Hi Mum, I’m gay

Here is a tale of two sons. The first, Peter Wood, is a 57-year-old gay Catholic priest. He works in AIDS pastoral care and education in the Northern Territory, and has co-authored a new book on the issues parents face when a child announces that he or she is gay.

Wood describes the defining moment of his life this way: “I was cursed by my mother. She was not an evil woman – on the contrary – and certainly didn’t intend to do anything so crude or so cruel. Nevertheless, that is what it felt like: a curse.

“One evening, when I was about 15 and we were gathered in the kitchen … she said, in response to nothing in particular that I can recall, that she would rather her sons dropped dead, right there and then, than grow up to be queer.

“I had three brothers and I was the one who had (well-founded) doubts about my sexuality and who eventually came to understand myself as a gay man. I could never bring myself to tell her who and what I was. I feared she might have meant exactly what she said.” He now lives a celibate life.

The second son is the product of a different time and a very different family, although they, too, are Catholic. Andrew Dutton, 21, had known he was gay since he was 13 or 14. He did not come out until the end of secondary school. Like Peter Wood, his defining moment centred around a family meal.

He had invited his parents, Sylvie and Graham, to a restaurant, telling them he had something to announce. But when the time came he froze. Says Sylvie: “We were urging him to tell us and he shrank in his chair and looked terrified. He looked so sad and that’s when I knew … And I said, ‘You just answer yes or no to a few questions’.”

She made them silly ones, to make him laugh: “I needed that look to go away.” Did he want to become a priest? Was his girlfriend pregnant? Had he killed anybody?
Was he gay?

“He said this little ‘yes’,” she says, the thought of his distress upsetting her even now. “He couldn’t talk.” Her own first thought was of AIDS: “I’m going to have a dead son soon.” Her second was full of love: “If Andrew is gay, then gay is good.”

The foundations of this close family remained unshaken. Andrew was interviewed for this story in his parent’s home, his partner Douglas Leitch beside him, and his mother, father, sisters, aunt and grandmother all present. They are unswerving in their support of him and can laugh now about the funny aspects of his coming-out (Andrew’s aunt had asked him, “Why don’t you try kissing a girl?” to which he replied, “Why don’t you?”)

Andrew says his story is exceptional; he knows of few other gays whose coming out has been so untraumatic.

Peter Wood and his fellow author, Joan Golding, spend much of their time counselling parents who are struggling to cope with shock, rage, grief, guilt and shame. Their book, Coming Out, Coming Home: Growth in freedom for the parents of gay and lesbian children, is designed to inform and help people work through what is, for many, a complex process.

Joan Golding nursed her son Martin for three years before his death from AIDS in 1989. Martin was in his early 30s. Since then, his mother has become a volunteer worker with the Victorian AIDS Council, the Churches AIDS Pastoral Care and Education Program and the Victorian Department of Human Services.

Wood asked her to share writing the book, which includes chapters such as “First Reactions and Second Thoughts”, “God, Goodness and Gays”, “Homophobia” and “Parents of Gay Children”.

Golding says some parents, particularly fathers, react with extreme anger. “I remember a boy whose father went to his flat when he was out, took all his furniture out and burnt it on the nature strip outside.

“Some men feel there’s something terribly evil about homosexuality and they want to destroy anything connected with it. They also want to demonstrate that their own masculinity hasn’t been diminished by the revelation that their son is gay.”

While Golding says this is the worst response she has encountered, Wood believes that: “Anger expressed in action is probably easier to deal with than the ongoing coldness of ‘you are dead to me’.”

Both are critical of medical or religious figures who claim to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation. Wood once knew a man who had been a gifted pianist until his wealthy parents sent him to the United States for “treatment” for his homosexuality. He was lobotomised, his personality and his gifts destroyed.

Wood met him in a NSW psychiatric hospital: “The staff had a record of him playing the piano when he was a prodigy and that was the only thing that would quieten him when he was in his mania.”
Golding says some psychiatric treatments, such as aversion therapy, are sometimes as devastating to the subjects as surgical procedures: “They end up not knowing who they are.”

Golding and Wood’s book focuses on helping parents adjust to their child’s sexuality and to be wholehearted about it. In her list of unhelpful parental responses, Golding includes: “We told him we loved him anyway.”
She writes: “Better to say nothing at all! Families should love their children because of who they are, in every sense, otherwise their love cannot be said to be unconditional, which is the only sort worth having, isn’t it?”

