Skip to main content


From their first date, Rekiah O’Donnell’s partner showed worrying signs. At the time, that would have been “flattering” but the danger lurked.

Rekiah O’Donnell was just 22 when she was killed by her abusive partner, Nelson Lai, 35, who shot her in the head while standing in her Sunshine Coast bedroom . He was convicted of manslaughter but not guilty of murder after a jury ruled he did not know the gun was loaded.

Ms O’Donnell’s death was the culmination of a relationship marred by coercive control and physical abuse, a pattern of control that slowly unfolded for both Ms O’Donnell and her family.

“He seemed to have a hold on her that no one could understand at the time,” says Ms. O’Donnell’s mother, Kerryn Robertson.

“Rekiah’s friend later told us there were warning signs even on their first date when Nelson accused Rekiah of flirting with the other guy.

“But at this point, I guess Rekiah found it flattering that he was jealous.”

Ms Robertson was not aware of her daughter’s relationship until six months after they met, when Ms O’Donnell disclosed the abuse, revealing a black eye.

At this point however, she was already under the spell of her attacker. A fate that will last until his violent death in October 2013, 14 months after their first date.

“It was hard for us to figure out how she could let these things happen when she had always had a will so strong that she would let someone else control her,” says Ms. Robertson.

History of abuse

While she worried about her daughter’s safety, neither of them knew her future killer was being abused, and that a former partner and two children were hiding from him.

“I don’t know what Rekiah knew about his previous abusive relationship at first, but she told us that she could see good in him and that she was helping him change so that he could see his children,” explains Ms. Robertson.

The family only realized the extent of her abuse when the case was brought to court in 2015. While Lai was convicted of negligent manslaughter, it was too late for Ms. O ‘ Connell.

“Abusers hardly ever change, so past behavior is very important information for a new partner,” says Dr Anni Gethin, executive director of Brigid Justice, a women’s rights and peer support charity. victims of domestic violence.

The justice arm of the charity is a one-of-a-kind law firm, established to provide legal advice to victim-survivors who are placed in what is known as the “justice deficit” – those who do not. cannot access legal aid but may not afford a market lawyer either.

Brigid Justice is currently investigating a new campaign, Brigid Notice, which aims to warn women who are dating a known abuser.

What is Brigid Notice?

“The whole point is to provide the kind of warning that we would have liked,” says Dr Gethin.

“Previous partners often warn the new partner, but it’s not going anywhere because the guy is in the love bomb phase.

“Formal, factual advice is a much more serious warning – and the woman knows where to go for help when the abuse inevitably begins.”

Dr Gethin says the proposed system would work by asking a victim-survivor to provide Brigid Justice with details of the abuse and any supporting evidence, as well as the name of the alleged abuser’s new partner.

“We would then put these details on a formal notice and by email to the new partner.

“We plan to include all criminal, DV-related and other offenses. Of course, most VIs are not the subject of criminal charges, or even a criminal offense.

“Emotional, psychological, legal and financial abuse is for the most part legally acceptable in Australia, so ideally these behaviors should be recorded as well. ”

Essentially, Brigid Notice will take the ‘right to know’ aspect of Clare’s law in the UK (which is about physical violence and operates on the basis of the right to ask, the right to know), but expanding it to provide women with information that could protect them from a wider range of abuse.

“It could potentially save lives, especially with the more violent perpetrators, like the guy who murdered Hannah Clark and her children – because he had a serious history of abuse,” said Dr Gethin.

“But the majority of abusers don’t kill their partners, they destroy them psychologically, emotionally and financially.

“For many women, they will have no previous experience of actual violence, so having received a General Notice (BN) before will be extremely validating and protection from the gas light, making it easier to get started.”

The “ex-mad” trope

Dr Gethin says Brigid Notice would also act as an antidote to the commonly used “crazy ex” trope, often used in response to allegations of abuse.

“My abuser told me a lot of stories,” says Michelle Stevens. *

“There were terrible stories about two ‘damaged’ ex-wives and four ‘troubled and disturbing’ children.

“He told me that his ex-wives were verbally and physically abusive towards him and his children.

“He did not disclose that his unstable work history across multiple continents was actually the result of a series of negotiated departures, or that his most recent ex-partner had called the police and hired a lawyer after the having harassed and severely harassed.

“My attacker operated from a playbook. He would spread a few crumbs of truth to appear honest and trustworthy.

The man’s second ex-wife briefly took Ms Stevens aside in an initial meeting to offer her words of warning, but these were quickly rejected by her partner.

“She had less than ten minutes to disclose her serious concerns about her ex-husband as he floated around with their young child,” Ms Stevens said.

“My attacker was alarmed when he saw her ex talking with me and insisted that she was extremely ‘jealous of our happiness’.”

Refuse, attack and reverse the victim and the offender

As it turned out, Ms Steven’s partner was using a common manipulation strategy known as DARVO – denying, attacking and reversing the victim and the offender, with almost all of his ex-wife’s predictions coming true.

“I had to find out – at the cost of almost my life – that most, if not all of what my abuser told me was wrong,” Ms. Stevens said.

“As dawn broke, I came out of a long night in the hospital emergency room after a violent and terrifying physical attack.

“Several weeks later, an ultrasound and an x-ray revealed a three-millimeter tear in my shoulder rotator cuff. It was then that I remembered the warning from the second ex-wife.

Ms Stevens believes that if she had received a Brigid or something similar notice from a neutral third party, the “pale pink flags that appeared early in the relationship would have instantly turned fire red.”

“I would have taken both my instincts and the Brigid Notice into account and left much sooner. I would have avoided long lasting emotional trauma and physical injury, ”she added.

Traffic signs

Domestic violence counselor Dr Jillian Stanfield says warnings from previous partners are relatively common, but most new partners will dismiss them as acts of jealousy or mental instability.

“Until the new partner experiences the abuse or has evidence of previous abuse, such as a police case, then it will be difficult to convince a new partner that they have chosen to be in a relationship with a person. who is a perpetrator of domestic violence. Said Dr Stanfield.

“Red flags are easily ignored if the abuser started the relationship with a destructive love bombardment, where he excessively fills his love interest with gifts, compliments and attention.

“If a new partner is aware of abusive behavior, some personalities believe they can ‘fix’ an abusive person and the abuser just needs to be understood.

“Sometimes new partners can see the red flags, but just need that extra information to confirm what’s already going on in their head.”

Dr Stanfield says information provided by a trusted third party, as well as the evidence, is likely to be more convincing than warnings from an ex-partner or other unreliable sources.

“Unfortunately, many abusers are not held accountable for their actions and their victims are relieved simply to be pulled out of their abusive relationship. Therefore, these VI perpetrators will have no documented history and are free to do the same in their next relationship.

“If a person does not understand what coercive control looks like, they will not be able to put their finger on what is happening to them.

“Using the Bridge Trust Alert System can be effective in reducing incidents of VI when used as part of a holistic strategy that includes educating the community about red flags, healthy relationships and support services; and rehabilitation programs for VI perpetrators. “

It’s a bittersweet prospect for Ms Robertson, who would love nothing more than to see the abusers arrested before it’s too late.

“If women could access official information about potential abusers, then they could hopefully make a rational decision to begin with,” she said.

“Once the control and manipulation starts, it’s so hard, and then there’s the fear, which Rekiah also experienced.

“The perpetrators of domestic violence have always gotten off the hook lightly. If this information had been available to Rekiah, then maybe, just maybe, it might have kept her from making that fateful decision to continue a relationship with him.

Nicole Madigan is a freelance journalist. Continue the conversation @NicoleLMadigan