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Did Studio 10 push Rosie Batty too far this morning?

Rosie Batty, mother of murdered child Luke Batty, slammed Studio 10 host Joe Hildebrand this morning on live television for comments she found deeply distressing.

The panel, which includes Hildebrand, Jessica Rowe, Ita Buttrose, and Sarah Harris, were discussing changes to Victorian law that could make it a crime not to report child abuse.

This is how Hildebrand opened the discussion: “Obviously you can’t help but feel a huge amount of sympathy for anyone who’s in an abusive relationship but … you have to get out, you absolutely have to get out. There are huge economic costs associated with that, yes there are often other things, but anything is better than staying in an abusive relationship. Frankly, to say that you’re going to not report a case of child abuse or child sex abuse by your partner because you are scared for your own safety, I’m sorry, it is not an excuse.”

By the time cameras crossed to Ms Batty, she was visibly distressed. “Joe, your comments are so, so misguided,” she said. “If you minimise how it feels to feel unsafe, and when we’re talking about unsafe, we’re talking about the risk to our lives, we’re talking about when women finally may decide to leave their partners they have the most risks.”

Watching this grieving mother in utter despair on camera is deeply uncomfortable. Please be warned, this may be distressing to some viewers.

You can watch the full interview here, which aired on Network Ten this morning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMK7FZZpcZk
Ms Batty’s reaction to Hildebrand’s comments continued like this: “I am absolutely outraged. I was living in hope that because of Luke’s tragic death it would bring a huge awareness to family violence. This is beyond my comprehension how, again, the woman who is the victim is punished.”

She then divulged further detail about what her estranged, violent husband Greg was like before he was shot by police earlier this year. We all remember the devastating case, where Ms Batty’s husband stabbed his son to death at cricket practice one afternoon.

Luke Batty. The little boy who was tragically killed by his father earlier this year.

Ms Batty spoke eloquently about that day, though she was distraught: “Do you know what happened to me?” she asked. “Greg had finally lost control of me and the final act of control, which was the most hideous form of violence, was to kill my son. So don’t you ever think that if we don’t report it’s because we don’t want to. It’s because we are so scared about what might happen.”

And then she came back to her criticism of Hildebrand: “Joe needs to look at his views as a man and he needs to step up and get informed. Because when I hear comments like that I am so saddened that the focus is still on the woman. Where the hell is the perpetrator? Why isn’t he being jailed for three years?”

At this stage, Hildebrand responds calmly, clarifying exactly what these new laws may mean.

“The intention of the law is not to punish women, Rosie,” he said. “The intention of the law is to make the protection of the child an absolute priority and to prevent that child from being exposed to sex abuse of further sex abuse or further abuse …”

But Ms Batty interjected with the simple, devastating question: “Joe, where do you go to be protected 24 hours a day, seven days a week?”

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The way this interview unfurled has raised concerns about whether someone in such a state of distress and grief, like Ms Batty, should be doing television interviews. There has been much talk about whether Hildebrand was right, whether the panel handled the situation tactfully, and about the actual changes to Victorian law.

UPDATE: Joe Hildebrand has released the follow statement about this morning’s segment on Studio 10.

“My comments today about proposed laws attempting to enforce the reporting of child sex abuse have been misrepresented and misunderstood.

For the record I do not support the jailing of domestic violence victims who fail to report child sex abuse, and never said that I did. On the contrary, I said I thought it was extremely unlikely it would ever happen and that under the proposed reforms women in fear for their safety were exempt.

My comments were in no way directed to or about Rosie Batty, who was scheduled to appear on the show for a separate segment about a fundraiser for her late son Luke. I am certainly very sorry for any distress they caused her.

To suggest that I support the jailing of women in these circumstances is completely wrong. In the initial segment I stated that I did not think anyone in that situation should or would be jailed. In the discussion that followed with Rosie Batty, I stated again that there was in fact a specific exemption for people who failed to report child sex abuse because they felt their safety was threatened.

What I did say was that the safety of a child must be paramount in considering these issues. If a child is being sexually abused then I strongly feel it is the responsibility of all those who are aware of it to report it. I also said that to allow a child to be continually exposed to sexual abuse is, frankly, inexcusable. I stand by this completely.

The main point that I repeatedly made was that tougher reporting requirements would hopefully act as a point of contact to help liberate women and children from abusive relationships.

The paramount concern for me – and I suspect most people – is and must be the protection of children. We cannot allow a child to be exposed to abuse if it is in our power to stop it.”

UPDATE#2: Rosie Batty has also released a statement following the segment.

“I know the discussion wasn’t intended to upset me and I certainly did not take it personally.  I am really pleased that this has come up as it has raised a huge opportunity for discussion and that has to be a good thing.  Joe has raised comments that are very popular amongst both men and women and by discussing why this has raised such heated debate will make all of us wiser and more informed.  I am sure Joe is more understanding after this morning and is learning constantly just like myself.  No bad feeling at all.”

Do you think it was important that Ms Batty spoke on television about this issue, or too distressing for a grieving mother? Do you agree with Joe Hildebrand, that not reporting child abuse out of fear is inexcusable?