By highlighting the killer’s achievements and purported good qualities, these descriptions portray him in a sympathetic light, instead of the dark reality. Rowan Baxter was not a “good bloke.” He was a murderer. We need to call him what he was.
According to reports by the ABC, Rowan allegedly set fire to his three children and his estranged wife in their car on Wednesday morning.
The three kids aged six, four and three died on the scene in the vehicle in the Brisbane suburb of Camp Hill. Rowan died on the footpath near the car with self-inflicted stab wounds.
Hannah died in hospital on Wednesday night. Witnesses say she screamed, “He’s pouring petrol on me,” while desperately trying to escape the fire with her skin peeling off.
She is the eighth woman killed by violence in Australia this year, according to Destroy The Joint. On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
Domestic violence is an epidemic in this country.
And yet, certain media outlets continue to paint domestic violence perpetrators like Rowan as “good blokes” who just “snapped” because a separation or custody case “drove them crazy.”
“Ex-NRL star Rowan Baxter dies alongside three kids in Brisbane car fire tragedy,” Fox Sports Australia reported, as though Rowan was a victim of an awful accident, not a violent murderer.
“'Goodnight my babies’,” read a news.com.au headline, as though Rowan was simply tucking his kids in bed instead of brutally setting them on fire.
By leading with a quote from the murderer, this headline centres Rowan as a loving father.
By constantly mentioning the killer’s hobbies and former job – and failing to name Hannah and her children – these stories attempt to soften Rowan’s actions.
By focusing on the custody case and describing Rowan as a dedicated father who was driven crazy after being separated from his kids, these pieces justify his despicable actions and place a degree of blame on Hannah for leaving her clearly dangerous husband and trying to keep her children safe.
As Claire Boland wrote on Twitter, “YOU WOULD THINK that by 2020 people might understand that if a custody battle could lead a man to kill his own children, then there is a reason his ex was trying to keep him the fuck away from them.”
She continued, “He did not ‘love his children to the moon and back.’ He was not ‘a good father.’ He was not ‘a good bloke.’ This was not ‘out of character.’ Why is this so hard to understand?”
Why? Why? Why?
Why are we so quick to defend domestic violence perpetrators? Why are stories like this met with a chant of #NotAllMen? Why do people feel the need to say “Oh, but women murder their kids too.”
We need to stop calling murderers “good blokes.” The media needs to report accurately and sensitively on gendered violence. Journalists have a responsibility to drive social change, to reframe how violence is talked about, and champion the belief that this violence is never acceptable or excusable, as implored by Our Watch.
Rowan Baxter was not a “good bloke.” He was a violent, brutal murderer.
Vale Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey. Our thoughts are with their family, the witnesses and first responders who tried to help.
Hannah’s brother Nat Clarke has started a fundraiser to help with funeral costs. In a Facebook post, he wrote, “I am now trying to help raise awareness about #violenceagainstwomen as monsters like this get away with this too often. I am also trying to raise money for my mum and dad who have given every little thing they own to help my sister try and get away from this monster.”
To support the family and honour Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, please donate here.
If you or someone you know needs help contact the Australian Helpline 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).