How I built a campaign to remember victims of domestic violence

The Australian Femicide & Child Death Map
By Sherele Moody 
Content warning: mentions violence against women

I spent more than two decades raging about my stepfather’s decision to abduct, rape and murder nine-year-old Stacey Ann Tracy.

I was 18 when Barry Hadlow killed Stacey-Ann on May 22, 1990, in Roma, Queensland. He had been married to my mother for around five years. My little sisters considered him their father. They were not much older than Stacey when she died.

Stacey-Ann Tracy

Days after nine-year-old Stacey’s death, I found out Hadlow had previously been sentenced to life for the rape and murder of five-year-old Sandra Dorothy Bacon in 1963.

He was released from prison because the parole board determined he was unlikely to kill again – they could not have been more wrong.

It is almost impossible to explain what it is like to be the relative of a child killer other than to say grief, anger, frustration and hopelessness seems to always nip at my heels.

I think of Stacey-Ann every single day. And when I think of Stacey-Ann, I think of Sandra. And when I think of Stacey-Ann and Sandra, I think about other women and children lost to violence in our country.

Wanting to turn my anger into something worthwhile, I built the Australian Femicide and Child Death Map and its companion project – The RED HEART Campaign’s Memorial to Women and Children Lost to Violence.

It’s taken about three years to document the murders and manslaughters of 1700 Australian victims.

These deaths are just the tip of the iceberg with thousands more dead women and children – from white settlement to now – to be added.

My research involves interviewing families of victims (where possible) dcfand trawling through print and online archives of Australian newspapers as well as coroner’s court rulings and appeal court judgments.

As the project documents deaths where accused perpetrators are still going through court, everything has to strictly avoid any possibility of sub judice, contempt or defamation. Stories are updated as people are charged, convicted or acquitted, and I document ALL deaths regardless of the perpetrator’s gender or relationship to the victim.

It is no surprise thought that around 90 per cent of victims lost their lives to male violence and around 70 per cent of deaths involved domestic violence. Where domestic violence is a factor, there were known patterns of controlling behaviour, emotional abuse, ownership and jealousy. Killers often used child support, family law issues and/or betrayal as their justification for wiping out the lives of others.

Regardless of the circumstances, none of these women or kids slipped gently into the night – often they lived in fear before they died.

The victims come from all walks of life – from doctors, lawyers, teachers and business owners to women living on the fringes including sex workers, drug addicts, teenage runaways, transgender women and even great grandmothers aged in their 90s.

A key issue for me is the lack of information in around 25% of killings, particularly the deaths of Indigenous women in remote communities or diverse communities including those who are queer, disabled or from ethnic backgrounds.

It is important to me to paint a picture of each victim and how their death impacted their loved ones. Sadly, this is not always possible because in some cases all I know is that an unnamed woman or child was killed on (or about) a certain date at or near a certain location.

A disturbing number of murders remain unsolved while in other cases, victims have not been found.

Inadequate sentencing is an outrageous – and terrifyingly – common theme, whether victims were killed in the 1900s or in the past 20 years. In some cases, claiming provocation has seen many violent men plead to the lesser charge of manslaughter, only to be released within five or six years of their brutal acts.

My research also shows that Australia’s frontline violence workers, feminists, academics and the families of victims have been having the same conversations around violence against women and children for as long as men have been killing us.

The Map and the Memorial are not built on statistics – these are journalism-driven story-based platforms designed to commemorate the lives of the victims and to offer a memorial space for their loved ones. The projects are also designed to influence community perceptions of violence by generating discussion, challenging myths and misconceptions and igniting debate on misogyny, sexism and toxic masculinity.

When I started The RED HEART Campaign, I had no idea I would spend much of my free time building Australia’s saddest catalogue of violence, but I do consider this to be the best – and most important –  journalism of my 25-year career.

The Map and the Memorial are now the centrepieces of The RED HEART Campaign.

I started RED HEART in September of 2015, providing a space for domestic and family violence survivors to share their stories of trauma, hope and inspiration.

While every survivor’s experience is unique, their stories are bound together by deep personal loss, incredible strength, steely determination and extreme bravery in the face of the worst kind of cruelty any human can inflict on another.

RED HEART has shared more than 300 stories of violence survival since its launch while attracting a following of more than 55,000 Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram users.

