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Rosie Batty: Face to face with a domestic violence perpetrator

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 15/03/2016 Sally Sara

For the first time in two years Rosie Batty is anonymous. © AAP Image/Mick Tsikas For the first time in two years Rosie Batty is anonymous. For the first time in two years Rosie Batty is anonymous.

This is Ms Batty's first big overseas trip since her son Luke was murdered by his father in February 2014.

Sweden is supposed to be one of the safest places on earth to be a woman. It constantly tops international surveys of gender neutrality — equal opportunity for men and women.

The country is also famous for its generous paternity leave scheme, and large number of women in the workforce and in positions of power.

But all is not as it seems. Sweden also has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Europe.


Sweden's mixed reputation

Almost half of Swedish women will experience physical, sexual or psychological violence at the hands of men in their lifetime.

In 2013, more than 29,000 cases of violence against women were reported to police.

Travelling through the country Ms Batty finds it hard to comprehend the stark contrast between Sweden's natural beauty and its dark underbelly of violence against women.

She is here to find out why there is such an apparent contradiction in Sweden.

Gender equality is often put forward by academics, activists and policy makers as an effective way to combat domestic violence.

The idea is that if men and women are equal, domestic violence rates will fall. But that has not happened here.

It is unclear whether the rates of domestic violence in Sweden are so high because more women are reporting the crimes than in other countries, or whether the transition to gender equality has unsettled the traditional roles of men and women.

"You will inevitably see more of an increase in violence because a woman's role, a woman's position is challenged in a man's view," Ms Batty says.

"So I think gender equality [is] an essential component but it's not the complete picture, it's part of the solution."

Ms Batty says an important next step is to open up the conversation to include men who have carried out domestic violence.

"It will be great when we start to see men being prepared to talk about their feelings and talk about their behaviour and feel comfortable enough to seek help proactively, rather than it become a necessity because, you know, of something that's happened and the courts," she says.


Face to face with a perpetrator

It is a tough conversation to have, but Ms Batty has agreed to talk with Emanuel — a 26-year-old who was arrested for assaulting and threatening to kill his former partner.

We travel to the southern Swedish city of Skovde to meet with him.

Ms Batty is not nervous about coming face to face with the man.

"I don't feel in the least bit intimidated, I think after the journey I've had with Luke's father, I don't think I could ever be intimidated in the same way again," she says.

"I think it shows character from him to actually be prepared to speak and so I think he's worthy of that respect."

Emanuel sought help after his arrest. He feared that if he did not control his violent temper, he would end up in jail.

"When I don't have any words left I just explode. I just black out, I don't know what I'm doing until I've done very bad things and I just realise often on this when I calm down — maybe it can take up to 12 hours — to maybe to sleep and really think, 'Shit, what I have done?'" he says.


Breaking the cycle of violence

"My mum, she was very violent to me and my siblings. She used to take my hair and throw me around and chase me, screaming at me."

"She threatened to kill my dad and she took my siblings, my younger sisters, and shake them until they were peeing themselves ... one day I just threw my hand on the table and said, 'If you touch my father or my siblings again I will kill you'.

"Then she stopped doing violence to me."

Ms Batty says one of the big challenges is to break the cycle of violence from childhood to adulthood — to stop victims becoming perpetrators.

"To me that's the saddest thing about family violence is that, you know, the children experiencing this, whether it's from their mother or their father and the damage it does."


The role of feminist politics and activism

Some Swedish women are speaking out about their experience as survivors of domestic violence and campaigning for change, just like Ms Batty has and continues to do in Australia.

Gudrun Schyman is a dynamic and controversial Swedish politician.

She was the leader of the Left Party and has spent much of her life in the headlines. In 2005, Gudrun turned her back on mainstream politics and co-founded a new party, Feminist Initiative.

The party is yet to achieve electoral success in Sweden, but has won a seat in the European Parliament. Gudrun Schyman says female politicians and activists have been told to stick to the traditional parties or lobby from the outside, rather than setting up a party of their own.

"That is what people have said to women forever," says Ms Schyman.

"It's what people have said to women's groups and women always — 'You could be more effective outside, you should be outside, you should have opinion groups' — or you are told to enter a traditional political party and change it from the inside.

"I tried, it's not possible."

The prospect of a feminist party in Australia intrigues Ms Batty. But she is not sure if she would make the giant step from activist to politician.

"I would never discount it ... who knows, all I do know is that I genuinely want to make a difference and so if I was comfortable and confident that I could make a significant difference through a political career, I think I would definitely consider that.

"I think it would be a real privilege to be given that opportunity."


Where to from here

Whether Ms Batty joins the political fray or not, what comes next is a new, unknown, chapter. Simply allowing herself to enjoy life presents challenges. "Joy and happiness is a hard thing," she says. "Initially, it's a real relief to know that you can actually feel happy and you can enjoy things and you can actually find real happiness in the moments.

"It's a real relief because you don't know whether you're ever going to be able to do that again.

"You do, you can, but it is, it's very bitter sweet."

The big question is whether Ms Batty has had time to fully grieve, remaining busy after throwing herself into the spotlight from the day after Luke's death, campaigning endlessly since.

But now, as her time as Australian of the Year concludes, and so too her commitments to that role, Ms Batty says she has "no idea" what will happen next.

"I don't know whether I will ever fall to pieces, at the start I couldn't let myself in case I never pulled them back again," she says.

"You let things out at different times and that's just life."

Reflecting on how she has coped from the moment Luke was killed until now, Ms Batty is not sure if she would call herself "strong".

"I think I have to be, people keep telling me I am ... but what is strength?" she says.

"I suppose strength is always pushing forward, always — so if that's what's being strong is and it's about pushing through all your self-doubt, everything,

"I am strong. But I'm not tough. I'm trying, I've tried to work out the difference at different times in my life.

"So I'm not tough, but I'm strong."

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