What Will Change after Lilie James’s Murder?

It was an intimate-partner murder that shocked the nation: the killing of inner-city Sydney PE teacher Lilie James after school hours on Wednesday night. James is understood to have been in a five-week relationship with Paul Thijssen, a fellow sports teacher at St Andrews in the city centre.

According to media reports, James ended the relationship with Thijssen, who then killed James with a hammer in a bathroom. He then drove to Vaucluse, where he eventually called police to confess before jumping off a cliff.

The brutality of the murder – and the fact that James’s body was found at St Andrews, next to Sydney Town Hall – has galvanised the public to face up to a terrible but constant situation. 

On average, each week in Australia one woman is killed by a current or former partner. Around 20% of Australians have experienced from form of domestic physical or sexual abuse.

In fact, one analysis found domestic violence (DV) to be the biggest contributor to the burden of disease (physical and mental health) among Australian women aged 15 to 44. It ranked above well-known health risks like alcohol abuse, smoking, obesity and workplace injuries.

What Responses have we seen to the Domestic Violence Epidemic?

Last month, NSW Police released the Empower You mobile app. The app allows vulnerable people to document abuse discreetly and alert emergency services without having to make a phone call. NSW Police have also been encouraging neighbours to call police if we believe we hear domestic violence occurring.

A screen grab from the NSW Police’s domestic violence prevention app.

Western Australia announced on Friday it will pursue a more punitive response. GPS tracker anklets will be made mandatory for repeat DV offenders, in an effort to better enforce restraining orders. Removing the anklet will be cause for jail. Last month, the state announced it would deny firearms licenses to DV offenders.

Lastly, the federal government is taking a much more structural approach. The October 2022 budget committed a record $1.7 billion to women’s safety, with a further $589m invested in May 2023.

The budget spent quite heavily on cultural change initiatives. But it also made welcome spends to improve resourcing for frontline service intervention workers and for crisis accommodation for women in post-separation situations. The response is situated in the context of a ten-year plan released mid-October by Minister for Women Katy Gallagher.

Time will tell whether these efforts make the impact we need.

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