Why it’s so important to learn from DV survivors’ stories

April 1, 2016

BARTEL JimmyThere’s no doubt the past few years has seen a steady rise in conversations around men’s violence against women and children in Australia. This is thanks in large part to the work of Rosie Batty, who responded to the unthinkable murder of her son Luke at the hands of his father by becoming a tireless campaigner against domestic violence.

Rosie Batty’s name might be synonymous with speaking out against family violence, but she’s found a new comrade in Australian Rules footballer, Jimmy Bartel. On Easter Sunday, the Herald Sun published a brave, intimate interview with the Brownlow medallist and Geelong Cats player in which he recounted the abuse he witnessed his father perpetrating against his mother and sisters.

It’s an emotional exchange, and I found myself frequently weeping while reading it. But despite the obvious heartbreak and suffering on show, it’s also a story full of hope – not just for the determination of Bartel to create a different environment for his own young family, but for the change he might be capable of bringing about by exposing such a vulnerable history.

As a survivor, Bartel has a particular insight into the machinations of family violence. Not only does he know how abusers change form between the veil of public and private life, he also understands how unhelpful stereotypes can be in working to successfully turn victims into survivors. Consider this section, in which Bartel describes watching his father not only beat his mother but also throw his sister against the wall “like a rag doll” before finally throwing Bartel himself into an old fashioned bureau. Bartel was 4 years old at the time.

When narratives of violence are recounted for the general public, the typical response is to ask, “Well, why doesn’t she leave?” But as Bartel says in regard to the above incident, “He was no longer living with us when that happened. People often say to women, ‘Why don’t you leave him?’ Well, Mum did, and it still happened. It was easy for Dad, he could do whatever he liked, and then leave and didn’t have to go to bed next to Mum and confront the guilt.”

‘Guilt’ was another tactic wielded by Bartel’s father as a means of controlling his family. Like many abusers, Terry Bartel preferred his victims to be weaker than him. Bartel describes his father waiting until his mother had turned away before “belting” her. He chose fights that he thought would be easy to win, and he would force Bartel’s mother to accept blame in order to justify his behaviour to himself.

“He would say, ‘You made me do that, you know that, you got me into that emotional state, so you have to take some of the blame. Can you understand why I did it? Say it was your fault! I love you though!'” As Bartel observes, “It’s easy to justify something like that to young people, or to someone who is physically weaker than you. They have to agree, or more will come.”

But to outsiders, Terry Bartel was charming and gregarious. Despite refusing to spend time playing football with his son, he took credit in public for teaching him the skills he needed to find success on the field. The violent nature of his father didn’t appear only in the physical and emotional scars carried by his mother, but also the deprivation of paternal care and love for Bartel and his sisters. To read more click here.

The 2016 Stop Domestic Violence Conference will be held onĀ 5 – 7 December at the Mercure Hotel in Brisbane. To express your interest in the 2016 Conference CLICK HERE.

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