OPINION: “Preethi Reddy’s murder is not an Agatha Christie novel”: Media still fails on domestic violence coverage

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Tarang Chawla’s sister was murdered in 2015. In 2017 he was a Young Australian of the Year finalist for championing the cause of violence against women. He says men who commit murder are just that - men who murder. They’re not ‘good’.

On Wednesday morning, two days before International Women’s Day, we awoke to the terrible news that Sydney dentist Dr Preethi Reddy had been murdered.

Her vengeful ex-boyfriend is the suspected killer.

It’s believed he then took his own life by driving his BMW head-on into a semi-trailer.

I have been following the news reporting of Preethi’s murder with keen interest since my sister Nikita died at the hands of a violent man.

When Niki was murdered in January 2015, I found the reporting of the crime was frequently woeful. Irrelevant reasons were proffered for the killer’s actions and family watched helplessly on as my sister’s name was tarnished.

When news broke of Preethi’s needless death, I had hoped the Australian media would have made progress in the four years since Niki’s murder. I had hoped to see that we properly identify the causes of men’s violence against women. I had hoped to see that the media would properly addresses the “why” and give some kind of sensible answer as to “what” we do about men’s violence against women.

Sadly, most of the reporting has got it so wrong.

It started when finding the man responsible for Preethi’s death was called a “sinister twist” in developments on 7 News. The thing is, Preethi Reddy’s murder is not an Agatha Christie novel. We’re not waiting expectantly for a “sinister” plot twist.

Tarang Chawla, Young Australian of the Year 2017 finalist, and a passionate advocate for prevention of family violence
Tarang Chawla, Young Australian of the Year 2017 finalist, and an advocate for prevention of family violence
Supplied

The man who killed my baby sister Nikita stabbed her at least 35 times in her neck, abdomen, face, arms and head with a meat cleaver, rendering her corpse virtually unable to be identified in her lifeless state on a steel operating table at the Coroner’s Court. Then, he called 000 and told the operator: “Hey can you come and collect a dead body?”. The woman on the phone was dumbfounded.

The killer went roaming, bloodied butcher’s utensil in one hand and an iPhone in the other, while Nikita lay dead in a pool of her own blood. The first responders found him anxiously pacing at the top of a bridge in the dead of night where he alleges he was going to jump in front of a truck and “end it”.

The man who is believed to have killed Preethi was little different to the man who killed Niki. It’s suspected he just managed to finish his act before emergency services could intervene. Whether he was an accomplished dentist or known to be a “good man” is irrelevant and damaging to how we understand men’s violence.

For anyone still deciding: Men who kill are not good blokes or fine men who just snapped.

This man is suspected of killing a woman he professed to love because she saw no future with him. While her family and friends pleaded for public support in finding her and waited breathlessly for her safe return, this man knew full well that Preethi Reddy had already taken her last dying gasp of oxygen when he stuffed her into a suitcase and left her to rot.

And yet, this cheeky guy pretended to assist police with their inquiries until, faced with the reality that he took her life, he followed the conventional script and took his own life. Murder-suicide is male entitlement writ large. Men who commit murder are just that - men who murder. They’re not “good”.

Meanwhile, the ABC reported - for no genuine reason - the custom of arranged marriages in Indian culture. Apparently, the killer’s family was allegedly pressuring him to marry:

“In some families, they will try and influence the boy or girl into an arranged marriage and it creates a lot of stress and misunderstandings. The stress, in some cases, could be extreme.”

The media has further dehumanised Dr Reddy, describing her death as a “Suitcase Murder”.

A suitcase was not murdered. A woman was. And that woman's name is Dr Preethi Reddy. That is what matters here.

When Niki was murdered, the media focused on honour killings, a torrid love triangle or literally anything to avoid the dark truth: At least one woman a week dies at the hands of a current or former partner.

Besides, I doubt many South Asians remember how - when their parents were trying to arrange their marriage - they crumbled under pressure so they decided to commit murder. When media reporting relies on ethnic difference or cultural customs to explain away misogyny and male entitlement, we help nobody.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, where women are finally being given some semblance of long overdue recognition, there is a responsibility for all men to understand the role they play in challenging the attitudes that, when left unchecked, allow women like Preethi to be killed.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, I’ll be remembering those who should still be. Preethi should still be here today. Niki should still be here today. So should far too many other women whose names we ought to know.

 Tarang Chawla is an award-winning writer and activist. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have experienced sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 (24/7 counselling).  If you are struggling mentally contact lifeline crisis support and suicide prevention on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.