Rosie Batty – how do you begin to describe her courage? She left him. She found something inside her that pushed her onwards, forwards, past the fear. No one will ever know the torment that she endured inside and outside of her relationship with Greg.
She may have felt equal parts horrified and liberated by her decision to keep her violent ex-partner out of her life. There was a sense of freedom.
But then came the fear – the gut-wrenching anguish. Perhaps she pushed it to the back of her mind. Did she try not to think about his threats, what he was capable of? Perhaps he would get help. Perhaps things would be ok.
But in the stillness of night or the most random of moments (at work, driving home, at a social function) did she have panic attacks? Did she ask herself ‘what if I can’t fight him off? How will I protect my child? Have I done enough?’
Like an animal being hunted, her primal instinct would force her to watch the shadows, look behind her more frequently, remain alert to her surroundings, never let her guard down. Every day she would live with what had become an accepted part of her existence – either inside or outside of their relationship – he would find a way to hurt her.
People might have told her leaving was the right thing to do. It’s the same old bullshit line women get fed every day of the week – “you can’t stay in a violent relationship”. And we convince ourselves leaving is the right thing to do. We have one hundred conversations with ourselves about how the system will protect us and he will see reason.
Let me tell you unequivocally – THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN. The system does not provide adequate protection for women in domestic violence situations. The system does not provide adequate protection for children in domestic violence situations either. I’m sure Rosie knew that every time Greg threatened her. And she certainly knows it now – leaving a violent man is sometimes the very thing that triggers the avalanche.
Rosie says Greg was always unstable and every time he stayed with them it ended in abusive behaviour. He may have committed this cowardly act even if they were together. No one will know, but either way the system failed all of them.
After Luke’s death the Victorian criminal justice system was shocked into action. An investigation was ordered and 130 families in that state were deemed to be in grave danger.
Any woman who has been in a violent relationship knows no number of domestic violence orders handed down by the court will make an ounce of difference. If he wanted to hurt her, he could. We are not protected by a piece of paper. In fact, taking out a DVO can be like waving a red flag at a bull. Men who have an elevated sense of power dare not be challenged in this way. Restricting their control is the very thing that might tip them over the edge.
According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, statistics show the period during a relationship breakdown and separation is one of the most at risk times for domestic violence between ex-partners (Flood & Fergus 2008).
More women are killed after they leave a violent partner than during the relationship. What our society needs to consider is not just support and empowerment for women, but a focus on prevention. As a community we are reacting to this epidemic of violence. We are not being proactive in the prevention of it.
We need to focus on education and enlightenment courses for men – given they are the predominant perpetrators. Victim blaming, whereby the woman is held accountable for the abuse because she did not leave – is no longer acceptable.
Let’s shift the attention to curing the problem at the outset. Remove the violence and we remove the need for DVOs and safe houses and women’s shelters. Educate the abusers – not just the abused.
The Australian Institute of Criminology states one-third of Australian women who have a former or current intimate partner have experienced some form of physical, sexual or psychological violence (Mouzos & Makkai 2004).
In addition, the levels and severity of violence perpetrated by former partners is higher than that experienced from current partners and women who experienced violence from former partners are more likely to report sustaining injuries and feeling as though their lives are at risk.
A friend of mine endured almost two decades in a violent relationship. No one knew how bad it was. In fact she hid the abuse better than he did. She was more embarrassed about admitting there was a problem than he was. She thought she could help him. He told her he would get help. He begged her for forgiveness every time he lost control. He told her no one would love her like he did. He told her if she left he would kill himself. They had children. She decided it was better to stay and spend every waking moment monitoring his behaviour, watching for mood swings, taking his attention away from the children and diverting his wrath on to her. She thought she could manage the abuse, talk him down from an “episode”.
Sometimes she wondered who would die first – would he kill himself or would he kill her? Sometimes she felt sorry for him – he was so lost. Sometimes she felt disgusted by him – he enjoyed hurting her. Sometimes she hated him – he controlled every part of her life. He owned her. Sometimes she saw glimpses of a person she loved. It gave her hope. But the hope was more dangerous than the abuse. It kept her there.
People told her to leave. They told her it would be better if she left. Now the court forces her to give the children to him every second weekend – even though there is a DVO in place. Now they all live with a ticking time bomb. Who will talk him down from an episode? Who will be there for the children? How long will it take before the avalanche hits?