It’s been years since I was married to sports hero and abuser Peter Brock. Yet our domestic violence epidemic rages, writes Michelle Downes.
It’s been years since I was married to sports hero and abuser Peter Brock. Yet our domestic violence epidemic rages, writes Michelle Downes.

Not enough has changed to tackle domestic violence

OPINION

Here we go again.

Like so many in Australia I was shocked and horrified to read that a man had burned his estranged wife and three children to death.

Equally, I was distressed - although unsurprised - to read so many people quickly leap to this murderer's defence.

I read how this man was "a great father" and a "great sportsman".

They claimed too that he had been "driven" to brutally kill his entire family because he was so devastated by his marriage ending.

Well, I don't care what sport this man played for a living or how he must have been feeling when he bought a jerry can of petrol.

I only care about Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey and their devastated friends and family. Australia's domestic violence epidemic is a story I am familiar with.

More than 40 years ago, I lived with a sporting hero who had two sides.

My husband, Peter Brock, was a gifted driver and a man worshipped by thousands of Australians. But behind closed doors he was a jealous and controlling husband who felt threatened by my success.

 

Peter Brock and Michelle Downes on their wedding day in 1974. Picture: supplied
Peter Brock and Michelle Downes on their wedding day in 1974. Picture: supplied

I had to deal with was being thrown down the stairs or having my head bashed against concrete.

His assaults left me in hospital several times.

I tried to escape the violence. When I called the police, I was told they wouldn't get involved because it was only a "domestic dispute."

I even fled to a women's refuge one night where I was horrified to find so many other women, just like me, only with young children. We came from all walks of life but shared one thing in common - we were all too frightened to go home.

Eventually I was able to escape this marriage and move on with my life. But I carry the violence I suffered with me every day. It haunts my dreams. When you live through something like that, it never leaves you.

When your home becomes a place of fear and violence, it affects you in ways that are hard to describe.

But when I finally found the courage to tell the world what I had endured I was beaten up again.

Peter Brock and Michelle Downes in 1974. Picture: Ian Smith and Associates
Peter Brock and Michelle Downes in 1974. Picture: Ian Smith and Associates

 

Peter's fans attacked me. They called me a "whore" and a "money-grabbing slut". They accused me of provoking him. They either tried to say it never happened or they blamed me for his actions.

It terrifies me that, even after all these years, more is not done to protect women like Hannah.

I am also so angry and sad that so much misogyny still exists in this country.

Why is it when a man murders his family people reach for excuses for this behaviour?

If you're having a hard time adjusting to a break-up you make an appointment to see a counsellor. You don't hide in the bushes waiting to douse your family with petrol and set them alight.

Those are the actions of a cold-blooded killer, not a devoted father.

We need to stop putting sportsmen on pedestals. We need to believe women when they say they're being abused. We need to protect young children from being killed by angry, controlling men.

We need to stop saying "boys will be boys" to explain away bad behaviour in our young men.

We need to stop telling girls that if a boy pulls their hair in the playground its because he likes her.

Real men don't hurt the people they love.

Honestly, how many more women and children have to die before we stop making excuses?

*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.


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