April 22, 2015 – 11:30PM
Reporter at The Canberra Times
Rosie Batty is an anti-domestic violence campaigner and Australian of the Year. Photo: Thom Rigney
Rosie Batty has a message for a city still reeling from the tragic deaths of two young mothers allegedly due to domestic violence: maintain the rage.
Ms Batty, who is an anti-domestic violence campaigner and Australian of the Year, said her gut reaction to the alleged murders of Tara Costigan and Sabah Al-Mdwali was horror.
They were among three domestic homicides, including the death of Neal Wilkinson, in the ACT in as many weeks earlier this year.
Just as the killings attracted widespread grief and outrage in Canberra, Ms Batty sparked a national debate on family violence after her son Luke, 11, was murdered by his father at cricket practice in Victoria in 2014.
Her dogged mission since has been to ensure communities and governments make violence prevention a key priority to protect women and children.
“I talked about the statistics last year being one woman a week being killed [by a partner],” Ms Batty said.
“What’s more horrific is now two women a week are killed.
“There has to be that horror and there has to be that anger from the community that says ‘Oh my god, how can it be that we now have two women a week dying’?”
“What is it about this ambivalence we have? It’s one woman in three who will experience domestic violence, it’s one in four children.”
Ms Batty said the deaths of Ms Costigan and Ms Al-Mdwali in particular highlighted the frightening reality that even if women were empowered to leave violent relationships, their safety often couldn’t be guaranteed.
“It also reinforces that victim-blaming mentality where we constantly critique the victim on what they do and why they didn’t leave, and where we’re not talking about the perpetrator.
“What we should be saying is, why should the woman have to leave, why should the woman have to seek protection?
“It’s a basic human right, any woman and her children should be able to live safe in their own home.”
Leaving a violent relationship could put women in a vulnerable and dangerous position and offered no guarantee the violence would stop, Ms Batty said.
“The very forms of violence are likely to be continued, whether that’s through financial abuse, whether that’s using the court system as abuse or through continued harassment or intimidation.
“If they want to kill you, which is what would have happened with Luke, you are very, very vulnerable.”
Ms Batty, who will speak at a fundraiser for the Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT in Canberra next month, has been appointed to a national advisory board on domestic violence and spoke with politicians before the Council of Australian Governments meeting on Friday.
She welcomed the leaders’ commitment to a national domestic violence order scheme, but said there were “a hell of a lot of other things that are equally as important or perhaps more important”.
Ms Batty called on state and territory leaders to go beyond “lip service” and commit to funding, supporting, collaborating and engaging with overburdened family violence services in their jurisdiction.
She said significant changes were needed to the way perpetrators were dealt with and advocated for firm, decisive and strong intervention from the first point of contact with police.
“Without immediate and very strong response there’s no chance of ongoing change.
“The fact we allow breaches to happen, the fact we adjourn court cases until they’re so diluted and get lost, really sends a message of enabling the perpetrator to escalate his behaviour.
“There’s so much work to be done.”
Rosie Batty will speak at the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service Blue and White Gala Ball in Canberra on May 16.