Rosie Batty says violence prevention is everybody's business

A VOICE: Rosie Batty says she wants her son's death to be a catalyst for a change in attitudes and responses about family violence. PICTURE: Nicole Ferrie

A VOICE: Rosie Batty says she wants her son's death to be a catalyst for a change in attitudes and responses about family violence. PICTURE: Nicole Ferrie

Rosie Batty - Violence Prevention is Everybody's Business

ROSIE Batty speaks of a grief that comes in waves. Waves that first crashed like an angry ocean, and did their best to pull her under.

They’re now rolling a little more gently – though like the ocean, will remain an unpredictable constant.

"That night and the trauma of it doesn't overwhelm me like it used to, now I just get sad about what I'm not going to have with Luke, that I'm not going to spend time with him and do the things we planned to do, we ran out of time,'' she says

"I wouldn't want anyone to have this challenge and sometimes you don't want to look too far ahead, because the thought of thinking and being consumed every day like this ... it's a lot to think that you're going to be like it for the rest of your life because of that sadness.

"But there's every day where you can laugh, there's every day where someone does something really nice and thoughtful and kind, there's every day where there is a huge degree and wave of sadness ... and then there is that opportunity to really feel like I can make a difference and really harness that passion I've always had to do things on a bigger scale in ways that I never imagined or ever considered.

"All I know is doing something that makes a difference, it makes me feel better - believing that you're doing something rather than nothing, because otherwise what do I do? It's very empty, very isolating.''

Rosie firmly believes you are “never given more than you can deal with'' and that Luke’s death has given her a voice.

A voice she may never have found during years of intimidating and manipulative behaviour by the father of her son.

Rosie is deeply sad it took an unimaginable trauma for her to be given that voice – and wants her son’s death to be the catalyst for change.

Luke, 11, was killed by his father, Greg Anderson, during cricket practice on a sunny evening on February 12. Rosie was talking to friends nearby when her son died. His father was soon afterwards shot dead by police attending the scene. She and Luke had just returned from a trip to see Rosie’s family in England and Luke had started the new school year.

At the same time Greg’s life was “spiralling out of control’’.

He had been psychologically abusive for many years and Rosie says it was always a battle. If he was challenged, Greg “would be very, very unpleasant’.

There was a period where he appeared to be respecting boundaries, but in the year before Luke’s death he was living in and out of his car, then in a boarding house and unable to find work.

Intervention orders were in place, but Greg was allowed to see his son at sporting events.

“People were always afraid of Greg's anger escalating into him hurting me, that was always the fear and the fear that I had, which was why I kept him at a distance and it was working,’’ Rosie says.

 “I had about five years or so with Greg that were fairly acceptable.

“It was never normal, but it was okay, but the last year spiralled out of control.

“He was getting more and more court appearances, he decided not to turn up, there was that pressure of arresting him because he hadn't turned up, things being adjourned.

“He was having less access to Luke, I was making him accountable for any breach and I put a boundary in place and I wasn’t bringing it down, so that changed things and I think that was the start.

“His life was already imploding, he was getting tired of living out of his car and being stuck in poverty, and  trying to get work - basically he got to the  end of his capacity to cope and he was looking at not being able to have Luke anymore or see him and that was the final straw.

“He decided he wanted to get out of this world and he wanted to take Luke with him – it was the selfishness of wanting to take Luke into the next journey with him and no regard for me, and ultimately the final act of control. He had the final act of control.’’

That final act of control took from her the person she loved most in this world. A child she never expected to have.

Rosie lost her mother as a six-year-old, and says her death “fragmented our whole family for the rest of our lives''.

“I didn't ever want children, but I love children,’’ she says.

“All I know is that when I had Luke, you couldn't love anything more.

“Ironically I was frightened that if you love something that much it can quickly be taken from you.’’

You “don’t just become’’ strong,’’ Rosie says, believing her mother’s death taught her strategies to cope with what was to come.

“I always thought if it happened to me, I could not survive, but you know what? You can. I don't want to just survive - and it's a bit like what I’m doing now, surviving but still kind of living.