Wood is similarly critical of his own church’s official attitude to gays, which is that homosexual activity is sinful and that homosexuals are deserving of compassion. “We don’t want compassion, we want respect,” he says.

But the book is also sympathetic to parents who find themselves pressured to deal with situations for which they are not ready. Children, says Golding, are often “not at all conscious of that and expect parents to snap to and be accepting”.

Wood writes: “I remember one fellow, who was himself very straight-looking and held a responsible job, who fell madly for an exotic and flamboyant character whom he insisted on taking home to his very middle-class parents for Christmas.

“He came to me in distress because the occasion had been extremely uncomfortable for everyone, loaded with pregnant silences, feigned attempts at joviality and even, at times, his mother weeping in other rooms. (His parents) had actually travelled quite a distance, but they had their limitations. We all do, in one way or another.”

Sylvie Dutton knows what hers are. She spent the first little while after Andrew’s coming-out in her own closet: “I told myself I was all right, but I was too scared to tell anyone.” So she joined P.Flag, a support group for families of homosexuals.

Now she has come to terms with homosexuality – Andrew jokes that she is more involved with the gay community than he is – but she finds homophobia extremely painful. “My child is hated by a lot of people and this has put a knife in my heart,” she says.

“I am still really sad that Andrew is gay, because he is in a minority group and no one wants their child to be in a minority group. And I worry about his safety; I would love for him and Douglas to be able to walk openly, hand in hand.”

But there is one place they are always welcome. Douglas’s parents are planning to come down from Queensland for a holiday soon. The Duttons will be having them to dinner so the families can get to know each other. It’s so nice when in-laws get on.

· Coming Out, Coming Home: Growth in freedom for the parents of gay and lesbian children, by Joan Golding and Peter Wood, Spectrum Publications, $14.95. P.Flag (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) offers information and support and can be contacted on 9511 4083.

First published in The Age.

Sex and surveillance

It seemed a little case, but it has big ramifications. It began at Western Hospital, where an orderly/security officer was noticed to be frequently absent from his post. Covert surveillance revealed why: he was spending more than a quarter of his work time in an audio-visual room, watching porn on the Internet.

He was sacked and appealed against the dismissal. The ruling: he didn’t have a leg to stand on. “I consider the use of pornographic material in the workplace to be totally and absolutely inappropriate,” Industrial Relations Commissioner Foggo said in his June ruling on the case.

Commissioner Foggo found that watching porn on the Net at work was, in itself, an offence serious enough to justify instant dismissal, before even considering the related questions of neglect of duties and lost productivity.

Immediate termination is a punishment traditionally associated with the more dramatic breaches of workplace etiquette, such as punching out the boss or arriving at the office reeling drunk. Now, it seems, failure to keep oneself nice on the Net has joined the list of capital offences.

This will no doubt be concentrating the minds of the 100 or so employees of the Australian Bureau of Statistics who are being investigated for allegedly sending or receiving pornographic pictures, downloaded from the Internet, through internal office e-mail.

It is believed that their illicit activities were discovered during a routine security sweep of the staff’s personal e-mail files. Covert surveillance of the hospital orderly, however, only began after suspicions of wrong-doing. But both cases raise questions, not only about staff using office facilities to embrace the world of cybersex, but about employers using the hi-tech tactics of Big Brother.

In the Western Hospital case, Commissioner Foggo acknowledged some disquiet over the monitoring issue: “I have some problem with the surveillance being installed and employees not being aware of it. However … I concur with the view of the management of the hospital … that the workload issue, the integrity of the health care and the security services and, as it turned out, the use of pornographic material, even though it was not known at that stage, do, in the end, justify the use of surveillance.”

According to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, more than half of Australia’s biggest companies carry out video surveillance of their employees and the general public. And 15 per cent of those who do so do not inform their staff of it. Those who do tell their staff usually do not reveal details, such as where and when the monitoring takes place. Many employers also monitor staff phone calls, e-mail and Internet use.

It is much harder to estimate the prevalence of furtive use of office computer facilities to access pornography.

Individual companies approached for comment refused to be part of this story. Telstra declined to confirm or deny a report that an employee was sacked several months ago for offences similar to those alleged at the ABS: “We cannot talk about individual employees,” says spokeswoman Liz McGrath.

But Telstra has adopted a hard-line policy on Internet use that is typical of the protocols many anxious companies now impose on their staff. McGrath says: “When staff sign up to use the Net, their general manager is required to sign a document saying that they understand that this is to be used for business purposes only and that any employee found to be downloading inappropriate material
would face internal disciplinary action or, where warranted, would be handed over to police.

