The statistics are chilling yet the reality for one in three women and one in four children in Wagga Wagga is terrifying. This wealthy, well-resourced regional city has the dubious reputation for being in the top 25 per cent of worst incidences of domestic violence in NSW.
Rosie Batty became famous for the most unthinkable reason. “I hadn’t ever planned to have children.” she explained, ‘but once Luke was born it was the happiest time of my life.”
Having ventured from the UK 30 years earlier for 12 months backpacking, she loved Australia and found meaningful employment. “I didn’t want to live with Luke’s dad so my son and I became a very happy little family unit.”
Ms Batty’s career grew and, for the first time in her adult life, she felt in control. She maintained that Luke’s father, Greg, could be with his son and, on a few occasions, let him stay when Greg’s ‘chips were down’. However, Greg always found fault with Rosie’s parenting of Luke and the relationship was often fraught with tension.
In her book “A Mother’s Story’ she recalled an incident where Greg had become enraged for no apparent reason….. “I kept my distance, scared of further provoking him. I ventured out into the kitchen, trying hard not to make any noise. Greg came bursting out of his room. he bowled up to me in the kitchen and stood over me. I recoiled, drawing myself away, terrified at the sight of this enormous man bearing down on me.”
“His face was red with rage, his eyes wild. He aimed six punches at my head – drawing his fist back at the last moment each time before it made contact. I flinched in anticipation of a beating – whimpering in fear and confusion. With a groan of exasperation he turned on his heel and stormed out of the kitchen.”
After Greg physically assaulted Rosie, she took out an Intervention Order against him whereby he was not to come anywhere near her house. However, this protection order did not include Luke. Rosie decided there would be no further co-parenting, a development that ‘sent Greg apoplectic’.
However, after a session with a counselor from relationships Australia, Ms Batty realised she was a victim of family violence including physical, emotional, verbal and psychological attacks from Greg. She learned she was far from alone in being on the receiving end of abuse yet the topic was rarely discussed.
To be implicated in domestic violence was shameful, embarrassing, pathetic, lowly and for the uneducated. Here she was, an educated caring human being trying to live a good life and yet, she had to go to a police station to seek protection. “Our family had never needed police as we lived a quiet life and I was completely unprepared to enter what was to become a way of life for many years.”
During the ensuing years there were more violent episodes with more protection orders issued but, appalling and shoddy record-keeping by the police resulting in inconclusive and conflicting information regarding Ms Batty’s case.
And then, the unimaginable – “..and then I think how, in a matter of minutes, I have become one of those people; one of those horror stories. I’ve joined those ranks – of the mother whose three little boys were driven into a dam by her husband, of the mum whose little girl was thrown off the West Gate Bridge.”
“I am one-of-those-worst-things-that-ever-happened-stories. That is my life now, it is my journey and there is nothing I can do to turn it back.”
Luke’s father, Greg, murdered the twelve-year-old in the cricket nets at Tyabb near where they lived, in a fit of rage, to take away the ultimate joy of Rosie’s life. This was the final power he had over her and he used it cruelly and effectively.
Jan Roberts is the president of the Wagga Women’s Health Centre and named domestic violence for what it really is ‘ Family Terrorism’.
“Terrorism is about making people terrified and that’s exactly what is happening in too many households in this city,” she claimed. “External threats from ISIS pale into insignificance when compared to what is happening every day in every city and town across Australia.”
“One in four men believe they should be the dominant partner in a relationship.”
“Eight in ten domestic violence victims are female.”
“Nine in ten offenders are male.”
“One in two men have experienced a violent assault, at the hands of another male.”
“In certain circumstances, one person in 25 thinks domestic violence is OK if a partner tries to end a relationship ; a partner tries to get access to children, property or money; if their partner cheats or, if they are made to look bad in public.”
“There is still the belief that women are chattels, owned by the male in a relationship, and this is perpetrated at every wedding where the father ‘gives away the bride’ to another male,” Ms Roberts explained.
“In 2016 in Wagga, 150 cars were stolen yet 397 reported incidents of domestic violence but, which stories made the local news?”
“People who believe men are better leaders than women, that women belong in the home, that men are the head of the household and are in charge of the relationship are more likely to commit domestic violence,” said Ms Roberts.
A recent addition to the Wagga Women’s Health Centre is a bigger bathroom with a shower. “We have women coming in to shower in safety as they cannot take their clothes off at home to enjoy this simple act we take for granted, as their partners will take advantage of them while naked. Some women can shower only once a week and this reality has to change.”
Ms Roberts is inviting everyone who wants to change this shameful situation to become part of the solution in a vision to bring representatives from across and within the community to write a whole-of-Wagga-community strategic plan to eliminate domestic violence and roll out interventions.
Rosie Batty concluded her address by providing examples of changed attitudes towards smoking. “A friend’s daughter asked her recently, what is a cigarette? What a huge change compared to 25 years ago when smoking was so cool and most of the population did.”
“Don’t ever underestimate the power of ‘we will not tolerate violence’ as new language is used to describe what is illegal and immoral and naming and shaming the perpetraters. There will be nowhere to hide.”
If you are in need of help because of domestic violence in your life, call 1800 656 463 which is the 24-hour help line.
The Domestic Violence legal service number is 1800 810 784.