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Media extols 'loving father' who beat his son to death with a cricket bat

(42 Posts)
DonkeySkin Fri 14-Feb-14 11:36:36

UK members might have read of the horrific murder of 11-year-old Luke Batty from Melbourne, whose father stabbed and then battered him to death with a cricket bat in front of onlookers, including Luke's mother Rosie, at a junior cricket practice on Wednesday. The father was then shot by police as he came at them with a knife, and later died in hospital.

Greg Anderson had an extensive history of domestic violence, had threatened to kill Rosie Batty, who had an AVO against him, and was only permitted contact with his son in public places. Police believe the murder was premeditated - i.e., he took a knife to one of the few places he knew he would be able to get close to his son, killed him, and then carried out 'suicide by cop'.

I want to discuss the incredibly disturbing way the media here has covered the case. I'd do it in an Australian forum, but unfortunately we don't have any large online feminist spaces, and my impression is that the coverage is not that different to the way the UK media covers similar cases. I think it's important to talk about, because the implications for the feminist campaign to end male violence against women and children are grave if this is how public discussion of such crimes is allowed to proceed.

First off, every major news outlet has emphasised how much Anderson 'loved' his son, and was loved by him in return. In fairness, they took their lead from a statement given by Luke's mother which said exactly that. The other major emphasis has been on Anderson being allegedly mentally ill - again, this angle comes from Rosie Batty's interview, in which she speculated that her estranged husband had 'an undiagnosed mental illness'.

I am not going to pass judgement on anything a mother whose child has just been murdered in front of her says or feels in this situation, except to note that she is no doubt in shock and perhaps trying to rationalise what has happened. Regardless, this does not exculpate the media from reconstructing the brutal and premeditated murder of a child as the 'inexplicable' act of an otherwise 'loving father'.

Rosie Batty also told reporters of the years of violence and intimidation she had suffered at Anderson's hands, and that Luke 'felt pain and sadness and fear for his mum' - but this was all lost in the determination by the media to portray Anderson as a vulnerable man whose untreated mental illness was to blame for his act of violence against a son he 'loved more than anybody'. Notably, the word that has been used over and over again to describe this case is not 'crime', but 'tragedy' (Prime Minister Tony Abbott used the word five times in his comments on the case). A tragedy, it is implied, in which Anderson was as much a victim as the boy he murdered, and the partner he has left childless.

Such narratives are essentially a wholesale reversal of the truth. Anderson was not the victim of an unforeseeable tragedy, but the perpetrator of a brutal crime. This crime was not indicative of a hurt father's loss of control, but rather the ultimate assertion of his right to total control over his family. He was not 'vulnerable' and 'lost' - his partner and child were vulnerable to his deliberate and sustained violence. People with mental illnesses are much more likely to harm themselves than others, and, if they are experiencing violent psychosis, they lash out at random targets rather than carry out coldblooded murders of specific ones. Lastly, and most obviously, fathers who love their children do not annihilate them in order to get back at their former partners.

I believe such false framing of male violence against women and children is a political act. When a state-controlled media circulates lies in order to justify the violence of the state, we understand this for what it is: propaganda. The difference is that the kind of propaganda which seeks to justify and excuse male violence is not disseminated by a central controlling body - rather, it circulates in the cultural body of a patriarchal society, which subscribes, at its core, to the same belief that drove Anderson's decision to murder his son, one which asserts the primacy of a man's will and feelings over the actual lives of women and children. And so such a society must endlessly repeat back to itself stories that uphold this tenet, and seek to prevent the naming of truths that would expose it.

TunipTheUnconquerable Fri 14-Feb-14 11:39:49

I don't know what to say. So depressing.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

zoemaguire Fri 14-Feb-14 11:52:29

Beautifully put, and sad to say, totally spot on.

DonkeySkin Fri 14-Feb-14 11:57:08

Here are some links to the type of coverage I'm talking about:

www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-13/mother-in-shock-after-son-killed-by-father-at-cricket-oval/5258252

www.ntnews.com.au/news/national/boys-killing-in-vic-a-tragedy-abbott/story-fnjbnvyj-1226827000843

www.theage.com.au/victoria/the-very-person-who-killed-him-loved-him-20140213-32ne7.html

www.mamamia.com.au/social/luke-batty-11-year-old-murdered/

thehoopla.com.au/thank-rosie-batty/

www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2013/s3943856.htm

Note that in the last one, a transcription of a radio interview, the reporter says: It's not known what provoked the 54-year-old man to attack and kill his son

'It's not known what provoked...'

This is deliberate obfuscation and victim-blaming. Of course it's bloody known. It's been known since second-wave feminists identified male violence as a tool of political control over women and children. The media just categorically refuses to name it.

AngelinaCongleton Fri 14-Feb-14 12:08:56

Such a terrible case. I've noticed in this case how we have been spoon fed how he was mentally ill and how something must have driven him to it and how much he loved his son. My feeling was that women who harm their children are not afforded the same sympathetic narrative. I agree with you.

scallopsrgreat Fri 14-Feb-14 12:11:24

This is just such an awful story and you are absolutely right the media portrayal of it has been atrocious.

There seems to be a wilful disregard in all these cases of:

a) The link between being an abusive partner and an abusive father

and

b) That male violence never happens in a vacuum. These men are always always always violent or abusive prior to them committing murder.

In fact disregard is probably too polite a word. Obfuscation, cover-up, denial are all better and more accurate.

whatdoesittake48 Fri 14-Feb-14 12:11:56

i believe it is simply a case of the media and people in general can't believe that such an awful thing would or could happen to them - so they choose to place meaning on the event which sees everyone as the innocent victim.

