Will Rosie Batty's victory make Australia finally take domestic violence seriously?


Jenna Price

Rosie Batty was named Australian of the Year on Sunday night.

Rosie Batty was named Australian of the Year on Sunday night. Photo: Canberra Times

The biggest challenge to Rosie Batty's battle to highlight the crisis of domestic violence in Australia?

It's Australians.

Rosie Batty, whose son was murdered by his father in 2014, was honoured as Australian of the Year yesterday.

Rosie Batty Australian of the Year. Click for more photos

Rosie Batty's journey

Rosie Batty's journey Photo: Jay Cronan

She's neither a celebrity nor a doctor but she is trying – desperately – to cure Australia of the epidemic of violence against women.


Leading researchers into domestic violence say the award could make a difference to the tone of the national conversation but Australian attitudes stand in the way.

We are victim-blamers. We are disbelievers. We can't understand why women stay. We think some women deserve it.

Disbelieving? Read the research from the National Community Attitudes Survey on Violence against Women (NCAS) released last year which revealed that attitudes about violence against women are still wrong.

That's in a country where nearly 40 per cent of women have experienced some sort of physical or sexual abuse and nearly half of women over the age of 15 have experienced sexual harassment of one kind or another.

Blaming the victim? Around half the respondents said that a woman coud leave an abusive relationship if they wanted to. Nearly 80 per cent said it was hard to understand why women stayed. More than one in six Australians said that domestic violence was a private matter and one in eleven said it was a woman's duty to stay in a violent relationship to keep the family together.

Don't believe women? More than half of those surveyed believed that women going through custody battles often make up or exaggerate claims of domestic violence in order to improve their case.

Between 2009 and 2013, there was an eight per cent decrease in the percentage of Australians who think violence against women is common; that's a similar figure to the decline in the percentage of Australians who think women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know – despite the figures freely available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which show a woman is three times more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone she knows.

The report says there are sizeable proportions of Australians who believe there are circumstances in which violence can be excused.

Michael Flood, an academic at the University of Wollongong who worked on the research , believes it's an encouraging sign to see someone who has been a public advocate awarded in this way.

"It won't radically change the Australian attitude but it's part of a growing public conversation about domestic violence," he said.

And that's a conversation begun because of the way in which Luke Batty was murdered last year. As Rosie told Daily Life last year, she knows the answer to why Luke's death made such a change and why she has been able to be a catalyst in the public battle against family violence.

"It was done in such a public way . . . I'm in this position because of the way Greg killed Luke. It just seemed to resonate with everyone," she says.

Flood says the death of Luke was also part of a continuum of public awareness about the rise of violence against women and children – which included the murders of two women, Jill Meagher and Allison Baden-Clay.

He says Australians know something about violence – that it's both physical and non-physical – but we don't understand its impact; and we have the wrong idea about why violence happens. We blame anger, lust and drunkenness rather than gender inequalities.

"We are too willing to excuse domestic violence. We blame the victim. We still see women as liars. We see men as lust-driven pigs who can't be held responsible for their sexual behaviour . . .  we say we would intervene in violence, but we don't necessarily know where to get help."

And getting help is part of the problem. Moo Baulch, the chief executive of Domestic Violence NSW, is delighted that Rosie Batty is now Australian of the Year. Batty has repeatedly called for strong leadership in the area of violence against women and children.

"It's not just about refuge crisis response – it's about all of the other responses too. It's about all the cuts to peak and advocacy organisations which will affect women," she says.

Last year,  Heather Nancarrow, the chief executive of Australia's new body to research violence against women, the National Research Organisation for Women's Safety  said she feared cuts to community legal centres may lead to a reduction in the reports of domestic violence and sexual assault. There is clear evidence there is already a serious disparity between reports and prevalence.

Last September, the Community Legal Centres across Australia learned they would suffer cuts of about $6 million from about 60 services all around Australia. Those centres are where women went to get the support they needed to apply for intervention orders, for apprehended violence orders, for protection orders.

Our Watch is the Federal Government's newest initiative to try to reduce the incidence of family violence. Paul Linossier, its chief executive, welcomes the honour to Rosie Batty and says it will shine a light on the problem.

But he also concedes this:"This is an important time to maintain the full range of services to build and strengthen [the battle against family violence] we have to invest consistently."

There are now further cuts slated for next year to Community Legal Centres. There are serious advocacy restrictions.

Are we expecting Rosie Batty to advocate for all Australians all by herself? We need leadership and funding. And we need advocacy from those who actually work with women at risk. Expecting the amazing Rosie Batty to do that by herself is too much to ask of anyone – we need to stand by her side not expect her to work miracles.