There’s been so much written in the last week about the horrific death of Phil Walsh. I’m not going to go into the details of the event. There’s already too much being written, given the crime is already before the courts, and whatever we think about the alleged perpetrator, under our laws, he has the right to a fair trial, and the professional media, and bloggers like myself need to remember that when we write about this case.
What I am going to write about is family violence. Yes, Mr Walsh was a man with a moderately high profile in his adopted home of Adelaide. As the coach of the Adelaide Crows, one of the two Australian Football League teams, the spotlight shone on him pretty brightly, at least by the local media. But, in the last three months especially, the national sports media had developed a little more interest in this somewhat enigmatic man. I’ll be honest, I had no idea how to read him, but, what I felt was way more important than my totally unimportant opinions, was how his players spoke of him. I’m not just talking about how they’ve talked since that shocking news on Friday morning, but since he was appointed senior coach in September of last year.
What’s bothered me since Friday is the simmering tension from certain people that we shouldn’t be even talking about this mans death, because “he was only a sportsperson”. Yeah, that’s true. But. And here’s what’s going to be really bloody difficult for his wife, daughter and extended family are going to have to cope with, Phil Walsh is the very public face of family violence. Regardless of what he did for a crust, his life was ended in an horrific act of violence in his home in the early hours of Friday the 3rd of July, allegedly, by a member of his family. That makes him no different to the scores of other Australians who’ve been murdered by a member of their family, or an intimate partner.
Had it been Mrs Walsh, and not Mr Walsh, or along with Mr Walsh, would these people still be asking the question? My guess is yes and no. Yes, there’s been over forty women killed in Australia, just this year, most of them by a member of their family, or a partner or former partner. That’s more than one a week. It’s nearer to two a week. But, does that diminish the fact that Mr Walsh too had his life ended by a member of his family? I don think it does.
We have an epidemic of family violence. Rosie Batty has been the most amazing face of family violence. Her son Luke was murdered by his father in February 2014, on a public cricket pitch, in full view of Luke’s team mates, friends, and of Rosie herself. In the eighteen months since that horrific night, I’ve asked multiple times per week how does she do it. I think it’s the thing keeping her going. The hope that by speaking out, about Luke, about the violence she experienced at the hands of Luke’s father, about the failings of the system to protect her and Luke, that maybe she can save another family from the agony she’s experiencing, and will continue to live for the rest of her life. She’s spoken of how she thought she was doing the right thing, allowing Luke to see his father in that cricket practice setting. How she thought that public setting would make it if not safe entirely, then at least less likely that Luke’s father would do anything dangerous. I’m sure there’s tens of thousands of women in Australia and around the world who would have made similar choices.
Statistically, one in three women in Australia will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Most of the time, that’s from a partner. It’s not at all unusual for a violent ex partner to continue their harassment and violence long after the relationship has ended.
Soon after Luke Batty’s murder, two little girls, sisters, were murdered by their father on Easter Sunday.
And, last Friday, a man who valued his families privacy, having not even wanted to have his kids names printed a few months ago, became another statistic. He became a case of extreme family violence.
So yeah, we’re talking about it because “he was a sportsperson”, but he was also a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a loved mentor, a friend, a colleague, and a teacher. His death should not be diminished because of his career. His wife and daughter have lost one of the most important people in their lives. Gone in an instant. Their grief should not be diminished. They have to cope with the news outlets still talking about this at the top of every bulletin. They are no different to any other family who has had a member ripped from their lives by violence, or family violence.
For those complaining, would you be saying anything had Mrs Walsh too been killed in the event? Or had she alone been killed? Yes, way more women are killed or harmed in family violence every single day, but we must not diminish the fact that this event is another example of family violence. As it happens, Mrs Walsh was injured in the event. I’m not going to even speculate how, or how severe her injuries are. Point is, she too was harmed, and could easily have been a second fatality Friday morning. But, as it is, she will likely experience post traumatic stress symptoms for years to come, along with the overwhelming grief at the loss of her husband of nearly three decades. She too is a victim of family violence.
The same must be said of their daughter, Ms Walsh. Had she been at home that night, she too may have been injured or killed. And despite having been overseas at the time, the likelihood of her experiencing post traumatic stress as a direct result of this event is high. As with the other more anonymous family violence victims we see reported every week.
We must continue to maintain women only shelters to allow women and children escaping family violence to feel safe when they do make their escape. I have been one of those children. I witnessed domestic violence, towards my mother, bullying of my step mother (I never witnessed violence towards her, but I know it happened), and violence against my elder step sister. I know the damage family violence causes first hand.
Every day, families are trying to deal with all sorts of things, usually behind closed doors. Often because no one wants to interfere, as its “not their business”. I call bullshit. It’s every bodies business. But, it’s a fine line for those family and friends of those in abusive situations. Say something to the victim, and you run the risk of alienating them from you, due to embarrassment, or even denial. Make yourself available to them just to talk. As awful and hard as it is essentially doing nothing, sometimes that’s a safer option, so that the victim of the family violence knows they have you to count on you when the time comes and they’ve had enough of the abuse.
We need to keep talking about family violence. About how we can help. And that it happens not just in lower socioeconomic demographics, but in every suburb, in every income bracket, all around the world. No one is immune.
Footnote: I have chosen not to refer to Mrs and Ms Walsh by their first or full names, but by this respectful address.