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“Nobody owns the domestic violence perpetrator”

In a recent two day Safe and Together multi-disciplinary training in New Orleans (organized by the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center), one of the participants identified that a major barrier to improving systems’ response to domestic violence perpetrators as parents is that “nobody owns the domestic violence perpetrator.” That phrase captures the reality that systems often do not coordinate and collaborate to intervene with and hold accountable domestic violence perpetrators as parents. Even when processes are working as designed, they often do not address the perpetrator as a parent. Successful pro-arrest policies often do not address holding the perpetrator accountable as a parent. Child welfare systems often screen out even severe domestic violence cases if the child was not present at the time of the incident. Despite the strong evidence that domestic violence perpetration is tied to child death, injury and degradation of child and family functioning, child abuse and domestic violence are often approached as separate issues.

Whether it’s New Orleans, LA or Victoria, New South Wales, communities are struggling to better understand the gaps in responding to domestic violence perpetrators as parents. For a specific, detailed tragic example of the failure of systems to bridge the gap between child danger and domestic violence read the coroner’s inquest by Judge Ian Gray. The inquest details the death of Luke Batty at the hands of his father, Gregory Anderson, who had abused Luke’s mother, Rosie Batty, for years. Written from a perpetrator pattern-based perspective, Judge Gray clearly identifies Mr. Anderson as the sole person responsible for the murder of his son. The report also chronicles how Rosie Batty, who Judge Gray identifies as a “loving, caring, intelligent and thoughtful mother” attempted to navigate a complex system that Judge Gray describes as having failed at or been unable to bring Luke’s father “inside the framework of the system and begin processes of change.” The report offers an important picture of the three dimensionality of Rosie and Luke’s feelings about Mr. Anderson. This three dimensional accounting stands in sharp contrast to the one dimensional view of domestic violence that professionals often use to (wrongly) assess perpetrators and adult survivors. These one dimensional views of the very complex realities often contribute to domestic violence-destructive or neglectful systems responses. The inquest report offers a range of meaningful recommendations around systems change such as the need for child protection to “support the protective parent to ensure safety to a child at risk of family violence.”

While Judge Gray was reviewing the particular situation of Luke and Rosie Batty and its implications for improvements to Victoria’s systems, his report is important for its implications across Australia and many other communities around the world. Luke Batty’s murder, as chronicled in Judge Gray’s report, is an urgent call for systems to continue to work to use a perpetrator pattern-based approach to bridge the gap between the fields of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect.

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