Jill Meaghers husband, Tom, speaks about Jill and the myth about violent men being monsters – TheLiberal.ie – Our News, Your Views

Jill Meaghers husband, Tom, speaks about Jill and the myth about violent men being monsters


My wife was murdered by
a ‘monster’ – but most
perpetrators of violence
are normal men.
My wife, Jill Meagher, was murdered by
a man who can easily be described as
the sum of all evils – but we should not
fall prey to the ‘monster myth’.

One of the most disturbing moments of
the past 18 months of my life was
hearing my wife’s killer form a
coherent sentence in court.
Jill had been murdered almost six
months earlier, and Adrian Bayley’s
defence team were presenting a rather
feeble case for a four-week
adjournment of his committal hearing.
Bayley appeared via video link in the
Melbourne court as I sat flanked by two
friends and a detective. The screen was
to my right, mounted high up and tilted
slightly towards the bench. It was
uncomfortably silent apart from the
occasional paper shuffle or short flurry
of keyboard clicks. Bayley’s face
appeared on the big-screen TV, looming
over my seat. When that moment
arrived, a jolt of nausea came and went.
But the worst was to come, made all the
more horrifying because it was
The judge asked Bayley whether he
could 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 I’d 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 – he existed as a
singular force of pure evil who somehow
emerged from the ether. But something
about his ability to weave together
nouns, verbs and pronouns to form
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.
By insulating myself with the
intellectually evasive dismissal of
violent men as psychotic or sociopathic
aberrations, I self-comforted by
avoiding a more terrifying concept: that
violent men are socialised by the
ingrained sexism and entrenched
masculinity that permeates everything,
from our daily interactions all the way
up to our highest institutions. Bayley’s
appeal was dismissed, but I left court
that day in a perpetual trauma-loop,
knowing I needed to re-imagine the
social, institutional and cultural context
in which a man like Bayley exists.
Three days after Jill’s body was found,
30,000 people marched respectfully
down Sydney Road . I watched on TV as
the long parade of people reacted to
their anger at what happened to Jill
with love and compassion, the very
opposite of everything Bayley
represents. I remember my sister’s
voice from behind me as I fixed my eyes
on the images saying, “wow, people
really care about this.”
After the court date where I heard
Bayley speak, that infinite conveyor belt
of compassion replayed in my mind.
People did care about this, and for
whatever reason people identified with
this particular case, it was something
that I hoped could be universalised – not
localised to this case, but for every
instance of men’s violence against
The major difficulties in mobilising this
kind of outrage on a regular basis is
that most cases of men’s violence
against women:
lack the ingredients of an archetypal
villain and a relatable victim
are perpetrated and suffered in
silence, and
are perpetrated by somebody known
to the victim.
The more I felt the incredible support
from the community, the more difficult
it was to ignore the silent majority
whose tormentors are not monsters
lurking on busy streets, but their
friends, acquaintances, husbands,
lovers, brothers and fathers.
Since Jill died, my inbox has been
overflowing with messages from
thousands of women sharing 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
While the vast majority of men abhor
violence against women, those
dissenting male voices are rarely heard
in our public discourse outside of the
“monster-rapist” narrative. Indeed, the
agency of male perpetrators disappears
from the discussion, discouraging male
involvement and even knowledge of the
prevalence and diversity of male
violence against women. Even the term
“violence against women” sounds like a
standalone force of nature, with no
subject, whereas “men’s violence against
women” is used far less frequently.
While not attempting to broad-brush or
essentialise the all too abstracted notion
of “masculinity”, male invisibility in our
discourse can be compounded by
masculine posturing, various “bro-
codes” of silence, and a belief, through
the monster myth, in the intrinsic
otherness of violent men.
The Canadian feminist and anti-
violence educator Lee Lakeman argued
Violent men, and men in authority
over violent men, and the broader
public that authorises those men,
are not yet shamed by the harm of
coercive control over women …
Maybe we can rest some hope on the
growing activity of men of goodwill
calling on each other to change.
When that group hits a critical
mass, the majority of men will be
more likely to want to change.
According to an EU wide study
conducted in 2010, one person in five
knows of someone who commits
domestic violence in their circle of
friends and family. Perhaps it’s time
we, as non-violent men, attempted to hit
this critical mass.
One of the most dangerous things about
the media saturation which followed
this crime was that Bayley is in fact the
archetypal monster . 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. 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. 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. We see instances of
this occur in bars, when men become
furious and verbally abusive when
women 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, 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
The monster myth also perpetuates a
comforting lack of self-awareness.
When I heard Bayley forming sentences
in court, I froze because I’d been
socialised to believe that men who rape
are jabbering madmen who wear
tracksuit bottoms with dress shoes and
knee-high socks. The only thing more
disturbing than that paradigm is the
fact that most rapists are normal guys,
guys we might work beside or socialise
with, our neighbours or even members
of our family.
Where men’s violence against women is
normalised in our society, we often we
compartmentalise it to fit our view of
the victim. If a prostitute is raped or
beaten, we may consider it an awful