“Staff are made very, very aware that there are controls in place to monitor their use of the Internet.”

So, what rights do staff have to privacy in their cyber communications?
None, apparently, says associate professor Julian Teichner, executive directior of the National Key Centre in Industrial Relations at Monash University.

“The normal rights we have, or assume we have, to privacy do not necessarily apply at work,” he says. “At work, you are really surrendering those rights. The (employer-staff) relationship, in the abstract, is one which is very restrictive of the individual … I think employers can introduce any surveillance they like.”

Teichner recalls an unfair dismissal case several years ago in which a union argued that one of its members was justified in having obscured the view of a surveillance camera because the camera had been installed without the union being informed: “The commission actually ignored the argument about whether the union should have been consulted.”

While staff surveilance may seem heavy-handed to some, most employers believe sexual harassment laws, which make an employer responsible for creating a working environment in which all are comfortable, force management to proactively screen for trouble of a sexual nature.

David Gregory, industrial relations manager for the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says viewing porn on the Net is no different to reading a pornographic magazine at your desk: “If someone happened to walk in and take that behavior the wrong way, it could constitute a breach of the sexual harassment laws.”
Last, but not least, is the question of the damage that could be done to a company’s good name if its staff become publicly associated with the transmission of prurient material. Recently, a long and bawdy limerick about the imagined sexual proclivities of political figures arrived unsolicited, and presumably accidentally, at an e-mail address at this newspaper. It came via a prestigious law firm.

That’s one of the terrible dangers of e-mail, says Professor Teichner: “Press the wrong button and you could send it to 1000 people.”

First published in The Age.

Kiss or kill

“Every woman adores a fascist

The boot in the face, the brute

Brute heart of a brute like you”
– Sylvia Plath, ‘Daddy’

MELBOURNE woman “Lorraine Brown” loved not wisely, but too well. She wrote to her husband of her passion for him: “The very thought of you and our love takes my breath away. My love for you, Trevor, is a tune, and every waking moment you are ‘Always on my mind’. My darling, your wants, needs, hurts are all mine. My very life is yours.”

The letter was read at her 1994 trial for his killing. She wept inconsolably throughout the hearing, which twice had to be adjourned when she could not contain her sobs. She told the court, “Yes, I wish I could have taken all his hurts … rather me have them than him … I loved that man. I would do anything for him.”

Her tenderness was rarely reciprocated. Trevor locked his wife naked in a cupboard, urinated on her, vomited on her and refused to let her clean herself afterwards. He raped her in their car in the street, forced large objects into her vagina, throttled her and dragged her around on the floor.

Yet, the night she was admitted to hospital after a fight in which he cut her fingers to the bone, she took off in a hospital gown to go home and make up with him. She found him drunk, stupefied, unresponsive. When he did acknowledge her attempt to embrace him, he called her a “f…… c…” and told her he would leave her. She stabbed him to death. She received a 28-month sentence, with a non-parole term of seven months.

The feminist analysis has it that such women are victims of their brutal men, who will not allow them to leave; that they are rejected and silenced by a community that does not want to have to deal with them; and that, when driven to kill in self-defence, they are dealt with harshly by a legal system that largely ignores the abuse they suffered.

The highest court in the land has now been asked to incorporate this view of gender politics into the Australian legal system. Bendigo woman Heather Osland has appealed against a 14-year sentence for her involvement in the killing of her sadistic husband, Frank, in 1991. Her case might set a precedent about the legal significance of battered women’s syndrome.

At present, as one lawyer told a jury, a battered woman cannot claim self-defence unless she kills while she’s “looking down the barrel of the only gun in the house, effectively”. That is, she must have killed while facing an immediate threat, and she must not have used any more force than was being used against her.

It is also difficult for battered women to claim provocation, which can reduce a murder charge to manslaughter, unless they can prove that they snapped in the face of an immediate provocation.

In reality, most abused women who kill attack their partner while he is unarmed, drunk, drugged or asleep, a reflection of differences in size and strength.

In the Osland case the main ground for the appeal is that Heather, who drugged Frank and held him as he twitched after her son David bludgeoned him to death, was convicted, while David, who struck the blows, was acquitted.

If the one who wielded the weapon did not commit murder, of what, then, can Heather be guilty?

