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Rosie Batty on Victim-Blaming and Changing Attitudes to Family Violence

Read Wednesday, 8 Jul 2015

Family violence campaigner Rosie Batty is the 2015 Australian of the Year. Batty rose above her personal tragedy and the loss of her eleven year old son, Luke, who was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of his father in a public assault. Here, Batty shares her thoughts on our culture of victim-blaming, and suggests that we may be at a tipping-point for cultural change.

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We very quickly discuss victims: ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ or, ‘If it was me, I would do this’ and, ‘I would never put up with this; I wouldn’t put up with that.’ We spend a lot of time judging and critiquing victims, and we need to catch ourselves, because what we really should be doing is discussing the perpetrator and discussing, ‘Why would the perpetrator do such violence? Why would he behave in such a way?’ 

We should be discussing his behaviour and his violence, rather than what could or should be done from a victim’s perspective. When Luke was murdered, there were many people saying, ‘Well, why didn’t you stop it? Why did she let him have access to Luke – why did she do this, why did she do that?’ How dare they say those things. How dare they assume that anyone could love your child more than you do as its mother. 

There was one person at fault there. There was one person to blame. And there was one person who had a choice on that night – and he killed his son, as an act of power and revenge to make me suffer for the rest of my life. That is the behaviour we need to discuss. That is the discussion that we should all be having. When you look at media articles, you will see the comments that the public engage in, and there were will always be those people who think you are to blame in some way. And as a victim of violence, if you allow yourself to read those criticisms, it’s soul-destroying. 

That’s how you become isolated as a victim, because you know that good bloke who’s a firefighter or a great bloke to hang out with at the pub, or that person in the committee or in politics or in that great organisation? You don’t believe he could do anything. How could he be violent? He’s too nice a bloke. Somehow we don’t quite believe that he could do what he did or does what he does. So this is what we need to do: we need to discuss perpetrator behaviour and we need to stop victim-blaming. ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ There are many bloody good reasons: you could be killed; your children could be killed, or be seriously injured; you could be harmed for the rest of your life; you could be forced into poverty, or forced into court processes that could make you broke, or forced into a number of ongoing violent interactions. Because the violence does not end just when you leave – there are many ways for violence to continue and to be perpetrated against you. 

That’s one of the things that I feel really, really strongly about. As a society we very quickly become victim-blamers. And it’s now becoming astute enough in our consciousness to recognise when we do it and to pull other people up, because now this a conversation that is not behind closed doors. It’s around the boardroom table, it’s around the kitchen table, it’s around the community table. And we need to pull people up and we need to make them accountable for what they’re saying, and we need to become better informed. In terms of the place we are at as a community, I think that’s what gives us great opportunity for starting change and picking up those people who remain ignorant or close-minded and sabotaging the goodwill that is starting to become more prevalent.

This is an excerpted transcript from a conversation that took place as part of Walking the Walk: Next Steps Against Family Violence on Thursday, 2nd July 2015. You can watch the full conversation here.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Centre stands. We acknowledge and pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their Elders, past and present, as the custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.