Yesterday Twitter was on fire. And not in a good way. It was raging with angry tweets towards Studio Ten host Joe Hildebrand for saying something to the effect of not reporting child sexual abuse for the sake of your own personal safety is inexcusable. The comment was in response to proposed Victorian laws that potentially jail the mother if they failed to report the abuse.
Now, here’s the reality. I may have said something similar to Joe’s comments in conversation before. Because child abuse, sexual or otherwise, is just so abhorrent. So vile. So disgusting. So evil. Your initial reaction is how can you not think of the child? I would die for my children.
I’ve also had conversations with girlfriends in abusive relationships. What the hell are you doing with him? I would ask. I would rather be homeless than be with someone that abuses me.
But these conversations happened before my empathy switch turned on, somewhere in my mid-twenties.
I think many of us have been in situations where, from the fortunate position of our cushy lives, we have judged other women’s decisions. For staying. For not leaving. For not reporting. For loving. For forgiving. For forgetting.
It’s much easier to be the one saying any life is better than the one you are living. Even if it’s true.
At some point, my cocky, I am stronger than them attitude disappeared and I began to feel empathy. Real empathy for these women – despite the fact that I came from a place free of family violence, abuse and fear. Maybe it was maturity. Or motherhood. But I read the news. I became informed. As a woman, I went from feeling almost angry at their lack of strength, to feeling their pain. Their fear. Or at least trying to.
In some cases, women – inconceivably - love their aggressor. In others, they are just desperate to stay alive.
How dare I ever pass judgement on a woman feeling emotions – and being in situations – so foreign to me? How dare I shake my privileged little head and say ‘How can you stay? How can you love such a monster? How can you not go to the police?’
Rosie Batty, the remarkable, brave mother of Luke – who was murdered by his father in a vicious assault earlier in the year – was none too impressed with Joe’s comments about women simply needing to be empowered enough to leave and report. And as she sat there, this strong woman, visibly upset, it was clear that she was still fighting the same fight that began 12 years ago for her. One that saw her son killed.
And it broke my heart.
Because she admitted that at the moment she allowed herself to be free of her aggressor – the moment he knew he’d lost control – was when she saw her son killed.
When do we just stop the judgement – and keep our uninformed opinions to ourselves?
Of course, uninformed judgement happens in all aspects of life. Perhaps its more prominent now with people using social and new media as a platform to say whatever the hell they like – filterless and free and in some cases, hidden. And I’m not innocent of this – I have a blog myself. I’m a writer. I speak my mind, but I like to think I do it fairly. Others may disagree.
I am a strong woman with a fortunate life. And it’s very easy for me to say to a victim of domestic violence get the hell out of there. It’s very easy for me to say be empowered. It’s very easy for me to say report.
Because I’ve never felt the incredible, debilitating fear they feel. And neither has Joe Hildebrand.
Rosie Batty, I am so sorry for your very great loss. And I applaud you for being such an incredible role model for victims of family violence.