But Heather Osland’s barrister, Dr Jocelynne Scutt, also told the High Court in April that judges should be required to tell juries to take into account the effects of years of battering, which can leave a woman feeling that the only way she can escape is to kill her jailer.
There is concern that such a change could be a licence for bedroom vigilantism. Justice Michael Kirby said he could understand someone reaching breaking point, “but that we would be laying down the legal principle that people can go around shooting sleeping people … I certainly could not agree to that … You can’t make people immune from the law of homicide”.

Scutt told him that her argument did uphold the sanctity of human life – it supported the battered woman’s right to preserve her own.

But is it as simple as that? Heather Osland left Frank eight times, but that means she went back to him eight times.

At least once she was rescued by others; her local minister and men from her parish descended on her house with station-wagons and trailers, packing up her, her children and her belongings and taking them to a safe place.

But she soon returned to her husband, as so many battered women do. How can you help women who seem to collude in their own abuse? Is there a moral obligation to rescue people who don’t want to be rescued? And why on earth do these women put up with it, anyway?

The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre would have accused them of living in bad faith, of not being true to themselves, of not taking responsibility for their lives. But then, Sartre did not believe that people can be driven by inner forces of which they are unconscious. He never came to terms with the fragility of human freedom.

THE High Court of Australia is a stolid, heavy-set building, the architectural embodiment of judicial gravitas. It dwarfs the couple of dozen women milling about its entrance this crisp Canberra morning in “Release Heather” T-shirts.

They have brought life-size cut-out figures made by women who have lived through domestic violence. A mother looks down at a small child clinging to her legs; her hand is tied to the child and the child is tied to her feet. Another female figure is hunched over a set of rosary beads: “I kept praying he would change, I kept praying he would change, I kept praying he would change . . .”
Inside the court, the issues face a different kind of scrutiny. Even some feminist lawyers privately believe that Osland’s case was not the best vehicle for the High Court action and regret that the sisterhood did not wait for a better one.

Frank Osland was undoubtedly a brute. He bashed Heather and her four children. He beat the dog so badly it had to be put down and he killed the children’s cat with a piece of pipe (perhaps it was no coincidence that this was the weapon Heather and her son chose for him).

Frank Osland raped Heather so fiercely that she suffered chronic urinary tract infections and tears to the vagina and anus. He tried to exercise complete control over the family and often threatened to kill them and chop them up. Late in Heather’s joint trial with her son, David haltingly, shamefacedly, revealed that Frank had also raped him when he was 14.

But Heather Osland and her son dug a grave for Frank before he was killed, and she later was recorded on police telephone intercepts saying that the killing had been planned for a week. This suggests premeditation.

Other feminists, such as lawyer and former equal opportunity commissioner Moira Rayner, say this case tests whether provocation and self-defence must relate to an immediate threat: “Because the killing was not that immediate, it’s really pushing the envelope. ”

Rayner’s trust, set up to help fund equal opportunity complaints, contributed to Osland’s appeal because it raised issues of access to justice for battered women, “who have never been able to avail themselves of the provocation defence”, Rayner says.
She cites the Western Australian case of “Nina”, a woman who shot her husband dead when he taunted her about how he had sexually abused her children.

“Everybody said the law of provocation was adequate. But on appeal, the judge couldn’t understand that she was acting in a state of automatism . . . The Nina case showed me that the judge didn’t understand that someone can suddenly snap after 30 years of being mild . . . because of what had happened over decades.”

Rayner is one of many who argue that the law’s “bar-room brawl” immediacy requirement, designed for the eruptions that typify male loss of control, does not allow for the “slow burn” experiences that drive women to lethal violence.

A lecturer in law at Melbourne University, Bronwyn Bartal, says that provocation privileges anger as a driving force over other emotions including fear and compassion (as in the euthanasia of a suffering spouse).

She also criticises the extent to which self-defence requires “proportionality”: that defensive force be no stronger than the force used by the attacker. It developed from the rules of honor and fair play regulating the duelling encounters of aristocratic males. But women are usually smaller and weaker than their partners, says Bartal, and have little choice but to use a weapon. (Women are far more likely to be killed by their partner than are men; a NSW study found that 73 per cent of spouse killings were committed by men.)
Forensic psychologist Dr Kenneth Byrne often gives expert evidence about the typical pattern of battering partnerships. He says the woman is often isolated, deprived of food or sleep, threatened with torture or death, sexually abused and instilled with a sense of terror that makes it difficult for her to think clearly. Severe batterings are administered unpredictably and have little relation to her behavior, which leaves her feeling helpless to avoid them.
Bashers tend to be men who blame others for their problems, deal poorly with stress, and believe that wives and children are there to serve them. They use sex as an act of aggression to humiliate women and bolster their own shaky self-esteem. They are also pathologically jealous.

