Open Letter: Gittany, the media and responsible reporting of violence against women

Gee Bailey

For some time now I have been in possession of an article that I ripped out and kept from my only weekly magazine purchase, Who, back in February of this year. I don’t normally do this but I was so saddened to read the story, “Simon Gittany Murder Trial. Deadly Obsession” that I felt I had to keep the article as a reminder of what is occurring on a daily basis to women all over Australia.

Reading through the article I could identify with the deceased victim Lisa Harnum. Not from the way she looked nor from the life she had been living as a ballerina or hairdresser. I could relate to Lisa because she was the victim of domestic abuse – and I believe that I’m not the only woman who could.

It was a story that attracted a lot of media attention and was even picked up and run over two nights on channel 7’s Sunday Night current affairs program. It had all the components of a true drama. The good looking players, re-enactments, glamour’s back drop and part of it was even captured on video for all of us to see what had occurred when Lisa attempted to leave her ‘obsessed killer’, fiancé Simon Gittany before being thrown from their 15 story apartment overlooking Sydney’s Hyde Park .

My writing to you was brought about by the way these stories are told. While I think it is a good thing these stories are being reported, they are rarely accompanied by the appropriate information on how or where to get support. As a survivor advocate I am a passionate spokesperson on this issue who chooses to use my personal experience to try to make a difference and help prevent violence against women. I am saddened that an article such as yours, and one that is undoubtedly read by so many women across Australia, was only accompanied by an extremely small link to whiteribbon.org.au.

Domestic violence is something that needs to be talked about and written about more often so that the whole community understands that 1 in 3 Australian women will experience domestic or sexual violence in their life time. The media can have a significant impact in building the community’s awareness of this horrifying fact.

When Lisa Harnum “dropped a bombshell” on both of her confidantes, Lisa Brown and Michelle Richmond, if the subject of domestic violence weren’t just known in our community as ‘something that happens but not to me or anyone I know’ then maybe things could have turned out differently for Lisa Harnum. Unfortunately Simon Gittany isn’t a rare individual, or a monster. When prosecutor Mark Tedeschi describes his behaviour as ‘controlling, abusive and dominating’ he is describing the home life of too many Australian women. It is in the way men are raised to see and treat women that these terrifying situations come to be.

I’m in no way blaming Ms Harnum’s confidantes but as professionals who work amongst women it should be mandatory that they be educated in the safest way to support women trying to leave relationships like this. The inclusion of help line numbers – for example to 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) 1800respect.org.au the national 24/7 counselling helpline for family violence – would have made this article a helpful resource for anyone who identified, or identified a friend or family member’s situation, with Lisa Harnum’s.

Responsible reporting of violence against women – reporting that connects readers to help available, that identifies this issue as one affecting 1 in 3 women and that recognises that a community that respects and values women as equals is what will make it possible for us to end violence against women – can make a world of difference to keeping women safe and to changing the attitudes and behaviours that make violence against women so frequent an occurrence in our society. I hope that all journalists, editors and those who work in the media might consider this when reporting these issues in future.

Warm regards,
Gee Bailey