real life

"We must not allow Luke Batty to have died in vain."

‘We owe Luke Batty this much. Don’t we?’

TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with themes of mental health and child abuse, and may be upsetting for some readers. 

UPDATE:

Another tragic story dominated the news cycle today, after 47-year-old Margaret Tannous was found with serious head injuries yesterday evening in Sydney.

Soon after, her 57-year-old husband, George Tannous, turned himself in at the Bankstown police station, and he was charged with murder.

Elie Boukarim, Margaret’s son, has since posted an emotional tribute online, which reads in part: “You were the strongest woman, the strongest PERSON i knew … You taught me that the most power you have in this life is in your brain and not your fists or your muscles, you taught me to do right by people even though they do wrong to you.”

This incident is more evidence of a need for drastic reform the area of combatting domestic violence.

Previously Mamamia wrote:

Last week an eleven-year-old boy was violently murdered and Australia turned a blind eye.

Well, we discussed it. Of course we did.

Hundreds of column centimetres were written about the tragedy of young Luke Batty’s death at the hands of his father, Greg Anderson, after cricket practice last week. We debriefed about the shock of it all. The sadness. The plight of the mentally ill. Rosie Batty, Luke’s grieving mother, spoke of the importance of forgiveness.  Websites murmured that compassion – not anger- was the appropriate response.

And collectively we, as a nation, stood around nodding and muttering, “What a horrible, senseless tragedy that no-one could have seen coming.”

Well, I’m sorry but that is just simply not true. It is NOT TRUE.

This wasn’t a random, out-of-the-blue murder. This wasn’t a case of bad luck or bad timing, as though Luke Batty was merely the unlucky victim of a shark attack or a lightning strike.

Why is nobody willing to say what we all know deep down?

Luke Batty was placed in the vicinity of a man who has been described by police, a magistrate, his former flatmates and his ex-wife as angry, erratic, dangerous, abusive, paranoid and mentally ill.

And there is a plethora of evidence to back up these claims.

Greg Anderson threatened to kill one of his housemates in January this year.

Greg Anderson had five warrants out for his arrest last month.

Greg Anderson had a history of domestic violence and abuse. He had assaulted and threatened Luke’s mother Rosie.

And as reported by the Herald Sun on the weekend, police were on record last year as saying that Luke’s father, Greg Anderson, was a serious threat to society.
First Constable Paul ­Topham said in one of Anderson’s bail hearings:
“Genuine concerns are held … by police as the accused appears more than capable of carrying out the threats to kill.”
“The accused’s pattern of behaviour appears to be ­becoming more erratic and ­aggressive.”
In another bail hearing, First Constable Clinton Taylor said:
“The victim (Ms Batty) in this matter is extremely concerned for the welfare of her son, Luke.”
One bail document, prepared by First Constable Taylor, stated:
“The victim is concerned about (Anderson’s) behaviour and believes he is capable of carrying out previous threats to kill and harm.”
“Police hold concerns for the welfare and safety of the victim (Rosie Batty) and her son, and because of this oppose bail.”

And yet we – as a society – decided that it was okay for Greg Anderson to see his son.

AUSTRALIA, WHAT ON EARTH ARE WE DOING?

When news comes in of yet another shooting in the US, Australians shake their heads and roll their eyes.

“What is wrong with that country?” we exclaim in disbelief. “What is it going to take, how many innocent people – innocent CHILDREN – have to die – for America to wake up and do something about their gun laws?”

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Well, the same could be said of the disgraceful way in which Australia handles domestic violence issues.

How many women and children must be murdered before we realise that the current system isn’t working?

Four-year-old Eeva Dorendahl-Hutchings was allegedly killed by her father earlier this year.

The critics of this article will say, “Show some sensitivity. Now is not the time for this discussion.”

Really?  Well when is the time?

Was it in 2009 when Arthur Freeman – who, according to his former partner, had trouble controlling his anger – threw his four-year-old daughter Darcey Freeman off the Westgate Bridge to her death?

Was it in July 2011 when Lisa Harnum was murdered;  thrown off a balcony by her fiancé Simon Gittany?

Or in September that year when mother Kim Patterson – who was suffering psychotic episodes – hacked her 14-year-old daughter to death before taking her own life?