“What scares me is when I hear of people who are still as angry, or as sad or as acutely affected as they were 20 r 30 years ago, but I don't think I'm one of those people.

"You will always have a huge loss, but you have to be able to live with it.

“It would be very easy for me to take on way too much blame, way too much blame ... no one had a crystal ball. It's really easy in hindsight to say we could have all done things differently, but that's where you have a learning.’’

That learning, she says, is about family violence – and particularly violence against women and children.

Her strength, now known as the Rosie Batty factor among Victoria Police ranks, has drawn more attention to violence against women and children than ever before.

There she was, a woman who had lost her only child in the most tragic circumstances, standing before a media pack a day later saying we need to talk about the complex nature of family violence and the system that deals with victims and perpetrators.

"Luke is not the first child that died,’’ she says.

“Many children have died since and too many died before him - so unless we really understand and take time out to really closely look at where we can improve our systems not only might childrens deaths reduce but with a bit of luck hopefully a lot of quality of life will improve.

"It's not just about the death, it's actually about all of the lives - children and women living in fear ... which presents so many issues and so many reasons why you can't develop as children properly and become frightened adults with all those other issues that come with that - it's not just about children dying, it's about the journey.''

Speaking from the Mornington Peninsula home she shared with her beautiful son, Rosie says “if it hadn't been for Luke dying there is no doubt I would not be able to speak as loudly as I am''.

Donkeys and five dogs are frolicking outside, a cubby house sits a lonely object no longer filled with laughter, and light rain falls into the swimming pool. 

As Rosie looks out onto the property, a reminder of many happy days with her little boy, she is acutely aware of how little she could have said had Luke still been alive.

"It's because he has died that I'm a voice, it's given me a voice,’’ she says.

"Women can't speak out because they need to protect their children or they've been so damaged and downtrodden and lost all confidence.

"So many of them are still in the position where they're not safe or the children aren't safe and it would make things very, very difficult.'' 

In the lead up to the inquest into Luke’s death in October, Rosie wants to talk as much as she can about the myths of family violence – she wants others to know that it is everybody’s business and can happen to anyone.

She says if it can happen to her, a confident, strong, vibrant woman living in a lovely house in a lovely suburb, it can happen to anyone.

 “People don't expect it to happen to someone like me and I think that's what makes this quite powerful,’’ she says.

“The myths of family violence are that it happens in poor neighbourhoods with people who are not as well educated or have drug and alcohol issues or mental health issues, it happens to other people it doesn’t happen here and they certainly never expect a tragic death to happen in their neighbourhood … it always happens somewhere else. But where does it happen?

"It's even really hard to understand when you've been psychologically abused and having all these other forms of violence. I think it's really difficult to explain how they have such a hold over you because basically if you're a healthy, vibrant dynamic, strong, successful woman … they take women like you and it doesn’t matter what your career path, how old you are, young, whatever. They can very quickly take you and make you someone that doesn't believe in yourself, you doubt every decision you make, you’re totally confused and you’re balancing the stresses of life, demanding jobs, and so it's really difficult for people to understand.

“I'm really keen to really unpack those myths and I think that's what started to happen the day people understood the day it happened here.’’

Importantly, Rosie wants people to understand that violence perpetrated against women and children is about power and control – and the focus needs to be on making men accountable rather than blaming the victim and asking questions of her such as ‘why didn’t she leave?’.’’

“A lot of people don't get it, that really subtle acceptance of male superiority,’’ she says.

“We spend an awful lot of time, if not all the time, talking about the woman.

“We're still asking the victim to take responsibility for taking out intervention orders, enforcing the boundaries of the intervention orders, we are still very much in victim blaming mentality.

“Let's just turn the topic around and talk about the perpetrator. Why do men feel that they are able to behave in a way like this?

“Where is perpetrator accountability? Why is it they can breach intervention orders and really not even get a rap on the knuckles? Why is it when they go through the family law court that history of family violence and actual evidence is dismissed and disregarded and unsupervised access is still granted.

“I try to validate too that there are women who are violent and abusive, but the statistics are really solid and very available … the stats say it's one in three women affected by violence, one in five sexually assaulted and one woman a week dies so those are the statistics that you can't discount and you can't overlook and that's why the focus is on the women being the victims.’’

