Anguished dads unite over Darcey

Conrad Walters
February 1, 2009

AS VIGILANTES on Facebook called for capital punishment to be reinstated for the father of Darcey Freeman, who was thrown from Melbourne's West Gate Bridge, support organisations for separated families yesterday appealed for people to understand the pressures faced by estranged parents.

Eighteen Facebook groups with more than 60,000 members in total have united on the social networking site as people from around the world continue to express sorrow over Thursday's death of the four-year-old girl.

Most comments offered sympathy to the child's mother and two surviving brothers, but many directed their emotions towards the child's father, Arthur Freeman, 35, who has been charged with murder.

One member sought to lobby politicians, writing, "Bring back the death penalty" for "child killers". Subsequent postings sought vengeance.

But Wendy Sturgess, chief executive for Crisis Support Services, said Mensline Australia, a phone line for fathers suffering after family break-ups, had seen a spike in calls from anguished fathers.

Ms Sturgess said: "We've had many, many calls in the past two days from right around the country from men saying to us, 'I know what it's like to be driven to that point. I know what it's like to be so much in pain that that's the only way I can think, to end my life or to end my children's lives.' Some men are ringing, saying 'I realise how close I've been to doing that myself."'

Other callers were equally disturbed by the incident and felt shamed by their own behaviour, a response that Ms Sturgess said was counterproductive.

"If we isolate them and make them demons, they'll be less likely to seek help," she said.

Mensline Australia receives up to 150 calls a day and helps 50,000 men a year. Research has shown that men without their children are five times more prone to commit suicide than fathers who live with their children.

While not condoning the actions allegedly taken by Freeman, Ms Sturgess urged people to try to view the case with compassion.

"How horrific the circumstances must have been for him to do what he did," she said. "Vigilantes saying that this man should be strung up [it] just breeds more hate."

The Mensline Australia counselling line is available 24 hours a day: 1300 789 978.

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