It's important to examine factors leading to such tragedies as the murder of Eurydice Dixon in order to prevent them from happening again, writes Jaime de Loma-Osorio Ricon.
WHEN I WAS 12 years old, my mum was beaten to death. Her killer was never found. From one moment to the next, without any apparent reason or motive, her life ended and ours changed forever. Our privileged family was immediately thrown into a spiral of suffering that ultimately had tragic, deadly consequences, even decades later.
Quite early on, after getting over the first wave of pain, I remember endlessly speculating about the person who had done this. Intuitively, I always knew it was a man, now a wealth of statistical evidence backs this hunch. In my late teens, I thought about this obsessively during a protracted debate about the death penalty with an otherwise progressive American girlfriend I was with. What would I want done to him?
“What I’d wish for Jaymes Todd and what I believe Eurydice would wish is that he gets better and realises what he’s done.”
I could not agree more with this incredibly brave statement, there is really no better way to ensure this never happens again.
Mr Dixon’s own daughter had been raped and killed a bit over a year earlier in a case that sparked the sadness and outrage of millions of Australians. And while Eurydice’s death was part of a wider epidemic that has seen 44 women dying in violent circumstances since the start of the year (Destroy the Joint: Counting Dead Women Australia project), I and many other colleagues felt a special connection to this particular murder because her killer, Jaymes Todd, had been born and raised in Broadmeadows, the suburb where I have been working for the last 14 years or so and the operational base of the Good People Act Now project, a youth-led Violence Against Women prevention initiative led by Banksia Gardens Community Services, where I work.
At the time I wanted to write something about it, but I was never able to complete that piece, partly because I could not verbalise everything I felt I wanted to say, partly out of a certain sense of respect for Eurydice and her family. Yet most stories, columns and features in which I read about it always felt fundamentally incongruous with my experience.
In the last few days, I have read Sarah Krasnostein’s beautifully crafted and comprehensive article in The Monthly. The article is hard to read because it brings to life the last few hours of this talented young woman’s life and the brutal and senseless violence with which it was arbitrarily ended. It also conveys extremely successfully the sense of danger that many women are feeling in the wake of this national emergency and it beautifully contrasts all of that with the lucid and luminous voices of Eurydice’s family members.
Upon reading it, I have felt compelled to share a few reflections, prompted by the article, but amassed over many years working, reading and thinking in areas related to social justice, violence against women, crime and public safety. I now understand that out of respect for Eurydice and all of the other women being killed every year, it’s really important to have a public debate about the reasons why people – mostly men – commit these horrible crimes, otherwise, we won’t be able to effectively prevent this violence.
The Monthly article contained a pretty detailed account of the sentencing hearing in which Jaymes Todd’s personal circumstances, including his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, are discussed by a range of experts. The lengthy discussions, leading to the conclusion that this diagnosis was not deemed a contributing cause of the offending in any central way, were succinctly summarised and they seem consistent both with existing research and with the opinion of many experts.
Todd’s family home environment, in a state of squalor and severe neglect, was also discussed. According to Dr David Thomas, a psychologist who provided evidence for the defence, the condition of Todd’s home was ‘the most extreme he had seen in 18 years of practice’.
Now, this is where my own professional deformation comes into play. After reading a statement like that, my immediate reaction is to think that in my 14 years of experience in Broadmeadows, I have not come across any home environments where someone is living in extreme squalor but everything else is fine. Unless you know exactly what this squalor smells like, it is hard to understand what its comorbidities and its consequences can be.
Isolation seemed to be another element at play in Jaymes’s life and, specifically, a particularly perverse interplay between his isolation and extremely violent porn, which he apparently started accessing at the age of 11. For years, experts like Dr Maree Crabbe have been warning us about the dangers of violent pornography, but how readily accessed websites can have categories entitled “Brutal rape, choking till death strangled forced videos” beggars belief and it could be the topic of a whole separate article.
But without any additional information about Jaymes Todd, my reasonable inference is to immediately assume that there must be factors affecting his attachment and early development that could explain the exceptional deficits that led him to commit these monstrous acts.
For me, the explanation that he is simply a “man who hates women” is unsatisfactory because it does not offer any solutions about what must be done with children and young people growing up in similar conditions in order to allow them to thrive and to keep the rest of the community safe.
- 3 times more likely to be experiencing long term unemployment or have been exposed to child maltreatment;
- 2.6 times more likely to have experienced domestic violence;
- 2.4 times more likely to be on disability support; and
- twice as likely to have criminal convictions.
And guess what suburb is on top of that ominous list — Broadmeadows.
Moreover, according to the Crossover Kids Report, published earlier this year by the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council, of the 165 children sentenced to a custodial order in 2016 or 2017, one-in-two was the subject of a report to child protection. The conclusion is simple: an overwhelming majority of convicts are victims before they become perpetrators.
Since the Royal Commission into Family Violence tabled its report in 2016, Victoria has been leading the way nationally in building its prevention and response capability. The importance of programs such as Respectful Relationships education in order to educate our children and youth in equality cannot be underestimated, but if we are serious about keeping our community safe, we also need to prioritise the fight against the toxic and pervasive cycle of structural disadvantage. In order to do that, a complete overhaul of our child protection systems is required.
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