Sue and Lloyd Clarke never expected to be at the forefront of the fight against domestic and family violence but the horrific loss of their daughter and grandchildren in February last year now drives them to advocate for change.
The parents of Hannah Clarke and grandparents of Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, who were murdered by estranged husband and father Rowan Baxter, were guest speakers at a breakfast hosted the Zonta Club of Redcliffe on November 25.
The event, at Pilpel restaurant, was held on the international day for the elimination of violence against women and to launch Zonta’s annual 16 days of activism against domestic and family violence. It was also a fundraiser for the Small Steps 4 Hannah foundation.
Sue Clarke said the brutal ambush that took her ‘four angels’ was something no parent or grandparent could ever expect.
“Very soon after that awful day, we heard a word we’ve never heard before – coercive control. We certainly knew the signs, we knew the impacts, we just didn’t know it had a name,” Mrs Clarke said.
Their family has since learnt how widespread it is - more than they ever imagined.
“We were confronted with a choice - to close our eyes and allow other families to continue to suffer the way our family has suffered or do we do something about it,” Mr Clarke said.
They chose the latter and are using the platform they now have to tell Hannah’s story in the hope that other women will see the warning signs and make choices that will save them and their children.
Their focus is to educating people about coercive control, encourage them to talk about it and lobby government to legislate, so it can be stamped out.
“For a long time Hannah didn’t think she was the victim of abuse. She didn’t think it was domestic violence because she wasn’t being physically harmed but she was being mentally harmed,” Mr Clarke said.
“He had a whole tool kit of different ways of controlling her, manipulating her feelings and her relationships with others.
“He was able to crush her beautiful spirit by controlling her movements and her interactions with family and friends. Looking back now, we can see all the warning signs and what we’ve learnt is that these build up slowly.”
Behaviour that might just seem odd to start with can lead to more aggressive and controlling measures.
They are working with the State Government and the Women's Safety and Justice Taskforce and called on the audience to speak up if they see the warning signs of coercive control.
“These are just small steps, but if you put enough together you can make big progress and HALT (Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey) domestic violence,” Mr Clarke said.
Also speaking at the event was Federal Member for Petrie Luke Howarth who said while violence cost the economy $21.7 billion per year, the emotional and social costs are what really hurts Australians.
Mr Howarth said one woman was killed every week and one man was killed every month, on average, by a partner or former partner.
One woman is hospitalised every three hours across Australia.
He said it was preventable and must be “stopped at the start”.
“When two in five Australian adults have experienced violence since the age of 15 and almost one in five or 17 per cent of women and six per cent of men, we can all play a role,” Mr Howarth said.
“I would just encourage us all to work together. It’s really important that we teach our family, our children that DV is never acceptable and as a father of three sons that’s certainly what I do.”
State Health Minister and Member for Redcliffe Yvette D’Ath congratulated Zonta on the group’s work in the community to raise awareness.
Ms D’Ath said it was important to note that all three levels of government were represented at the breakfast, a demonstration of how seriously they took the issue.
She said it was the responsibility of all levels of government but also the broader community, starting with respect, educating young people about healthy relationships.
Ms D’Ath praised Mr and Mrs Clarke for their work to make a difference.
“To take such grief and to turn it into something positive, to do everything possible to halt that violence … it’s courage. Thank you,” she said.
“Small Steps for Hannah … even if it changes one person’s life, it’s worth it.”
She spoke about coercive control and the need to understand the signs of coercion – harder to identify than physical violence and are often in plain sight.
Moreton Bay Regional Council Mayor Peter Flannery said in November last year council, in collaboration with Moreton Bay Domestic and Family Violence Network, launched the Recognise and Reach Out campaign to raise awareness and encourage those experiencing violence to seek support.
“Our collective efforts as a community can help reduce the impact of domestic and family violence and today’s event is an example of coming together to raise awareness and start conversations to reduce the impact of violence,” Mayor Flannery said.
Council has installed 12 red benches throughout the region to put the issue to the forefront and in people’s faces in the hope it will start conversations and prompt victims to come forward and the community to identify it and report it.
Founder of DV Safe Phone Ashton Wood also spoke at the breakfast about how old mobile phones could save a life.
He started the organisation after a conversation with a former police senior sergeant who revealed a desperate need.
Mobile phones are among the first things to be monitored, smashed or taken by perpetrators of domestic and family violence.
The phones are provided to victims, so they can hide them and use them when they need help.
To support Small Steps 4 Hannah, visit the website