The cost of ignoring the powderkeg men

The Hannah Clarke inquest was only interested in proving the perpetrator was evil, rather than seeking the truth about what led to the homicide of this family.

Three months prior to the appalling homicide of Hannah Clarke and her children, Clarke visited her local police station concerned about her husband’s behaviour, particularly following the break-up of their marriage.  

She spoke to Senior Constable Kent who told the inquest last month that at first, she wasn’t “greatly concerned” by what Hannah was telling her – “just because they’re not a very pleasant man doesn’t mean it’s necessarily domestic violence,” she told her. 

But then came the revelation. “She disclosed to me he makes her have sex every night. Then I went, ‘Ok, now we’ve got something.’”

There had never been violence. It was just that Clarke didn’t particularly want to do it every night – “She said that she did it so the house would be peaceful the next day.”

That was enough for Kent. She explained to Clarke that such “controlling behaviours” constituted family violence and referred her to a domestic violence support service.                                                                   

Wow, how’s that for concept creep? Now having sex to keep a difficult hubby happy is domestic violence.

Of course, most long-married women aren’t interested in having sex every day, and it isn’t a healthy relationship if she feels she can’t say no. But plenty of wives choose to sometimes have sex simply because they know everything is better if they maintain that intimate connection. It’s their choice and they have agency in that decision. 

But that’s not good enough for Sen Const Kent. She decided that Hannah Clarke’s reasons for having sex breached the new rules – rules underpinning enthusiastic/affirmative consent laws currently being introduced across Australia. Legal sexual relations now require more than just consent but rather, constant expressions of enthusiasm.  

Now we discover that demand for enthusiasm will also be used to define when a married woman needs protection from unwanted sex. Clearly for Kent, having sex to keep hubby happy is a sure sign that a woman doesn’t know what’s good for her. 

Kent is a domestic violence officer, after all. She’s used to imposing domestic violence laws requiring police to slap apprehended violence orders on the male partner at any hint of potential trouble, even over the objections of the woman concerned.  

The Senior Constable felt entitled to decide what was good for Hannah Clarke and to inform her that daily sex was a sure sign that she was a DV victim. The assumption is that behind every woman having sex without appropriate enthusiasm is a dangerous, coercive man. “Sex demand a sign you could be in danger,” read the alarmist headline, reporting Kent’s evidence to the inquest. 

This red flag was enough for Kent to swing the whole domestic violence apparatus into place to target Hannah Clarke’s husband, Rowan Baxter.  

Baxter’s head on a spike

Let it be understood that in discussing these issues, I totally condemn Rowan Baxter for his heinous crime. His actions are inexcusable – there is no possible justification for the abhorrent act of setting fire to a car containing a woman and three children. But the question remains as to whether what led him there is potentially preventable. 

It is shameful that we have allowed the mob to silence any proper discussion of the motivations and trigger points that resulted in Baxter committing this dreadful crime – information which could one day prevent other similar tragedies. This month’s inquest was not a fact-finding mission to determine the truth of what happened. It had no interest in understanding the systemic factors required to prevent such tragedies in the future. 

It was a posthumous show trial, parading Baxter’s head on a spike to promote the twin towers of the latest feminist edifice – enthusiastic consent and more importantly, coercive control.   

Remember what happened when the investigating officer, Detective Inspector Mark Thompson, announced at a press conference that the police would investigate with “an open mind”, including the possibility that this was an instance of “a husband being driven too far.” His statement was greeted with outrage, the mob descended, the police officer taken off the case. Regular readers will be aware that after I supported him in a tweet, I was condemned by the Australian Senate which falsely claimed I’d raised this question, rather than quoting Mark Thompson. My treatment made all too clear the dire consequences of breaching the gag on public discussion of this issue. 

Well buried in the huge mountain of evidence given at this month’s inquest, is the sequence of events that, from Baxter’s perspective, fuelled the escalating crisis, culminating in his appalling crime, followed by his own stabbing suicide. Kent’s decision to link too much sex to domestic violence seems to be the initial trigger which led to Clarke’s sudden rationing of access to the children and eventually, as everything unravelled, the restraining order preventing him from going near the family. Read this revealing text message Baxter wrote to Clarke, describing his bewilderment at what was happening to him. 

