A tough conversation held years ago at a BBQ came back to haunt me yesterday as I uncomfortably watched Rosie Batty, mother of murdered child Luke Batty, discussing changes to Victorian law that could make it a crime not to report child abuse.
On Channel 10 yesterday morning Studio 10 host Joe Hildebrand opened the discussion with this commentary:
“Obviously you can’t help but feel a huge amount of sympathy for anyone who’s in an abusive relationship but … you have to get out, you absolutely have to get out. There are huge economic costs associated with that, yes there are often other things, but anything is better than staying in an abusive relationship. Frankly, to say that you’re going to not report a case of child abuse or child sex abuse by your partner because you are scared for your own safety, I’m sorry, it is not an excuse.”
Ms Batty was extremely distressed by those comments.
“Joe, your comments are so, so misguided,” she said. “If you minimise how it feels to feel unsafe, and when we’re talking about unsafe, we’re talking about the risk to our lives, we’re talking about when women finally may decide to leave their partners they have the most risks.”
She went on to bravely explain that she had paid the ultimate price for leaving an abusive situation, the loss of her son. Anything was not better than ‘getting out’ for it resulted in death because that was the only way he could continue the abuse.
The most poignant part of the interview was when she simply stated ‘where can a woman go to be protected 24/7?’
It was at that point in the interview that my mind flew back to the conversation years ago in the back yard of suburban Brisbane with a policeman who dealt with domestic violence. This man had done two tours of duty with the army, he had seen things abroad in war that was and is horrific, but nothing he said was more horrific than domestic violence in this country. He had seen and dealt with things in his own back yard that frightened him more than in any war he had seen.
He went on to explain the toll of what his eyes had seen and how helpless he felt. The cycle in every abusive situation was similar. A call would be put to police in the height of the danger, but by the time the police would arrive the fear would have set in. The abuser effectively manipulated the situation and most times the front door would not even be opened to them even though they could smell the danger and devastation.
Sadly, he understood the plight of the abused. If the police can’t offer the complete safety of the mother and child, if protection cannot be guaranteed, then the fear for escalating the situation was worse. Make no mistake, that fear is not a black eye or a busted lip; it’s much, much worse. But in the sick cycle of helplessness, if no one goes on record to make a complaint, likewise nothing can be done.
When Rosie Batty challenged Joe Hilderbrand to educate himself more on domestic violence I applauded but at the same time I felt sadness because the only way for all of us to be educated is to be educated by those who have lived it and those who have lived it more often than not live in constant fear. Rosie Batty most probably wished she still lived in fear, but as she can’t – please continue to educate us so we can all as a society do better.