But the theory of battered woman syndrome, as this cluster of characteristics is known, has its flaws. Many of the women supposedly suffering “learnt helplessness” try to escape, and it seems paradoxical to argue that a woman who killed her abuser felt helpless.

Mark Weinberg, then a QC for Victoria’s Office of Public Prosecutions, told the High Court in the Osland case that any change to the legal significance of the syndrome should be left to Parliament: “It’s too important.” Male fears of women’s untrammelled murderous impulses were alluded to more directly at Osland’s original trial, when Justice John Hedigan touched on the need for her sentence to be a warning to other women: “Perhaps it’s just generally deterring wives from killing husbands . . . There are certainly 48 per cent of the community who are in favor (of that), whatever I think.”
Phil Cleary cannot be counted among them. Cleary is the former independent MP whose sister, Vicki, was tracked down and knifed in 1987 by an ex-boyfriend she had left four months earlier. Cleary is astounded that Heather Osland received a 14-year sentence while his sister’s killer served only three-and-a-half years. “If provocation is no more than ‘A woman left a man, so he’s pissed off’, that is a barbaric view of the relationship between men and women,” he says. “That is looking at women as property.”
He holds the media partly responsible, citing newspaper stories about the murder of women by men that had dangerously euphemistic headlines, such as “Love pulls the trigger”. He also believes that there is a class element: “The killing of women is written off because they are usually working class, so they’ve got no political clout.”

But he wonders whether the imbalance is really due to an underlying force that is more pervasive but less tangible, perhaps the Judeo-Christian notion of woman as the root of all evil: “Is it Adam and Eve? Or is it deeper, something about the relationship between men and women?”
THE LOVE Lorraine imagined she had with her husband was not merely the fantasy of a disordered mind. There are intense ties in these couples, and such men can be charming, affectionate and convincing in their protestations that it will never happen again. “They are very loving and attentive, and the woman is so important to them,” says Rosalie Pattenden, a counsellor with Relationships Australia.

Associate professor of law at Melbourne University, Jenny Morgan, is impatient with the question, Why doesn’t the woman leave? She points out that most of them do leave, repeatedly, but are often obsessively pursued. “The real question is, ‘Why won’t he let her go?’ ” (And, however else these women’s perceptions might be distorted, their fear that the man will kill them if they leave is solidly founded: almost half the women murdered by their partners die as a result of trying to separate.)
Morgan says it is hard for women to leave because they are financially vulnerable and anxious about caring for their children alone – and, often, they love the man. “In all sorts of other circumstances we think love is a fine emotion,” she says. “Women are supposed to be sharing and caring, and we admire that elsewhere, but suddenly here, we think they’re stupid. All we can see from outside is the violence but relationships are always more complicated than that.”

Kerrie Collings, a Queensland psychotherapist who treats battered women, says these relationships are the result of disturbed childhoods. She says every child wants to perceive its parent as good in order to maintain a desperately needed sense of attachment: “If the parent is abusive, the child might cut off all feelings, so that they don’t feel anything at all, or they might idealise the other, as in ‘They’re doing it for my own good; I’m bad, I deserve this.’ ”
COLLINGS says about 4 per cent of people suffer “disorganised” attachment as children, in which emotional links with others are based on threats and fear of abandonment. This becomes a model that they carry into their adult relationships. (It is typical for battering to intensify whenever a woman tries to assert herself in a relationship, which increases the man’s fear that she might decide to leave him.)

But if both partners have suffered similar childhood abuse, why is there a gender split in their response to it, with men growing up to batter and women to be battered?

Dr Jon Kear-Colwell, senior lecturer in forensic psychology at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, points out that all male mammals are more aggressive than females. Innate differences are then reinforced by child-rearing practices: “Often when boys are punished by their parents, they are given a smack on the leg; it’s the behavior that’s dealt with. When girls are naughty, guilt is used to make them feel responsible.”

It may not be that women love the fascist boot, but they do tend to feel responsible for having somehow provoked the kick (and, like Lorraine Brown, responsible for “healing” the emotional wounds of the man who delivers it).

