies on access to justice and on domestic violence.

But even if they hold the balance of power in the new government, their policies may not be enough to put the war on women – and the needs of women - front and centre after the election.

So this is where we are now: this year, 34 women have been killed in Australia.  

I know this because of the incredible work of Destroy The Joint's Counting Dead Women researchers: Pat Bradley, Deb Smith and Sue McLeod. These three women, from the Northern Territory, from regional NSW, from Melbourne, scour police notices, media reports, findings of the Coroner in states and territories. They look every single day.

And often, we will get messages from the ones left behind. I've changed this enough to hide the identity of the sender but we get many of these.

"Can you please add my [sister, mother, daughter, friend] to your list. Her name was XXXXX and she was murdered by her [boyfriend, husband, son, brother]. We have been living a nightmare since then."

Sometimes the murders are too far back for our lists but I know it hurts Deb and Pat and Sue to say so to the grievers.

Already this year, these three women have a list of half a dozen cases we can't include on the list for one reason or another. For instance, in the case of a murder-suicide, they don't automatically list the death of the woman, unless the police make clear that the woman was killed. A body found abandoned? Pat and Deb and Sue are so careful not to make instant judgments.

They get endless pressure to list every single death instantly. Yet they try to remain measured, careful. There is no point making this list any worse than it already is at 34. This time last year it was 47, the year before, 42.

It's awful work but they provide a constant memorial. They do it because they know just how important it is to keep the count.

This, at least, is one way of keeping violence against women in the public consciousness even if politicians won't.