Woman opens up on sister's death at hands of 'jealous' partner

Gillian Wolski
·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·7-min read

Content warning: this story contains references to domestic abuse.

Bianca Unwin describes her older sister, Katie Haley, as being the happiest she'd ever been after getting together with her partner, Shane Robertson. The pair were always laughing and having fun.

The Unwins welcomed Shane into the family and he even joined them on holidays. But four years into their 'carefree and easy' relationship on March 9, 2018, Shane bashed mum-of-two Katie to death. She was 29.

Bianca Unwin and her father, Boyd Unwin, have taken part in SBS's three-part documentary on Australia's domestic violence crisis, See What You Made Me Do. Photo: Jackson Finter (supplied).
Bianca Unwin and her father, Boyd Unwin, have taken part in SBS's three-part documentary on Australia's domestic violence crisis, See What You Made Me Do. Photo: Jackson Finter (supplied).

'Never thought it would happen to us'

Younger sister Bianca, 23, re-lived that awful night in Melbourne's north-west almost a year later when the case went to trial in the Supreme Court.

Shane was sentenced to 24 years in jail for murdering Katie with a 40-centimeter dumbbell bar in what Justice John Champion described as "uncontrollable rage".

Now, Bianca and her family are once again revisiting Katie's 'incomprehensible' treatment at the hands of the man she loved for SBS's three-part documentary series, See What You Made Me Do.

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The series, inspired by investigative journalist and author Jess Hills' book of the same name, aims to spotlight the domestic violence crisis that currently grips the country.

On average, one woman a week is killed by a current or former partner in Australia, according to Our Watch. And Katie Haley was one of them.

It's been a painful and triggering experience, but, as Bianca tells Yahoo Lifestyle, it's essential to share Katie's story to highlight the fact that it could be anyone's story.

"This can happen to anyone," she says. "We never thought it would happen to us."

"We hear about domestic violence cases and someone losing their lives and we go, 'That's sad'. You sit there and go, 'That's so sad, this shouldn't be happening'. But we didn't really have a full understanding."

Katie Haley in December 2016. Photo: supplied.
Katie Haley in December 2016. Photo: supplied.

Truth comes out

Throughout the trial, Bianca and her family were confronted with a whole other, hidden side to Katie's life and her relationship with Shane. How jealous and possessive and controlling he had become.

"A lot of information came to light for our family that we weren't aware of," she explains.

"So we wanted to then further educate other people and other families because there were things that were not being conveyed to us [by Katie]," she adds.

Bianca says that it wasn't a case of Katie keeping secrets from her family, it was more that she had the attitude of "I'm an adult, I can handle it".

"Obviously, hindsight is a beautiful thing. And you can now say, 'Oh, that's not okay' or 'We should have seen it coming'.

"But at the time, without the full picture, we couldn't protect her. We couldn't say to her, 'This isn't okay. You need to get out'."

See What You Made Me Do explores a lesser-known form of domestic violence called 'coercive control'. Photo: supplied.
See What You Made Me Do explores a lesser-known form of domestic violence called 'coercive control'. Photo: supplied.

'All-consuming jealousy'

The full picture of Katie and Shane's relationship is a disturbing one. Following the birth of their first child together, Shane quickly became intensely jealous of his own baby and their bond with mum Katie.

"[The jealousy] became all-consuming to Shane and also to Katie because it was impacting every aspect of her life, from her work life to her family life to a social media," Bianca explains.

Shane began monitoring Katie's movements via phone and text all day, every day. Bianca recalls her sister constantly coming into start her shift at a local pub where they both worked while on a call with Shane, assuring him of her whereabouts.

"She had to call him the moment she was done [with her shift]. She wouldn't even be able to stay and have lunch with me," Bianca says.

Shane set up fake Facebook and Instagram profiles, sometimes under women's names, to interrogate Katie, her friends and her colleagues. He was convinced she was flirting with other men at work.

When Bianca tried to mention this behaviour with Katie, she put it down to Shane being 'jealous' and 'immature'. She'd say it sometimes 'feels like she has three children' instead of two, Bianca says.

Jess Hill wrote See What You Made Me Do, which inspired the SBS series. Photo: John Platt (supplied).
Jess Hill wrote See What You Made Me Do, which inspired the SBS series. Photo: John Platt (supplied).

Coercive control

What was really happening was a case of coercive control, a form of domestic abuse that often doesn't involve physical violence, at least at first.

It's not a term that's had much recognition in Australia outside of domestic violence services until a few years ago, says Jess Hill who hosts the SBS series.

"When I released my book, mentioning coercive control mostly drew blank stares," she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

In Jess' opinion, the watershed moment occurred when Hannah Clarke and her three children were murdered her estranged husband, Rowan Baxter in 2020.

Rowan's abusive behaviour didn't fit the stereotypical physical abuse that immediately comes to mind when one hears 'domestic violence'. Hannah didn't consider herself a victim of domestic abuse because her husband had 'never' hit her.

"He was exhibiting all the signs of an incredibly dangerous coercive controller from his surveillance of Hannah through tracking apps on her phone through to the friends he wouldn't let her see or what he wouldn't let her wear," Jess explains.

"It can be very subtle or overt," she adds.

Bianca says she and her family didn't realise that domestic violence extended beyond the physical until it was sadly too late.

"More often than not, the physical abuse is the final side of a coercively controlled relationship," she says.

While Bianca does not feel responsible for her sister's death, she thinks that things may have been different if she and her family were better educated on what the different types of domestic violence can look like.

"Had we seen it, like my mum always says, we wouldn't have let Katie leave the house that day.

"If we had known that she was fearful or the extent of what was going on in their private life, she would never have left our house."

Katie did leave, however, to return home to Shane. While their 11-month-old child slept in the next room, Katie told him she'd had enough of his controlling behaviour and was leaving him. The two argued then Shane attacked and killed her.

Bianca Unwin and her older sister, Katie Haley snap a selfie. Photo: supplied.
Bianca Unwin and her older sister, Katie Haley snap a selfie. Photo: supplied.

'Everyone's problem'

Three years on from Katie's death, Bianca still struggles to sleep through the night. She can't help but let her mind wander back to that night and her sister's last hours.

"They say that she didn't see it coming. But you don't know that for sure. You don't know how long they were arguing prior to him attacking her."

Making sure that Katie's two children are surrounded with love and support helps Bianca and her family cope with their loss. And the fact that sharing Katie's story might prevent it from happening to someone else.

"Just because [domestic violence] is happening behind closed doors doesn't mean it is a private problem. It's everyone's problem.

"Because the person who is being domestically abused could be your mother, your sister, your brother, your father, your son or daughter. It could be a friend; there is no discrimination when it comes to who can commit those crimes and who can be victims of those crimes.

"We have the ability to have the conversations to try and educate someone who's doing it and to try and help someone who needs to get out."

See What You Made Me Do premieres 8:30pm Wednesday 5 May on SBS, NITV and SBS On Demand.

See What You Made Me Do leads a suite of programming across SBS and NITV that aligns with Domestic & Family Violence Awareness Month and helps raise awareness for the domestic abuse epidemic.

The series will be available with subtitles in six languages (Simplified Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Hindi, Punjabi and Korean) and there will be audio description for blind or vision-impaired viewers

If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual or domestic abuse, don't suffer in silence, call 1800 RESPECT any time of day or night.

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