Women are in danger for up to 18 months after they leave a violent partner, and often longer. It can take women seven or eight attempts to leave and when they do, they are experiencing higher levels of control and an increased risk of lethality.

Rosie says every woman is her own expert in her situation and needs the support of family and friends, rather than being told what she should do.

“I always had a huge sense of dread about restricting and stopping Greg from seeking Luke,’’ she says.

“I never envisaged this … I didn’t know whether that fear was for me, I just knew it escalated things to a different level. 

“I think that you do things when you're ready and when people try to, well intentionally, push you to do things that you are not ready for or don't think they’re right - sometimes it may be good, but other times you’ve got to be ready

“I would say to people this is a train I’m on alone, when I get on it there's no getting off it and I got on that train two years ago.

“I still wasn't going to have him charged myself when he assaulted me, it was the police that did that - now I go, ‘of course you would have him charged’ but there's a huge sense of dread, a huge sense of dread, so the police when they do that on your behalf is really quite good. 

“But the people who can really help support you are the people who are family violence trained with the correct crisis lines - they can really help.

“The violence never goes away and it only gets worse.’’

Rosie has set up the Luke Batty Foundation and will support the messages of the country’s leading violence prevention experts during the It’s Everybody’s Business conference in Bendigo in October.

The Violence Prevention – It’s Everybody’s Business conference delivered by Women’s Health Loddon Mallee will feature guest speakers, panels and workshops with key figures including Victoria Police commissioner Ken Lay and Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and Children chief executive Paul Linossier.

Women’s Health Loddon Mallee acting executive officer Makenna Bryon said to prevent violence against women “we need to change attitudes and we all have a role to play in doing this’’.

“People from Loddon Mallee who attend the conference can go back to their communities and act as catalysts for change,’’ she said. 

“We are delighted to add Rosie to the list of speakers and guests. The strength and stoicism that Rosie continues to display after losing her son Luke  provides inspiration to us all, her story really is a reminder that the prevention of violence against women is everybody’s business.’’

Rosie says the event is one which should be held in every region across the country.

“This journey of mine now into the foreseeable future is about how I can make a difference and what I can do to help make change,’’ she says.

“There are already people who have been working in this field for a very long time doing amazing work, it's not about me trying to reinvent a wheel or do something - it's about seeing how can I complement or help what's already being done and if that’s in some way that people feel is important to meet with me or to hear me, I still find that incredulous but in find it empowering for me, too.

“I've always had a strong, strong desire to make a difference – I guess I've done things in small ways and then I had to say to myself the biggest difference you can make is to be a really good mum.

“The fact you can't involve yourself too much in charities or do other kinds of work that you would like to do, the most important job you can do is be the best mum you can be and if that's the limit of what you're able to do right now that is more than enough.

“I've always had that desire to do more so I guess when this happened to Luke, you don't change … while we're here, our life paths are all different but it's about finding meaning and purpose while you're here and being the best person you can be.’’

But Rosie says she doesn’t want her son’s death do define her. She can’t say where she will be after the inquest, or that she will have the same drive.

“I don't have to remain Rosie Batty, the mother of the little boy that got killed but for a period of time that's what I am and that's okay because it gets people to think and it challenges their thinking.

“It may be that I need to just reflect on where I go into the future because the future without Luke and making decisions that don't include him are really overwhelming.

“My life has always been consumed over the past 12 years abut Luke, juggling what’s best for Luke, taking him to things, doing things with him, so if I didn't have all these other things that are coming to me, it would just be very empty and very lonely so I just think you do what you need to do while you feel like doing it and nobody blames me if i decide to have a quiet time or not do it, or change.

"The uncanny thing is that all these opportunities and the stimulation you get from the opportunities I’m getting ... they want my opinion, they want my insight, they want me to be able to contribute, and at any other time and any other place and any other reason it's just an amazing journey …

"But I still go to bed and wish I could wake up and say this is just a bad dream.’’

For information on the conference visit http://www.whlm.org.au/

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