ROSEMARIE MILSOM: The violence continues

Memorial for Anita Cobby, the victim of brutal violence.
Memorial for Anita Cobby, the victim of brutal violence.

LIKE many Australians, I remember clearly the horrific murder of Anita Cobby. I was in year 8 when her battered, brutalised body was found by a classmate’s father in a paddock on their Prospect property. The Reen family were respected dairy farmers in the area; a street was named after them.

We moved to Prospect, on the outskirts of Blacktown, from the North Shore, and we may as well have moved to the country. The area was dotted with acreages, and housing estates were beginning to spring up. We walked to school along a dirt road.

My mum worked with Ms Cobby’s mother, Grace Lynch, at a Blacktown nursing home. The impact of Ms Cobby’s death was profound, even for those only vaguely associated with the family. The gruesome details were talked about in the playground and I remember pitying my classmate, a quiet presence who became quieter still.

I pored over the front pages of the Sydney tabloids and the accompanying black-and-white photographs of a smiling, attractive Ms Cobby, in her nurse’s uniform and wearing a sash and tiara after being crowned Miss Western Sydney. She seemed so poised and sweet.

I could not marry those images with the horror of her death. Something shifted in me. It was difficult to comprehend that such a shocking crime could happen a few kilometres from where I lived. Ignorance had been blissful. We moved away a couple of months later, but it doesn’t take much to transport me to that dark time.

This week, Ms Cobby’s younger sister Kathryn Szyszka spoke at the first public memorial for her sister. Grace and Garry Lynch have died and the commitment by retired Chief Inspector Gary Raymond to keep Ms Cobby’s memory alive honours a promise he made to her father.

The Lynches played a pivotal role in the foundation of the Homicide Victims Support Group, and their dignity and grace touched many.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a tearful Mrs Szyszka spoke of her sister’s unanswered cries for help.‘‘That must never happen again,’’ she said.

Sadly, it has. While the ‘‘pack’’ murder and rape of Ms Cobby is especially heinous, just this week, a pregnant 35-year-old woman was allegedly beaten to death in a domestic dispute on the Gold Coast. Neighbours reported hearing an argument earlier in the day.

And, closer to home, police are investigating whether a Sydney man deliberately drove the family car at high speed into a tree on the Central Coast, killing his pregnant wife and 11-year-old son. At the time of writing, the couple’s seven-year-old son was in a critical condition.

The nature of the violence varies – Ms Cobby’s murder is at one end of a bleak spectrum – but what I struggle to understand is why some men are motivated to harm women; women they know or women they don’t.

As yet another report about a horrific attack on a woman hits the headlines, I rail at home about the issue, and my loving, non-violent husband is also at a loss to explain it. I understand it is a complicated issue, though simplistic catchphrases are often bandied about – ‘‘It’s about power’’, ‘‘Men feel inadequate’’, ‘‘Women shouldn’t take risks’’ and on and on it goes.

As a journalist I do my best to assess information and increase my understanding of a range of topics – from the impact of living with cystic fibrosis to the plight of newly arrived refugees – but male violence towards women leaves me floundering.

I know there are men and women who firmly believe that men are the true victims and women are in some way to blame for the violence they encounter. It is impossible to ignore the insidious influence of misogyny in their thinking.

These people fail to understand that while women also perpetrate violence and men too can be victims, the statistics simply don’t support their stance.

As we get bogged down in the blame game, the violence continues. In 2014, 81 Australian women were killed by violence. Nine have died so far this year.

Have we learnt nothing since the death of Anita Cobby?