The Wounded Prince and the Women who Love Him is a paper by two American family therapists, Gillian Walker and Virginia Goldner. They argue that many of our culture’s myths of female love (such as Cordelia’s for Lear) centre on the notion of the wounded male nursed by the compassionate woman.

Walker and Goldner say the violent man justifies himself by describing his partner as a bad woman: she is provocative, she is or will be unfaithful, she is insensitive to his vulnerabilities. “And then, in the honeymoon of contrition and forgiveness which follows the violence, this evil female figure transmutes into the longed-for, irreplaceable nurse/mother, who knows and cares for this hurt man/boy better than anyone else . . .”
The woman is beset by self-doubt. To protect the relationship, she holds on to seeing him as wounded and in need of care. This causes the man to get in touch with emotions that frighten him, such as his infantile terror of abandonment, so he feels that the woman’s love weakens him. The cycle of attack and contrition continues.

This kind of psychologising exasperates women’s activists, most of whom also dislike the concept of battered woman’s syndrome. They analyse the issue politically and see battering as an extreme outcome of the power imbalance between men and women in society. The battered woman is not mentally ill; she is having a normal human reaction to extraordinary stresses. They have a case. There is evidence that an abusive environment can reduce anyone to psychic rubble.

In 1973 a Californian psychology professor, Philip Zimbardo, recruited intelligent male middle-class university students to live in a mock prison for two weeks. The men were screened to ensure they were psychologically stable and randomly assigned the role of guard or prisoner.

The “guards” quickly turned sadistic. The abuse they meted out to the “prisoners” triggered in their captives symptoms including extreme depression, disorganised thinking, uncontrollable crying and fits of rage – classic responses of the battered woman. The experiment had to be aborted after only six days.

Zimbardo later wrote that a perverted symbiotic relationship had developed: “As the guards became more aggressive, prisoners became more passive; assertion by the guards led to dependency in the prisoners; self-aggrandisement was met with self-deprecation, authority with helplessness, and the counterpart of the guards’ sense of mastery and control was the depression and hopelessness (of) the prisoners.”

Zimbardo wondered whether this happens in the everyday social “jails” of racism, sexism – and bad marriages.

But the fact that they chose to flee their jail can be no comfort to women such as Vicki Cleary. The role of guard is much more powerful than that of prisoner, and in real life, there is often no outsider to call an end to the game.

“Sharon” had tried to leave her husband, “Pete”, many times. Once he caught her and beat her with a wheelbrace; another time he terrorised the refuge she was staying in. When she got right away and hid interstate, she made the mistake of sending a letter to her children in which she mentioned that it had been raining. Pete phoned meteorology to find out which part of the continent had been having wet weather and next day packed up the kids and drove from Queensland to Perth to haul her back.

Over the years he tied her to a tree and lashed her, aborted her with a teaspoon and forced her to drink his urine and her menstrual blood.

Sharon told the court that one baby, Molly, did not die of cot death as she had reported but had been smothered in her cot by Pete. He repeatedly raped another daughter, Jenny, from the age of eight through to 14, when Sharon finally found out and told police. “Got rid of one and f….. the other,” he would brag to her.

One morning an exhausted Sharon crawled out of bed to make Pete breakfast. He had been sick and bad-tempered for days. He refused the meal and snarled when she tried to return for more sleep: “What do you want to get back into f…… bed for, you dog?” She fetched his gun – she had always been terrified of guns – and shot him dead. She hid the body in her yard.

That’s another problem with these cases; the women often “snap” over a seemingly trivial incident.

In Sharon’s case the prosecutor, Tom Gyorffy, pointed out that “We, as a community, wrestle every February with our consciences over having an open season for shooting ducks. Human life is worth more than that. Nobody in this community, no matter how nasty they are, is shootable.”

Juries are often told that a trial is just a sifting of the relevant facts, not a search for the truth of everything that happened. Enough was prised from Sharon, in the clipped, stony questions and answers of the courtroom, to win her a verdict of manslaughter and a suspended sentence. But the police record of interview at her arrest gives hints of another aspect of the story, one not put to any jury.

A week before the shooting Sharon had received a letter from a friend who had lost a grandchild to cot-death. It brought back so many memories of her Molly, she told police. And she had no trouble remembering the date on which she had killed Pete, whose body had been decomposing in her yard for months. “It was the 21st of May because it was the day – it was the day – it was the day of me daughter that died’s birthday. Molly Rose. She would’ve been 25.”

But then, courts are not required to know the full truth about everything.

The names of Lorraine and Sharon and their families have been changed.

First published in The Age.