November 2014

Rosie Batty cannot do this work alone

It is up to our whole community to work toward the elimination of violence against women and children, writes Christine Dew.

BY Christine Dew

“I’m here because of Luke and I’m here because one in three women is affected by family violence, one in four children, and one woman a week dies. It’s really important that we all understand it’s no longer a subject that stays behind closed doors.

“My commitment is I will continue to push this message, and I accept this award for all victims of violence who have no-one and [for whom] it’s unsafe to speak.” (Rosie Batty accepts the 2015 Victorian Australian of the Year award)

Since Greg Anderson brutally murdered his son at a Tyabb sports ground in February this year, Luke’s mother, Rosie Batty, has emerged as a powerful advocate for the prevention of violence against women and children. With her stoicism, intelligence, compassion and courage, her public statements have done much to raise awareness of this urgent issue.

Rosie Batty has committed to continue to speak out about this violence, to ensure that it no longer stays behind the closed doors of the family home, the homes that are not a haven for one in three Australian women and one in four children.

Impressive as she is, Rosie Batty cannot do this work alone. It is up to our whole community to work toward the elimination of violence against women and children. This has been recognised in the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children which sets out a 12-year framework for action.

The plan is underpinned by the belief that no government or group can tackle this problem alone; “while living free from violence is everyone’s right, reducing violence is everyone’s responsibility”. Further, as Rosie Batty notes, many women and children who are affected by this problem cannot speak for themselves; not because they lack courage but because it is unsafe for them to do so.

Many perpetrators react more violently when women try to leave. They often isolate their partners from friends and family members who might help them. All too regular news reports of murdered women, and of children killed by their fathers following the separation of their parents, should help us understand why many women do not speak out.

The national plan is also the first to focus strongly on violence prevention. Primary prevention involves taking action to prevent violence before it occurs. It does so by addressing the underlying causes of the problem, the attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence against women and children. As the plan states, “the social practices and cultural values of broader society shape how violence can occur at the individual level”. Primary prevention work aims to raise awareness, change attitudes and behaviours, and develop skills in the conduct of healthy and equitable relationships.

Gender inequality has a profound influence on the incidence of violence against women. We know that domestic violence is a gendered crime because the majority of the perpetrators are men and most victims are women. Working to promote greater gender equity is a central aspect of primary prevention work. It addresses the attitudes and behaviours that condone, justify or fail to condemn unequal and unjust relations between women and men.

The Good Samaritan Inn in Melbourne has joined many other community organisations, education experts, peak bodies and government agencies working in the primary prevention of violence against women. Since early 2012 we have worked with three secondary colleges to embed respectful relationships education and violence prevention initiatives using a whole-of-school approach. Recently we brought our schools together to celebrate their achievements in this field.

Staff and students from Parade College, Santa Maria College and St Monica’s College made presentations to a large audience from local government, community organisations, health agencies, education bodies and violence prevention experts. Our showcase highlighted the achievements of students and staff members who have worked with us to introduce new programs, develop staff knowledge and examine their whole school curriculum, culture and policies.

The showcase audience was deeply moved by the presentations from Year 10 students at each school. They spoke of their passion and commitment to being a part of the solution to this problem, their shock at learning the ‘dark truths’ about family violence, and their strategies for acting as ‘ethical bystanders’ who support victims of family violence and challenge sexist language, attitudes and behaviours.

The event gave the schools the recognition they deserve to continue their good work, inspired others to begin a project or program, and warmed the hearts of violence prevention experts who witnessed their research, resources and policy interventions in action.

For this afternoon we recruited our diverse audience into our respectful relationships education project. We embodied the notion that preventing violence against women is a whole-of-community responsibility.

At lunch students were seated with a chief executive officer, a Lord Mayor, senior leaders from various community organisations, health promotion workers, local government officers, Good Samaritan Inn board members, staff from the Catholic Education Office, school principals and staff. They spoke with each other about respectful relationships, family violence prevention and their vision for an equitable future. The students felt they were treated as adults. They responded in kind to the respect that was shown them with their thoughtful responses and deep engagement. The shared lunch, an extension of the hospitality that is a core value of the Good Samaritan Inn, was a highlight of the day.

Violence against women and children is all too common in our society as the statistics continue to show. It is also preventable if we all take responsibility for making it stop. Each positive intervention contributes and all of them are needed, big and small, in theory, policy, planning and action. Working to change attitudes and behaviours in the next generation gives us hope for the future.

While Rosie Batty will never see her own son grow into a fine young man, her efforts will not be in vain if we help other young women and men to a better future.

Christine Dew

Dr Christine Dew coordinates the “We Can Do It” prevention project at the Good Samaritan Inn, a crisis accommodation service for women and children in Melbourne. She is a former senior lecturer in gender studies at La Trobe University who works in arts, education and community development.

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