Darcey Freeman's death must be catalyst for change
(a comment from reader) ‘’ I thought it was my children as they had been with dad at the time.’’
January 30, 2009 11:00pm
EVERY time I've looked at my young daughters in the past 24 hours, I've conjured a picture of Darcey Freeman. Sometimes she's in a princess dress.
Other times, she's fighting with her brothers, like any other four-year-old. Then I wonder whether she started Prep like my daughter this week. Or whether this little girl was even too young to walk through the gates of the Victorian education system.
She certainly wasn't too young to know terror, and the rest of us can only imagine the sheer panic she would have felt as she was allegedly tossed like rubbish off a Melbourne bridge.
But Darcey Freeman shouldn't be remembered for the ugly end to her short life; she should be remembered for the massive community change her death warrants.
And that change should centre on an overhaul of those issues at the centre of a family break-up: from how the law operates, including the time it takes to hear cases, to how we divide up our children post-divorce.
About 50,000 divorces are granted each year in Australia; half of those involve children. And despite the revamp we've seen, the system that envelopes family breakdown is still not working.
Each week, my column in-tray becomes home to another case where the break-down of a family destroys the lives of those experiencing it.
This week it was a mother in north Queensland. She went to family services with concerns her ex-husband was sexually interfering with their 18-month-old child.
Court hearings followed, as did a story repeated in case after case. Threatening phone calls, her pet dog attacked with a hammer, lights broken in the garden, her mother harassed, and eventually a domestic violence order taken out.
But it was the response from authorities - family services, busy hospital departments, and police hamstrung in finding specific evidence - that prompted her next decision.
"Rightly or wrongly and out of sheer desperation I decided to go away," she told me.
"This was the hardest thing I had ever done - leave my family and friends. I sold what I could and moved to Victoria."
But the law has a habit of catching up with people who try to go around it, and last year, Australian Federal Police knocked on her door.
Her son now lives with her ex-husband and she's faced accusations she tutored the lad to accuse him of sexual misconduct. I've only heard her side, but her broken spirit reverberates with each sentence.
The director of the violence research centre at Griffith University, Professor Paul Mazerolle, says that while homicide rates might be decreasing, Australia can expect to host a growing number of the type of killings we witnessed on Thursday.
He blames our lifestyle - where quick living, a lack of social integration and faulty safety nets work against those struggling through family break-downs. Indeed, Professor Mazerolle believes we might learn from some developing world countries, where strong family ties and a "culture of community" bolster those at the centre of those emotional battles.
Bond University criminologist Professor Paul Wilson says a sense of isolation and detachment has created "human rockets or missiles" and politicians should focus on that, rather than the influence of video games and television.
"The solution is outside the police and criminal justice system," he says.
And that leaves the solutions in the hands of politicians, who set policy.
Remember the 2020 summit - that ideas fest set up about a year ago to determine the way forward?
It was hailed as the means of building a social fabric that along with a strong economic base, would guide Australia into the next decade.
Those ideas are still being mulled over, but Darcey Freeman should teach us that time has run out.
The talk yesterday was about Band-Aid measures like building safety barriers on our bridges.
Let's do that, if it helps.
But what about looking at why someone might stop a car and toss a little body over a bridge?
Or why a parent - male or female - feels so desperate that they will pack up their child in the middle of the night and run away.
It might be because they can't live without their child, or that they believe it is the best way to hurt the same person they once liked enough to share the birth of a child with.
Either way, the emotional and financial cost of family breakdown must be considered as big a threat to our community as the economic meltdown.
It's what is going to be done about it that will make all the difference. Darcey Freeman's death is the catalyst for change; what we do about it should be her legacy.
Madonna presents Mornings each weekday from 8.30am on 612 ABC Brisbane.
Where to get help:
13Health 1343 2584
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Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; www.kidshelpline.com.au
Beyond Blue info line 1300 224 636; www.ybblue.com.au