occupational hazard “given her line of
work.” We rarely think “she didn’t get
beaten – somebody (ie a man) beat her”.
Her line of work is dangerous, but
mainly because there are men who want
to hurt women. If a husband batters his
wife, we often unthinkingly put it down
to socio-economic factors or alcohol and
drugs, rather than how men and boys
are taught and socialised to be men and
view women.
I wonder at what stage we will stop
being shocked by how normal a rapist
seemed. Many years ago, two female
friends confided in me about past
abuses that happened in their lives,
both of which had been perpetrated by
“normal guys”. As I attempted to console
them, I mentally comforted myself by
reducing it to some as yet undetected
mental illnesses in these men. The
cognitive shift is easy to do when we are
not knowingly surrounded by men who
commit these crimes, but then we men
rarely need to fear such an attack.
The idea of the lurking monster is no
doubt a useful myth, one we can use to
defuse any fear of the women we love
being hurt, without the need to examine
ourselves or our male-dominated
society. It is also an excuse to
implement a set of rules on women on
“how not to get raped”, which is a
strange cocktail of naiveté and
cynicism. It is naive because it views
rapists as a monolithic group of thigh-
rubbing predators with a checklist
rather than the bloke you just passed in
the office, pub or gym, and cynical
because these rules allow us to classify
victims. If the victim was wearing X or
drinking Y, well then of course the
monster is going to attack – didn’t she
read the rules?
I have often come up against people
who, on this point, claim that they’re
“just being realistic”. While it may come
from a place of concern, if we’re being
realistic we need to look at how and
where rape and violence actually occur,
and how troubling it is that we use a
nebulous term like “reality” to condone
the imposition of dress codes, acceptable
behaviours, and living spaces on women
to avoid a mythical rape-monster. OK,
this rape-monster did exist in the form
of Adrian Bayley, but no amount of
adherence to these ill-conceived rules
could have stopped him from raping
somebody that night.
When Bayley was arrested, the
nightmare of the lurking evil stranger
was realised. It was beamed through
every television set and printed on
every newspaper headline in the
country. It was a reminder that there
are men out there who are “not like us”,
men who exist so far outside our social
norms that the problem can be solved
simply by extinguishing this person.
Bayley became a singular evil that
stirred our anger, and provoked a
backlash so violent that it mirrored the
society from which he emerged, that the
answer to violence is more violence.
Many comments on Facebook pages and
memorial sites set up in honour of Jill
often expressed a wish for Bayley to be
raped in prison, presumably at the
arbitrary whim of other incarcerated
men. Putting aside the fact that wishing
rape on somebody is the perhaps last
thing we do before exiting civilisation
entirely, there is a point that these
avengers may have missed – somebody
has to do the raping. Vengeance by rape
implies that rape is a suitable
punishment for certain crimes. In other
words, rape is fine as long as it’s used
in the service of retributive justice.
Indeed, we would be essentially
cheering on the rapist who rapes
Bayley, for ensuring that justice is done.
Or, if we find this rapist just as
abhorrent as Bayley, we’ll need another
rapist to rape him, to avenge the rape
he committed, and this would go on and
on in an infinite loop. In essence, this
“rape as retribution” argument invokes
the need for far too many rapists.
For people like Bayley, rape is
punishment – it’s how he exerts his
dominance, and exhibits his deep
misogyny through sexual humiliation. If
we as a society then ask for Bayley to be
raped as punishment, are we not
cementing the validity of this mindset?
I dreamed for over a year of how I
would like to physically hurt this man,
and still often relish the inevitable
manner of his death. But wouldn’t it be
more beneficial for Jill’s memory and
other women affected by violence to
focus on the problems that surround our
attitudes, our legal system, our silence
rather than focusing on what manner
we would like to torture and murder
this individual?
Bayley murdered a daughter, a sister, a
great friend to so many, and my
favourite person. I am the first one who
wants to see him vilified and long may
he be one of Australia’s most hated
people, but it only does any good if this
example highlights rather than obscures
the social issues that surround men’s
violence against women.
What would make this tragedy even
more tragic would be if we were to
separate what happened to Jill from
cases of violence against women where
the victim knew, had a sexual past with,
talked to the perpetrator in a bar, or
went home with him. It would be tragic
if we did not recognise that Bayley’s
previous crimes were against
prostitutes, and that the social
normalisation of violence against a
woman of a certain profession and our
inability to deal with or talk about these
issues, socially and legally, resulted in
untold horror for those victims, and led
to the brutal murder of my wife.
We cannot separate these cases from
one another because doing so allows us
to ignore the fact that all these crimes
have exactly the same cause – violent
men, and the silence of non-violent
men. We can only move past violence
when we recognise how it is enabled,
and by attributing it to the mental
illness of a singular human being, we
ignore its prevalence, it root causes, and
the self-examination required to end the
cycle. The paradox, of course is that in
our current narrow framework of
masculinity, self-examination is almost
universally discouraged.
Since Jill died, I wake up every day and
read a quote by Maya Angelou –
“history, despite its wrenching pain,
cannot be unlived, but if faced with
courage, need not be lived again.” Male
self-examination requires this courage,
and we cannot end the pattern of men’s
violence against women without
consciously breaking our silence.

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