The more I write and research violence against women the more RED HEART grows and changes.

It is now an effective lobbying, prevention and support tool that includes:

  • Counting all murders and manslaughters in Australia, providing a real-time measure of how violence impacts our community;
  • RIP Angel posts, encouraging the Campaign’s followers to share a red heart emoji for every woman and child killed in Australia;
  • Material aid and social support for women and children in crisis;
  • Pressuring government to better resource domestic, family and sexual violence prevention and support services; and
  • Actively highlighting misogyny, toxic masculinity and rape culture and the underlying factors that cause these issues to thrive.

All of this is done on my own time and with my own dime.

The RED HEART Campaign is a registered not for profit, but it receives no government or charitable funding. I pay for everything out of my own pocket, with a little help from t-shirts sales and a small Patreon page.

I am lucky to have ongoing support from family and friends, including four very trusted mates who volunteer behind the scenes of the Campaign’s digital assets, help me track murders and manslaughters and respond to calls from women in domestic and sexual violence or family law crisis.

While I have learned many valuable lessons over the past 3.5 years, these are my top tips for anyone wanting to create their own social media campaign:

  • Just do it. Your project has the potential to change lives and the more women we have running campaigns to end violence, the more likely we will be to save lives.
  • Make sure you have a clear “about section” that tells your audience who you are, what you hope to achieve and how they can help and take part.
  • You will become the subject of cyberhate including bullying, abuse and death threats. Do not engage with trolls – block them as soon as they appear and move on.
  • Document all threats of violence because police can – and should – investigate them. You must be able to do your work in this area without your safety being put at risk.
  • Many people will offer to admin or look after your page but choose wisely. Ask yourself if they will be your eyes and ears when you are offline. Remember: those who have access to the back-end of your social media accounts can destroy your hard work with one mouse click.
  • Try to find a fund-raising source to help pay for your work. Yes, social media is free but you will need artwork, sponsored posts and lots of other things that cost money.
  • Being the face of your campaign can make a big difference in its growth and impact. This also comes at a price – your privacy will be at risk. Never put your address on social media, have a separate phone for your campaign and let all calls go to message bank. Remember police can trace phone calls from private numbers so report any voicemail threats.
  • Despite the downsides, social media is an excellent tool for highlighting issues that you are passionate about. Experts will say you should follow certain rules to succeed, but throwing out the rulebook was the best thing I ever did. Post what you like when you like but make sure the material reflects your core goals and messages.
  • If you get a lot of negative feedback over a post from your prime audience, think about taking the offending post down. A bad post can cost you thousands of supporters in a matter of hours.
  • Think about repeat trolls who repeatedly hijack your posts with “what aboutery”. It will not take you long to see the same social media profiles posting the same things on your threads. Giving them the boot will cost you nothing, but it will give you peace of mind.
  • Make sure you offer women a safe online experience by removing abusive and other offensive comments.
  • It’s vital to follow the basic rules of writing. If you screw up a post with dodge spelling or terrible punctuation, you can almost guarantee some troll will screenshot it and send it around the internet, making you viral for all the wrong reasons.  The more professional and polished your words, the more followers you will get because this lends legitimacy to your campaign.
  • Get to know sub judice, contempt and defamation laws inside out. You do not need to have a law degree but if you post the wrong thing about an ongoing court case or an individual you could end up in jail or lose your life savings.
  • Most importantly. Never argue with a men’s rights activist. The only way they will agree with what you are doing is if you centre them – and only them – in your campaign. The easiest option is to block them and move on.

If you are inspired to go down this path, please drop me a line via The RED HEART Campaign. I believe it is important for women to support other women so I would love to help when I can.

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

To learn more about Sherele’s campaigns, please visit:
The Australian Femicide & Child Death Map: https://tinyurl.com/ybtzpx95
The RED HEART Campaign: www.facebook.com/TheREDHEARTCampaign
THRC Memorial to Women and Children Lost to Violence: https://tinyurl.com/y7ljmwlp

 

 

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Photo: John McCutcheon Sherele Moody is a professional journalist writing for News Corp print and digital outlets. She is also the founder of The RED HEART Campaign, the creator of the Femicide Australia Map and the recipient of multiple journalism excellence awards for her work highlighting violence against women and children.  

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