Before attending the forum I expected a few things would happen.
I expected to be moved and heart broken by Rosie's story and I was.
I expected to get outraged about the current domestic violence epidemic that has resulted in 15 Australian women being killed in the first 9 weeks of 2015. And I was.
I expected to be frustrated by a legal system that does not protect women and children in the manner our society should expect and demand. And I was.
I expected Rosie's strength would inspire me to become part of a collective voice demanding change. And I was.
What I did not expect, was to realise that I was part of the problem. But I did, because unfortunately, I am.
As a health teacher I am charged with the responsibility of teaching our students about respectful relationships and the impact of domestic violence. I thought I was well educated about the issue.
However as I listened to Rosie speak about her experiences I realised that in many cases I have just been giving lip service to some very important messages without really believing them myself.
Let's start with the big question asked by many students "Why doesn't she just leave?" I would discuss how many factors, such as fear, finances, poor self-esteem and a lack of support services, contribute to women staying in violent relationships.
But really, deep down, I was thinking the very same thing. Surely, I would reason, if you loved your kids enough you'd find a way out?
But Rosie, in her always honest, raw and articulate way, challenged these beliefs like no one ever has before. She spoke about the fear of escalating the violence and she explained how leaving doesn't mean the violence will end, particularly if you share children. She spoke of the total fear of the unknown if you were to up the ante by leaving or seeking an intervention order. In response to these actions the violence can escalate to match the partner's desire to maintain control and power.
'In Rosie's case the devastating truth was that her partner's desire to maintain control and power was bigger than his love for his child. To kill Luke was his ultimate act of revenge.'
The tragic death of Tara Costigan, the 15th women to die this year in Australia from domestic violence, only further highlights this point. She had left, she had sought an intervention order, and yet she still died at the hands of her ex-partner and his axe one week after she bought her new baby home.
So in light of this realisation that I was part of the problem, what will I now do to become part of the solution?
I will recognise that domestic violence is a gender issue.
I am in the fortunate position to have only experienced positive and respectful relationships with the significant males in my life. This means that I have always been reluctant to label domestic violence as a gender issue as I felt I was unfairly labelling all men as potential wife beaters and perpetrators of family violence.
However the expert panel made it very clear that the only way to successfully address this issue is for society to accept that domestic violence is a gender issue and to realise that is centred around a man's sense of entitlement and superiority to women.
It is not driven by biology, alcohol, drugs or mental health issues, but rather by a desire for a man to exert power and control over a women. Domestic Violence Victoria has clearly identified that rates of violence are clearly linked to gender equity in a given community. This means that we must challenge cultural and social norms about what it is to be a man in order to create change.
I will stop judging women.
Women in abusive relationships are innocent victims and need help. Women in this situation need to know that they are not going to be judged by other women in order for them to be able to reach out and take their first little steps to seek this help. We need to empower these women who have lost hope, who are living in fear and those who have been forced to relocate their entire world, sometimes multiple times, in brave attempts to escape the violence.
I will recognise that every women is doing their best in these unimaginable situations and I will try to display compassion and understanding not judgement and criticism.
I will get angry about this
In fact, I prefer Rosie's words:
"Let's get feisty about this!"
I will add to the voice demanding change from our political leaders. I will continue to use my position as a mother, wife and teacher to challenge unacceptable gender based behaviour and model respectful relationships for my sons.
I will donate to The Nappy Collective
The forum was generously organised and hosted by The Nappy Collective. The collective is a not-for-profit organisation that collects you leftover unused disposable nappies and redistribute them to organisations that support families in crisis or in need.
Nappies are a basic health care need and lack of sufficient nappies can lead to an array of problems for disadvantaged families.
Collections run for two weeks in May and October, check out www.thenappycollective.com for more details.
I will download the 'I matter' app...
...and I will encourage all young women to do the same. It is a gorgeous app, designed by Doncare and endorsed by Rosie, that helps young women recognise that abuse is not just physical, but also psychological including verbal and emotional violence.
It is designed to empower young women and help them understand the warning signs of abusive and controlling relationships. The app also aims to promote self esteem, and conversations between young people about healthy relationships.
I won't be the friend trying to give advice.
I will listen to Rosie's advice that simplistic advice from friends can be unhelpful for women experiencing domestic violence. Well-meaning attempts to provide advice can often instead make the women feel critiqued and judged.
In this situation the role of a good friend is to provide support and understanding. I will encourage them to seek help by contacting a help line or community based service, Domestic Violence Australia is a great place to start.
Rosie clearly articulated that a women needs to be ready to seek help and that this help needs to come from trained experts. Rosie understands that it can be a frustrating time if you are trying to support a friend who is not yet ready to leave or seek help. In these situations she encourages us to believe them, always show compassion and to just try to support them on their current and future journey.
I hope these steps will in some small way contribute to a collective voice that will become so loud it can no longer be ignored. Will you join me?
For confidential support and information please call the safe steps 24/7 family violence response line 1800 015 188 or visit Domestic Violence Victoria.
Linking up with 'Essentially Jess' for I Blog on Tuesday.