On Australia Day 2015, domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty was named Australian of the Year. Rosie’s 11 year-old son Luke was murdered by his father in February 2014 and since then the bereaved mother has made many media and public speaking appearances shining the attention on the issue of domestic violence and calling for systemic changes.
Male violence against women and children in the home is not new of course. However it appears to me that the media, the government and the police have only recently caught up with the fact that this ‘epidemic’ exists. Until recently domestic violence was largely the concern of the women and children who were being abused, the women’s movement and the women’s refuges that are now being dismantled. Take the example of Elsie, Australia’s first women’s refuge which opened in 1974.
Elsie Women’s Refuge is currently under threat from State Government reforms which mean that government funding could be put out for tender which may allow religious groups to bid and potentially put female-run refuges under threat.
Handing over the running of women’s refuges to groups such as The Salvation Army puts at risk the original feminist ideology of female-run refuges, according to feminist Anne Summers . Such changes mean “that men would not only be allowed to stay at the refuge, they could also be running it,” she said.
Julia who had endured four years of violence and threats at the hands of her de facto partner before escaping to Elsie Women’s Refuge with her two young children explains what Elsie meant to her: “Elsie was a lot more than just accommodation. They really helped me understand and grasp what I had gone through.”
Sadly the refuge as a place of protection and consciousness-raising seems destined to go. We are also in danger of finally losing the feminist analysis of the women’s liberation movement now that the various state governments, police entities, and men’s groups are speaking out publicly and organising royal commissions. The feminist analysis that is sorely needed and is no longer popular views domestic violence, and all male violence against women, as about male domination and power.
Congratulations must go to Rosie Batty for her wonderful award but we must be careful that in the mainstreaming of domestic violence feminist analysis continues to be heard. Late last year when Rosie Batty took to the witness stand at the inquest being held for her son Luke’s death she said: “It was to get at you… someone wants to make you suffer the rest of your life.” And of course this someone was her former partner and father of her only child. A man who had lost control and possession of Rosie and his child and couldn’t take it. So he killed her child to make her suffer. It is this male violence and power over women and children that must be stopped.
Male violence is the leading cause of death and disability in Victorian women under 45. Every week in Australia, a woman is killed by her current or former partner. In response to this crisis the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that there will be a Royal Commission into Family Violence. But what does family violence mean? Who is being violent and who is the victim. The correct phrase should be ‘male violence against women and children’.
As for this commission-surely this is largely a waste of money for as a letter writer to The Age has written: Women’s services and survivors of family violence have been saying for years exactly what is needed to tackle the issue. They want more resources for refuges, affordable housing for women escaping violence, the proper administration of intervention orders and school programs stressing the importance of respectful relationships. The question is whether after this royal commission, which will tell us what we already knew, there will be funding to carry out the programs that women’s services have been asking for years?
– Sue Leigh, Fitzroy North
Today refuges such as Elsie are being defunded and the feminist analyses of the refuge movement that viewed domestic violence, and all male violence against women, as about male domination and power are not heard. The mainstreaming of domestic violence which includes the appointment of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year can not be regarded as a progressive step for women.