The death of Olga Edwards this week is both tragic and heartbreaking. Her death follows the murder of her two children Jack and Jennifer by their father and her estranged husband, John Edwards in July. Mr Edwards killed himself hours after killing his two children.
Ms Edwards endured what no one should endure; the deliberate, premeditated killing of her children by a violent and abusive partner.
Shockingly, however, what has happened to Olga Edwards and her family is becoming increasingly common. In fact, it’s reaching epidemic proportions in Australia.
According to Impact for Women 75 women and 20 children have been killed by violence this year alone.
Just let that sink in; violence has caused the deaths of 75 women and 20 children in 2018. The ripple effect of these deaths on families, friends and local communities is incalculable.
Despite this, frontline family violence services only received $18.2m funding in the last Federal Budget. When you consider that the Victorian Government alone has dedicated close to $2billion to tackle the issue, we are completely failing to address the issue on a national level.
Frontline family violence response services do an enormous amount with very little. In cooperation with the police, they respond to the worst of the worst. They stand between violent abusive partners and their families. As such, there should be dramatically increased funding to these frontline services.
That alone, however, will not stop the killings.
We also need to equip and fund organisations and individuals who can identify possible violent relationships and provide support to victims and their families BEFORE the violence escalates.
Healthcare workers, particularly GPs and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, are in unique positions to support people who may be experiencing violence in a relationship. Where violence occurs alongside reproductive coercion in a relationship, the person experiencing violence is more likely to seek treatment for physical injuries or trauma. They may also seek professional help for gynaecological issues including STIs, fibroids, urinary tract infections and chronic pelvic pain.
We also know that pregnancy is a key time for violence in a relationship to escalate. So Obstetricians and maternal health workers also play a critical role in identifying and assisting people in violent relationships.
As a nation, we must take a whole-of-community, whole-of-life approach to stopping women and their children being killed by abusive partners. We need investment in the billions of dollars; an investment that will:
- Properly fund frontline response services
- Review and address the family court system so it supports the safety of those leaving abusive relationships and their children
- Train and equip healthcare professionals to identify and respond to family violence
- Fund targeted, measurable and effective perpetrator intervention and community-wide prevention and response programs
- Embed violence prevention across the entire school curriculum
- And work across sectors and jurisdictions to address permissive cultural, political and social drivers of violence.
We need to start doing this now because the problem is getting worse. More families are being destroyed. More communities are suffering.
As a bare minimum, we need to provide comprehensive support to people experiencing family violence. Right now we need to:
- Financially support women in abusive relationships in a way that will not penalise them financially later in life
- Implement at least 10 days paid family violence leave across all sectors
- Mandate for pay equity across all sectors and industries
- Fund frontline services properly.
Like Olga Edwards, Jack Edwards and Jennifer Edwards, every one of the 75 women and 20 children killed this year are people who were loved by their family and friends.
Their deaths deserve our immediate, unwavering and uncompromising public attention and action.
Michelle Thompson is CEO of Marie Stopes Australia. @MichelleT_MSA