A custody battle did not kill those kids – an evil man did
Three beautiful children and their loving mother died in the most horrendous circumstances yesterday.
Aaliyah, 6, her sister Laianah, 4, and their baby brother Trey, 3, were burned alive in their car, set alight by their father as their mother, Hannah Baxter, tried to take them to school.
Hannah survived the inferno that erupted after her ex-husband, Rowan Baxter, 42, poured petrol onto her car and set it alight, but died later in hospital from her terrible injuries.
Rowan Baxter is also alleged to have died at the scene from self-inflicted stab wounds.
Overwhelmingly, Australia has been sickened with horror at this tragedy that happened in the quiet Brisbane suburb of Camp Hill.
The idea of a parent killing their own children, especially in such a calculated, violent way, is incomprehensible to almost anyone.
That is, except for a small and deeply warped subset of the community that believes "nasty custody battles", the Family Court and a "system" that favours mothers over fathers can drive men to "snap" and kill their kids.
Here are a few of the comments that appeared on news sites about the tragedy:
"This is what happens when women try to take children from men after divorce. The system failed this loving father."
"The system kills innocent lives yet again."
"He did what he had to do to be with his children. That's what separations produce - a desperate parent and a winning parent. He decided he couldn't live without his kids. That's a committed parent. Good for him."
The thinking behind these unhinged views is that custody battles inevitably favour mothers, ripping loving fathers away from their kids, which in turn drives the fathers to "snap" and commit unspeakable violence against their own children, rather than face a life without them.
"Parental alienation" - where a custodial parent deliberately poisons a child against the non-custodial parent - is often cited as a trigger, along with a Family Court that is said to favour mothers over fathers.
Until there's more fairness, and until the court system is overhauled, the argument goes, more children's lives will be held to ransom by fathers who feel unfairly treated.
Setting aside the fact that the "system" wasn't involved in this family's case in the first place - reports say that there were no parenting orders or proceedings before the Family Court at all - the fact that this man burned his babies to death is all the evidence in the world anyone needs to understand that this mother was right to do whatever she could to keep her children away the danger he posed.
And anyone who tries to cite "parental alienation" as a factor that can drive a man to murder is simply wrong. And it does absolutely nothing to advance the idea that parental alienation is a real occurrence that needs to be addressed when it is being genuinely applied.
As someone who has researched parental alienation extensively, and spoken to dozens of mothers and fathers who have been separated from their children by a vengeful or disordered ex-partner, I am one of the few mainstream voices who accepts it is a very real condition.
I have spoken to credible women who watch helplessly as dominating men turn their own children against them as a way to assert control post-separation.
I know of demonstrably loving fathers who have been falsely accused of the most atrocious crimes so a mother can move interstate or overseas with their children without hindrance.
I'm across the work of University of Tasmania psychology lecturer Dr Mandy Matthewson, one of the few academics conducting real research into this poorly understood dynamic.
I know that for a good and loving parent, being separated from a child forces you to live in a permanent nightmare state.
It's endless, numbing grief without resolution - a living hell. It's also unspeakably destructive for children, who are forced to shut off their love for a parent for reasons they don't understand.
Often all that keeps these mothers and fathers from giving in completely to their despair - and yes, the anecdotal data suggests parental alienation is non-gendered and happens just as much to mothers as fathers - is the desperate hope that one day they will reunite with their children.
But no good and loving mother or father would ever consider that harming their own children was a reasonable way to end their own or their kids' suffering - not ever, not even during their darkest moments of grief.
And anyone who tries to link the two is excusing the actions of a reprehensible, violent man and undermining the reality of the thousands of good mothers and fathers who have been genuinely alienated.
Men like Rowan Baxter kill non-custodial children as an act of spousal revenge and to further assert their control over an ex-partner. Nothing excuses it. Nothing pushes them. No one backs them into a corner. No one forces them to do what they do.
In the day since this despicable murder took place, family members have set up a fundraising page to raise money for a funeral for Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey. Hannah's sister-in-law Stacey Roberts, who is running the page, describes how Hannah's parents, the children's grandparents, had "exhausted themselves" doing all they could "to try and help Hannah escape this monster" in the days and weeks leading up to this final, terrible moment.
This was not a man who was desperate to be reunited with his children because a mother took them away without reason. This was a man who drove a woman to flee with her children in an effort to keep them safe.
The Family Court and the "system" is far from perfect but the "system" did not fail Rowan Baxter.
Rowan Baxter is the only failure here.
Alex Carlton is a freelance writer | @Alex_Carlton