Brenda Carlyle placed a notice in her local newspaper advertising a homicide victims’ support group. (ABC Great Southern: Tom Edwards)
Ann witnessed her kids being shot dead; now she’s helping others deal with unthinkable grief
The shared horror of losing family members to homicide has united two women in their quest to form a unique support group in Western Australia.
- Two women who have lost loved ones to homicide have banded together to offer peer support
- They say being able to talk with others who have been through the same trauma is helpful
- Trauma victims can feel isolated and abnormal says one expert
Maria Noakes and Brenda Carlyle, who both live in the regional town of Albany, have each had close family members murdered.
They met when Ms Noakes answered a notice in her local newspaper advertising a homicide victims’ support group.
Her son Damian was murdered in 2012.
The advertisement was placed by Ms Carlyle, whose brother Phillip was murdered on the Gold Coast 20 years ago.
“I thought, ‘At long last’. It felt so good to reach out to someone I knew who had been in the same circumstances that I had been,” Ms Noakes said.
“It was a relief, in a way, just to meet her and to be able to talk.
“We don’t go into the details of how we lost our loved ones, but we go into how hard it is some days just to get out of bed, let alone leave the house.”
Maria Noakes says only those who have had a similar experience understand the profound loss. (ABC Great Southern: Tom Edwards)
Safe place to heal each other
Galvanised by their meeting, the two women wanted to establish a peer support group to help others who have had a family member or loved one murdered.
Rather than the conventional model of receiving grief counselling from a trained therapist, the group would be an informal space for people to share their experiences of homicide.
“It’s just about being able to listen to one another,” Ms Carlyle said.
“There are no rules around it, [it’s] just people being real and knowing that there’s someone who understands.”
Dr Ann O’Neill says there is a “huge need” for trauma recovery but not enough resources to deliver it consistently. (Australian Story: Marcus Alborn)
Latest figures from the National Homicide Monitoring Program reveal there were 487 homicides in Australia between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2014.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Of those victims, 64 per cent were male with the offending rate of men committing homicide six times higher than women.
In WA, police use the Victims of Crime network to refer family members of homicide victims to an appropriate support service.
This includes the charity Angelhands, founded in 2001 by Ann O’Neill, who lost both her children to homicide in 1994.
Angelhands trains people they call Trauma Recovery Angels to provide therapeutic assistance to people who have experienced extreme forms of trauma including — but not exclusively — homicide.
Peer support can be valuable
Dr O’Neill said Angelhands provides a safe space where victims can have their feelings normalised.
“One of the first things that people who have been through homicide talk about is feeling isolated and abnormal,” she said.
“So, just meeting other people and knowing that the feelings and experiences you’re having are normal is such a powerful thing.”
Damian Noakes was murdered by a homeless man he had taken into his Perth unit in 2012. (ABC Great Southern: Tom Edwards)
Dr O’Neill said there was real value in the concept of a peer support group such as the one being proposed by Ms Noakes and Ms Carlyle.
“Of course, you have to be the sort of person who will go into a group for that to work for you,” she said.
“But for those who want it, it’s an absolutely essential part of recovering — to know and to meet other people and explore the similarities and differences and experiences.”
Ms O’Neill said there was a huge need for trauma recovery across the state, but few resources to deliver it consistently.
“The world is just starting to recognise the need for trauma recovery and not just at the point of crisis, but long after,” she said.
“Currently our community isn’t resourced to do that.”
Living with the grief of homicide
For Ms Noakes, the death of her son Damian has had a profound effect on her life.
“People walk up to you and say ‘Aren’t you over that yet?’ How am I meant to get over the loss of my son?” she said.
“The way he was murdered was horrific. I live that every day. It never goes away, and there are so many other people out there like me.”
Despite murder numbers falling in Australia — the rate of one in 100,000 during 2013/2014 is the lowest since 1989/1990 — Ms Noakes said more support was needed.
“A murder is like a ripple on a lake,” she said.
“It starts at a point and as that ripple spreads it gets bigger and bigger and it affects more people.
“Not all the siblings of murder victims live in Perth. How many are down here [in Albany] and needing something like this? How many grandparents are down here needing this group?
“You can’t tell me there are not people in Albany who haven’t been touched by murder and who need to come and sit and share things.”