Rosie Batty has been named the 2015 Australian of the Year. It is impossible to imagine a more tragic reason to be propelled into public life than losing your only child at the hands of his father. It is equally impossible to imagine a more resilient woman in the face of such tragedy.
From the depths of despair, somehow, Rosie Batty has etched her way into the hearts and minds of Australians, not simply for enduring the shocking horror she has, but for becoming a courageous and unwavering campaigner against family violence, in spite of it.
Rosie Batty is living proof of the devastating toll that domestic violence wreaks. After the death of her son Luke Batty in February last year Batty spent 2014 doing everything she could to try and stem its damage; by speaking out about domestic violence, by demanding systemic changes, seeking reforms to the courts system and asking for leadership, compassion and understanding from all Australians about this complex and insidious scourge.
In her acceptance speech in Canberra this afternoon, she didn’t deviate from this message.
“Do not ignore what you see and what you know is wrong,” she said. “To men, we need you to challenge each other and become part of the solution. Raise the conversation and don’t shy away from this uncomfortable topic.”
She also acknowledged the bittersweet reality of winning the award.
“To Luke, my little man, you did not die in vain and will not be forgotten. You are beside me on this journey and with me every step of the way,” she said. “To the women and children who are unsafe, in hiding or living in fear, who have changed their names, left their extended families and moved from their communities to find safety, you do not deserve to live a life that is dictated by violence. You are not to blame.”
In an interview with Fairfax Media Batty was resolute about the cultural attitudes that allow this violence to continue.
“Where does violence come from? It comes from gender and inequality,” she said. “It comes from men feeling a sense of entitlement toward their children and partners. Even though women are violent as well, the statistics are clear, it is very much a male issue.”
She emphasised the need for all Australians – and especially those in leadership positions – to step up.
“There’s a lot of women speaking out but not getting heard,” she said. “Either they can’t speak because they’ve got family law court matters and the media can’t report on them, or their story is not headline news. But because of Luke’s death, I was heard. I wouldn’t have been. I would have been another voice that didn’t have a good enough story.”
And that is the ugly, ugly truth. Rosie Batty’s story was shocking enough that it caught our collective attention and delivered her a voice. How many other women and children need that voice right now?
We know, without a sliver of doubt, that it is likely to be many.
In the first 17 days of 2015, yes this year, six Australian women have been killed by either their current partner or an ex-partner. That is triple the average of one woman being killed every week which is already unacceptably common.
We do not need any further proof that domestic violence is a shockingly real problem in Australia. What we do, desperately, need proof of is that the issue is taken seriously.
Recognising the extraordinary job Rosie Batty has done in advocating against family violence is a positive step. Cutting funding to the services that help support victims of family violence isn’t. And that is the current reality.
I have no doubt that Rosie Batty will continue her tireless work championing for the changes we need in this regard, but she cannot instigate change alone. If you, like me, are inspired and overawed by Rosie Batty, then celebrate her recognition as Australian of the Year by pledging your support to this cause.
Speak up. Volunteer at the various services that support victims of domestic violence. Petition your local member about the changes we need. Reject sexism. Lend your support to anyone in your life who might need it. Our Watch has a comprehensive guide about the many and varied ways that teenagers, parents, women, men, and professionals can help to prevent violence.
Let’s make Rosie’s promise to Luke – that his death won’t be in vain – real.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au In an emergency, call 000.