Naturally this is given short shrift in the carefully constructed coercive control narrative dominating the inquest. Indeed, counsel assisting the coroner, Dr Jacoba Brasch, announced after eight days of hearings that nothing could have stopped Baxter from killing his family. “Why? Because Baxter was evil.” 

Brasch marshalled abundant evidence of the evil man’s controlling behaviour. Witnesses trotted out bizarre stories about Baxter working people so hard in his gym that they vomited and dropping his mother-in-law on her head in a gym exercise. 

Here’s a selection from a list of 17 red flags compiled by Hannah Clarke’s parents, with the help of The Guardian: isolating Hannah from her friends and family; controlling where she could go and who she could see; depriving her of food, clothing and sleep; belittling her; monitoring her phone; printing and sharing intimate photos she had taken of herself; becoming violent towards other people when drinking to excess; throwing away children’s toys. Baxter apparently had previously threatened to kill his previous wife and son and had been charged with assault both in New Zealand and Australia. 

There’s no doubt that Baxter was a volatile man with a troubling history, and a propensity for predatory behaviour. A man set up to respond to stressful situations with behaviour destructive to himself and to others. 

Recruiting the bereaved to the feminist cause

Within weeks of the homicide, Hannah Clarke’s grieving parents, Lloyd and Suzanne Clarke, were speaking out about the need for coercive control laws – they went on to raise $330,000 through their small steps 4 hannah campaign. It’s totally understandable that people facing this type of unspeakable loss would seek to make a difference, hoping to protect others in similar circumstances. 

But their recruitment into this latest feminist campaign parallels the capture of our former Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, who initially spoke so movingly about how her ex-husband’s mental illness contributed to the tragic murder of her son. But she quickly became a spokesman for the feminist cause, with her take on domestic violence narrowing to the party line – that male misogyny and patriarchal control is the real cause of such dreadful events.  

Predictably, the Clarke family homicide is being used to demand ever more stringent domestic violence measures, coercive control legislation across the country, specialist domestic violence courts, GPS electronic monitoring of perpetrators – the list is endless.  

Last year I interviewed a former police officer Evelyn Rae, who explained that she dealt with many more false allegations of violence than real cases. Rae said police everywhere are aware that most protection orders are issued to women falsely claiming to be violence victims to gain advantage in family law battles. The outcome of the Clarke homicide is bound to be more stringent laws making lives miserable for the thousands of innocent men caught up in this net. 

There’ll be no discussion of whether there was any possible intervention that could have prevented Baxter from going off the rails, no examination of factors in his treatment prior to the homicide which contributed to his growing instability. Note that instead of being offered help to deal with his distress over being denied contact with his children, he was told to seek a behaviour change program to control his violence. The transcript of his subsequent phone call with a MensLine counsellor is pretty revealing. 

Nearly twenty years ago I wrote about powderkeg men, making the point that the pain of marital breakup leads people to do terrible things. I reported a mild-mannered man telling me how surprised he was to find himself crawling around in the bushes outside his ex-wife’s house, mad with jealously and rage. “If I had a gun, I’d have killed her,” he said. 

Wounded bulls can be lethal, I wrote. “With women so often making the decision to end the marriages, men are left floundering, deprived of daily contact with their children, often losing their homes, their social and support network. Our newspapers so often carry tragic tales of separated men lashing out, doing awful damage to their families or to themselves. These are powder keg men, but it is our system which lights the fuse.”

It’s thankfully very rare that powderkeg men wipe out their families. Most simply kill themselves – a fact our society prefers to conveniently ignore. The shameful secret carefully hidden by our mental health authorities is that family breakup is the number one cause of suicide in this country – I will write about this soon. (Contributions most welcome). 

Try as we may to pretend they don’t exist, ignoring the wounded bulls is simply asking for trouble.