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Tuesday 2 September 2014

'It was chilling' - Jill Meagher's husband on the day he heard his wife's murderer speak in courtroom

Published 18/04/2014 | 07:59

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Jill Meagher on wedding day to Tom - unknown person in the middle
Jill and Tom Meagher on wedding day
Jill Meagher and husband Tom
Jill Meagher and husband Tom

The widowed husband of Jill Meagher has opened up about the trauma of facing his wife’s murderer in court.

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In a powerful essay for the ‘White Ribbon’ campaign, Tom Meagher wrote of his support for abuse women, warning against “ingrained sexism” and the “monster myth” that surrounds men who commit appalling crimes against women.

Jill Meagher (29) was raped and murdered by Adrian Earnest Bayley in September 2012.

Jill, who was originally from Drogheda, Co Louth, was walking home from a night out with work colleagues in Melbourne when she bumped into Bayley on the street.

Bayley grabbed her, raped  and murdered her before dumping her body at another location. Bayley had a number of prior convictions for sexual assault and violence against women.

He was jailed for life with no possibility of parole for 35 years.

Jill’s murder prompted outrage across Australia. Some 30,000 people took part in a ‘peace march’ and it led to major reforms in the legal system.

Mr Meagher said he has now chosen to speak out as the rape and murder of his wife cannot be “treated in isolation” as it feeds into a “monster myth” of men who abuse women.

In his article, the Dubliner, who is originally from Clonskeagh in South Dublin, wrote how hearing Bayley speak in a courtroom clarified his views on men who exercise violence against women.

“One of the most disturbing moments of the past eighteen months of my life was hearing my wife’s killer form a coherent sentence in court,” he wrote.

Tom was at a committal hearing for Bayley, which took place several months before his trial. He had faced his wife’s killer in court before – but had never heard him speak.

“The judge asked Bayley whether he could he see the courtroom. I don’t remember his exact words, but he replied that he was able to see his lawyer and half of the bench.

“I had come face to face with him before in court, but vocally, I never heard him manage more than a monosyllabic mumble into his chest.

“This was different.

“There was a clarity of communication, sentence structure, and proper articulation. It was chilling.

“I had formed an image that this man was not human, that he existed as a singular force of pure evil who somehow emerged from the ether.

“Something about his ability to weave together nouns, verbs and pronouns to form real, intelligible sentences forced a re-focus, one that required a look at the spectrum of men’s violence against women, and its relation to Bayley and the society from which he came,” he wrote.

Bayley was presented as “the archetypal monster”, said Tom.

“Bayley feeds into a commonly held social myth that most men who commit rape are like him, violent strangers who stalk their victims and strike at the opportune moment,” Tom said.

But this was wrong and needs to be challenged.

“It gives a disproportionate focus to the rarest of rapes, ignoring the catalogue of non-consensual sex happening on a daily basis everywhere on the planet,” Tom wrote.

“It validates a limitation of the freedom of women, by persisting with an obsession with a victim’s movements rather than the vile actions of the perpetrator, while simultaneously creating a ‘canary down the mine’ scenario.

“Men who may feel uncomfortable by a peer’s behaviour towards women, may absolve themselves from interfering with male group norms, or breaking ranks with the boys by normalising that conduct in relation to ‘the rapist’. In other words he can justify his friend’s behaviour by comparison – ‘he may be a ___, but he’s not Adrian Bayley’.”

“The monster myth allows us to see public infractions on women’s sovereignty as minor, because the man committing the infraction is not a monster like Bayley.”

Society needs to look at “ingrained sexism” against women if it is to tackle the violence against them.

“We see instances of this occur in bars when men become furious and verbally abusive to, or about, women who decline their attention.

“We see it on the street as groups of men shout comments, grab, grope and intimidate women with friends either ignoring or getting involved in the activity. “We see it in male peer groups where rape-jokes and disrespectful attitudes towards women go uncontested. 

“The monster myth creates the illusion that this is simply banter, and sexist horseplay.

“While most of us would never abide racist comments among a male peer-group, the trivialisation of men’s violence against women often remains a staple, invidious, and rather boring subject of mirth.

“We can either examine this by setting our standards against the monster-rapist, or by accepting that this behaviour intrinsically contributes to a culture in which rape and violence are allowed to exist.

“The monster myth perpetuates a comforting lack of self-awareness.

Tom said he was moved by the huge outpourings of support in the days after his wife’s death – and the momentum for change. He could see that people really cared about his wife and her fate.

He also wrote about his “inbox overflowed with messages from thousands of women who shared with me their stories of sexual and physical abuse”.

“Some were prostitutes who felt it pointless to report sexual assault because of perceived deficiencies in the justice system, some were women whose tormentors received suspended sentences, and felt too frightened to stay in their home town.

“These are the prevalent, and ongoing stories that too often remain unchallenged in male company,” he said

He said it was his late wife who introduced him to many of these issues against women in the years before she was killed.


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