'How Rosie Batty reframed the way we talk about & treat domestic violence

‘This is a journey’: How Rosie Batty reframed the way we talk about & treat domestic violence

Rosie Batty
Four years on from Rosie Batty’s landmark speech at the National Press Club, Kristine Ziwica, who was there and worked with Rosie to prepare her remarks, reflects on how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go in how we talk about — and respond to — violence against women.

Just over five years ago, following the murder of her son Luke at the hands of his father, Rosie Batty emerged from her home grief stricken to face the media and deliver the following words that are now seared into the memory of all those who witnessed it and a nation that watched on.

“If anything comes out of this, I want it to be a lesson to everybody that family violence happens to everybody no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are, it happens to anyone and everyone,” she said.

A year later (exactly four years ago this week), Rosie took to the stage at the National Press Club to deliver a landmark speech that extrapolated on her poignant words the day after Luke’s murder and challenged a nation to confront the scourge of family violence by taking meaningful action to address what drives it, in particular gender inequality.

I was there that day. In my former role as National Media Engagement Manager at Our Watch, Australia’s national foundation to prevent violence against women and their children, I played a key role in organising the event and worked with Rosie on the speech.

So four years on, as new research shows the extent to which Rosie’s work has had a significant impact — and against a backdrop where some, fortunately a minority, insist on dragging us back with their “Not All Men” theatrics (yes, I’m looking at you Joe Hildebrand) — I wanted to pay tribute to Rosie and other survivor advocates, all of whom have done so much to progress the debate around violence against women in Australia with significant impact.

These are the people whose work and impact I prefer to hold up and honour, rather than spill more ink on those who try to distract from the real issues.  As the anniversary approached, I caught up with Rosie to reminisce about that day and reflect on where we are as a nation. I’m so glad I did.

Rosie and I had a good laugh about the fact that she got stuck in the lift on her way up to the venue (Rosie had forgotten but laughed when I mentioned it). Being the absolute star that she is, Rosie somehow managed to keep her calm as staff tried to free her — despite the fact that she was about to take to the stage and give a speech that would be broadcast live to the nation.

So focused was Rosie on the task at hand, she didn’t quite appreciate the buzz that precipitated her speech: as word spread throughout Canberra that she was about to speak, senior politicians who hadn’t purchased one of the (sold out) tickets turned up at the venue unannounced, grabbed an extra chair and squeezed into the room.

I personally will never forget Rosie meeting Ann O’Neill in the green room moments before the speech. Ann, another survivor of domestic violence whose two children were murdered by her former husband (he also tried to kill her), had flown out to Canberra the night before to support Rosie along with other survivors of domestic violence and family members of those to whom the worst had happened.

“Nice to meet you”, said Rosie. “Yes,” said Ann. “I wish we didn’t have to.” And then there was a very long silence as the two women looked at each other, each understanding the meaning of that comment and something about the other that the rest of us could never truly comprehend.

I remember being told by seasoned veterans of NPC events that we should prepare Rosie for a certain amount of background noise, in particular the clanging of forks and knives as the audience tucked into their lunch. But as Rosie spoke, there was complete silence. You could have heard a pin drop. Those very same veterans later told me that they had never seen anything like it.

This was all part of what has since come to be called, and studied, as “The Rosie Effect”.

As I recently started to look back on the event and Rosie’s broader work, Vic Health kindly shared with me some of their as yet unpublished research that shows the so-called “Rosie Effect” in detail.

They commissioned a study of Rosie’s media profile between 2014 and 2016, concluding that, “the public campaign went beyond bringing family violence to the public’s attention – a feat in itself – but also included discussion of the general treatment of women, and the role this can play in family violence.” In short, Rosie made a sizeable contribution to shifting the debate to the drivers of the violence and, therefore, how it could most effectively be prevented.

“This contributed to a notable shift in later years in how the public and the media responded to disparaging comments about women,” for example, the report went on to explain. Rosie’s advocacy also led to greater government action and to an increase in those affected by family violence seeking support (reported incidents jumped by 82 percent).

And while this has been called the “Rosie effect”, VicHealth and Rosie both make a point of pointing out the work of others with lived experience of violence, including Ann, Jane Ashton, Tarang Chawla, and many others, all of whom laid the foundation for Rosie’s moment in time and have since continued to speak to the issue, driving change.

So where to from here? When I spoke to Rosie late last week, she was feeling reflective, grateful for the change that’s come, but mindful of the need to press on and continue to find ways to effectively communicate around violence against women, particularly with men. “We still don’t have quite the right words,” she told me. “And we’re getting push back.”

“The discourse is shifting,” said Rosie. “How do we engage, not demonise, men who are likely to expand their thinking?”

“This is a journey,” she went on to say. “We’ve begun a conversation. We see the injustice. We are horrified. We still have a long way to go to engage men. We need to press forward and work that out.”

That is a journey that I hope we as a nation will prove ourselves willing to walk alongside Rosie on – as well as the many others, too many, whose personal tragedies have given them unique insight into this issue.

Whether or not, to use Rosie’s words, “anything good comes from this”, will be entirely dependent on whether we prove ourselves up to that task.

Kristine Ziwica tweets @KZiwica

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