Or on New Year’s Eve 2011, when a Sydney man stabbed his wife 12 times before leaving her for dead and murdering their two-year-old daughter?

Was it last month when Sunshine Coast man Greg Hutchings, 35, allegedly murdered himself and his four-year-old daughter Eeva in bushland?

Or when mother-of-three Comrie Cullen was found dead in a Sydney car park with her husband arrested for her murder?

Or is it this morning, when a young Brisbane mother was found dead having been (allegedly) stabbed to death by her stepfather?

When is the right time to have this discussion?

What angers me most is that after a spate of ‘one punch’ deaths of young men, our country went into meltdown. Journalists. Opinion-makers. Radio hosts. Politicians. They all demanded something be done. We all did. And laws – rightly so – were changed. Nobody whispered about compassion then. We acted. Out of compassion for the victims. And all the future victims of senseless violence.

So why aren’t we acting now?

Darcy Freeman.

Tell me: is it because domestic violence is still seen as a ‘family issue’? Something ‘private’ that happens ‘behind closed doors’? Is it that we ‘don’t want to interfere’?   Well, that’s not good enough.

Of course enormous compassion needs to be shown to those living with mental illness. And their families. But true compassion is not simply wringing our hands and refusing to allocate blame or responsibility. Compassion is not simply saying ‘Well he was a tortured soul’ and that the murder of an ex-partner or child is merely ‘a senseless tragedy’.  Surely this should be about us finally, FINALLY, treating mental illness seriously. It’s about finding hospital beds  and more money for services. It’s also about helping the victims of domestic violence assess, identify and escape potentially life-threatening situations. With their children.

And when violence enters the mix  – it’s a deal breaker. It has to be.

When anyone, mentally ill or not, is violent towards his or her partner or their child – it’s game over.  When they show signs of aggression, have psychotic episodes or  paranoia, those must be red flags to be taken seriously.

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“It’s not that simple”, you say.

Actually it is.

Keeping families together is not paramount. Keeping women and children safe from violence is paramount.

This isn’t a tough call. It isn’t a tough decision.

Let me say this again.

Greg Anderson had a history of domestic violence against Rosie Batty. Greg Anderson threatened to kill his housemate in January. Greg Anderson had five warrants out for his arrest this year. He was described as erratic, angry and violent by those who knew him.

Lisa Harnum was murdered by her fiance Simon Gittany in 2011.

Greg Anderson should never have been allowed near his son.

How the hell does a man like Greg Anderson ‘fall through the cracks’? There was no shades of grey in this case. There was a history. There was repeated behaviour.

So now what?

We must stop talking and start spending money on more services for newly separated couples that are dealing with custody arrangements for children.

We must encourage and educate men (and women) to seek help when they feel frustrated and in despair about a marriage breakdown and/or feel unable to control their tempers.

We must step up the campaign to better educate women on the signs of abusive relationships before they are in too deep, continually hammering home the strategies on how to leave safely, the services available and most importantly of all WHY leaving is the only answer. When it comes to domestic violence there are no second chances.

We must give more support, time out, to these mums who are raising their children alone so that allowing abusive partners back in to their lives – if only for some respite – is not the answer.

We must work harder to have the police, child services, therapists and magistrates on the same page with a ‘no tolerance’ policy for domestic violence. Threatening, stalking and abusing your spouse/partner or your child is a serious crime. We must work together to join the dots when they are in front of us.

And when we see that a mother is not making the best choices for her children – we must act. Victims of domestic violence are not always emotionally and mentally capable of adequately assessing a situation for risk.  Support services must step in.

Love and compassion are not an adequate answer here.  Commonsense must prevail. And so must law.

This is not about keeping parents with mental illness issues away from their kids. This is about protecting women and children from violent partners and parents – whether they are mentally ill or not.

Luke Batty should not have died last week. He should – right now – be celebrating the Aussies’ win against South Africa in the cricket.

We must not allow this little boy to have died in vain.  Let his death be the one that acts as a catalyst to change.

We owe Luke Batty that much. Don’t you think?

MJ Sullivan is a freelance journalist who lives in Northern New South Wales with her husband and son. She is a Mamamia reader. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can ring the Domestic Violence Line for help on 1800 656 463 (TTY 1800 671 442). The Domestic Violence Line is a statewide free-call number and is available 24 hours, seven days a week.

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