A New Project Uncovers Australia's Domestic Violence Epidemic

'Australian Femicide Map' asks us to reflect on the country's staggering statistics on violence against women.

by Madison Griffiths
19 November 2018, 9:30am

This article contains references to domestic abuse and sexual violence.

I grew up on a dirt road in Cranbourne East. We shared our isolated street with an actual horse whisperer (according to Cranbourne folklore). His name was Tony, he had two raucous, salivating German Shepherds protecting his gate and a worn trampoline that I spent much of my childhood on. If I were to pinpoint Cranbourne on a map, it would be an enormous stretch of flat land where horses grazed, birds squawked, and strawberry sundaes were religiously devoured at McDonalds.

But the Australian femicide map, which is the centre point of the Red Heart Campaign , tells a different story. It reveals all the places where women have died at the hands of men, and a small, love heart floats above Cranbourne on the simulated map. When I click it, it describes the death of 29-year-old Jenny Brodhurst. She was discovered bloodied and beaten on the floor of her Clarendon Street home in 2003, murdered by her partner. At the time, Detective Sergeant Eddie Logonder told the Herald Sun that cuts and bruises were found “on every inch of her skin.” Her hair was knotted and her body weighed just 47 kilograms.

Speaking to VICE, Red Heart Campaign founder Sherele Moody reflected on the project’s intent: “I like to think that the Map is an emotive view of the impact violence has on our community. There are now around 1600 victims’ stories on the map.”

She’s right. With a click, a hometown is transformed. Cranbourne East in 2003 was a place where I planted ground-cover plants in my mother’s budding garden. But it was also where Jenny was assaulted and killed: her body riddled with bite marks, contusions, and knife wounds.

The rest of the city quickly begins to change too. In the outlying district where I went to school, competed in local horse shows on my pony, and had my first sloppy kiss in a quiet cinema, 14-year-old Catherine Headland was abducted and murdered. She and I had both worked part time at the local shopping centre, me in 2008, her in 1980. Her murderer was never found.

I was nearly 19 when I left Cranbourne. I packed a car full of old clothes, birthday cards, and a blow-up mattress and moved into a humble townhouse in Coburg with two friends. When the founder of the Red Heart Campaign Sherele Moody was the same age, she lived in Roma, an outback town in Queensland.

It was here that she first began to understand the duality of places that feel safe when her stepfather coaxed nine-year-old Stacey-Ann into his car as she was on her way to school—the same school Sherele’s twin sisters attended. He took Stacey-Ann back to their family home, where he raped and asphyxiated her before dumpling her naked body, partially wrapped in a plastic garbage bag, by a creek bed.

Stacey-Ann’s wasn’t the only life he took. In Townsville, decades prior, five-year-old Sandra Bacon was lured into his home under the pretense that Hadlow had a collection of books to offer her. Instead, he raped and killed her, cloaking her tiny body in a corn sack and leaving it in the boot of his car while he joined her search party.

His actions are what lead Sherele Moody to commit to casting a light on male violence, and show how men like her stepfather can and do leave irreparable damage on their communities.

Ironically, her efforts have drawn their own violent response. The Australian femicide map was designed to highlight how male violence is pervasive and taken for granted across the country. But its existence has drawn abuse from male-rights activists who have labeled her “one of Australia’s worst misandrists.”

“I have copped some fairly heavy threats of death and violence,” she explains. Her name can be found in the archives of notorious anti-feminist group Anti-Feminism Australia, accompanied by crude warnings. To the men who move in Australia’s men’s rights activism sphere, Sherele Moody is a liar. There are anonymous, right-wing YouTube commentators dedicated to criticising her practice, claiming that the Australian femicide map is false and instead the product of Sherele’s “unhealthy obsession” with femicide.

Despite the controversy, in many ways the femicide map is a form of tragic resistance. Locking eyes with the pixelated expressions of slain women—the same women who caught the 898 bus route, or knew the back-alley shortcuts of the town you grew up in, or ordered hash browns from the same cafeteria—rebirths them, somewhat. Sherele Moody demands that her viewers know that these women didn’t die in vain. That their downfall can encourage change, community initiative and awareness.

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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.