People are so fearful, that to admit that people like this man exist is just too frightening. we prefer to put a more positive spin on things to allow us to forget or accept.

I don't even think it is something we know we do. it just makes us feel better. con fronting the truth is just too awful.

I don't see this as a premeditated attempt by media to cover up problems with DV - just a way of coming to terms.

of course it is wrong - because showing the real truth - might be more likely to lead to change.

have you spoken to local newspapers to see if they would consider a comment piece? they might like something which would provoke some debate.

I used to live in Melbourne and still have family there. the culture is different, but i feel that they would be open to a debate on this issue. the time is ripe now, surely?

scallopsrgreat Fri 14-Feb-14 12:12:58

And the MH aspect (which lets face it is just hearsay from the mother in an attempt to explain the man's behaviour) has definitely been disproportionally focused on.

WilsonFrickett Fri 14-Feb-14 12:13:18

I completely agree with you and think your post is very well written too.

Loving parents do not murder their children.

This also feeds into the 'mental illness = crazy psychopath' meme which is equally damaging.

UnacceptableWidge Fri 14-Feb-14 15:43:50

Fantastically put. Many in society still support a man's control over his family and that opinion should be challenged.
Any woman who seeks to protect her children has come across the view that she is spiteful, vengeful or manipulative despite evidence of threats of or actual violence. This widespread view of provocation and spite hasn't popped up from nowhere. It originates from years of wives and children 'knowing their place' and being brought into line.
I was fortunate that my ex husband's threats of physical attacks to our children never became a reality but his relationship with them was forever damaged by the fall out from him no longer having control over his family.

I also agree that to associate Mental Health issues with horrific events such as this is an unhealthy approach and damaging outcome for the whole of society. I see that people search for answers but sometimes the answer is a harsh, blunt reality of a controlling bully...not a psychiatric disorder as far as I am aware.

AnyFucker Fri 14-Feb-14 15:53:15

Op, I agree with every word you say

CaptChaos Fri 14-Feb-14 16:52:09

That's fucking awful, and it's compounded by everyone doing everything they can to exonerate the father from responsibility. I totally get why Rosie wants to excuse him, their whole relationship was about her finding excuses for his behaviour, in order to make sense of it, but the fact that the media, pundits and the PM have all grabbed the MH explanation with both hands is indicative of society's need to excuse male violence.

Totally agree with every point the OP made.

JustTheRightBullets Fri 14-Feb-14 17:07:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Beatrixparty Fri 14-Feb-14 17:23:29

So nobody here thinks this man had a problem with his mental health ?

AnyFucker Fri 14-Feb-14 17:45:27

Maybe he did, but really, who gives a Fuck ?

RiaOverTheRainbow Fri 14-Feb-14 17:47:54

Which MH problem would that be Beatrix? Depression, making him think life was a fate worse than death and thus he mercifully beat his son to death? Psychosis, where he mistook his son for something dangerous and evil, in a pre-planned attack? Doesn't look like any mental illness I know of.

jojoanna Fri 14-Feb-14 17:50:43

Totally agree OP

TheCraicDealer Fri 14-Feb-14 17:57:54

Whilst I agree with much of what the OP has written, I don't think that attributing violence like this to mental illness is necessarily something that only happens when it's men who commit the crime. There have been cases recently where (and specifically I'm thinking of the little boy in Edinburgh in recent weeks) posters are very keen to suggest that mental illness, stress or an inability to cope are reasons for a female parent carrying out such an act. It may not be so overtly played out by the media, but personally I think it's the way some people and media outlets deal with hearing about really shit stuff. A coping mechanism- "oh that person was mentally ill, it could never happen to our family."

Some people, men and women, are just bad. There isn't always a reason.

scallopsrgreat Fri 14-Feb-14 20:16:51

Disagree TheCraic. There's always a reason. Here was a violent abusive man. He grew into the position where he murdered his child. He learnt that behaviour from somewhere. He wanted to control his family. And society enables that by not taking male violence seriously. It is excused, ignored, accepted and in some cases encouraged. There were no consequences for him until he finally committed the ultimate crime.

But no I'm not thinking he had a mental illness off the testimony of a desperate woman trying to make sense of the horror she is going through sad He may have been a narcissist or sociopathic. But as AF says who gives a fuck. He murdered his own son in front of other children. He knew exactly what he was doing then because he committed suicide by police. Fuck him and the train he rode in on.

TunipTheUnconquerable Fri 14-Feb-14 20:22:35

Even apart from the issue of whether there's a reason why he did it, there's the fact that society let him get to this point.
He has a history of violence towards his wife. Why was that not dealt with? Why is it so hard for women with violent husbands to protect their children from them? Why are they encouraged to think that the most important thing is for the child to have a relationship with their father, regardless of the risk?
Even if we totally removed moral responsibility from the man by saying he's mentally ill and can't help it, that leaves other people who are culpable.

scallopsrgreat Fri 14-Feb-14 20:30:25

YY Tunip

rosabud Sat 15-Feb-14 10:14:37

This post is accurate, thought-provoking and extemely well written. I think it should be somewhere where even more "public" like the letters page of a major newspaper.

I think that the "fahers for rights" type of movements over the last decade have managed to place the issues surrounding violent men's rights to have some access to their children centre-stage to the extent that the mantra of a child's need to know and have contact with a father, no matter how much of a risk to their physical (and mental) well-being, is paramount. How can feminism overturn this? How can we place the issues surrounding women's rights to protect their children centre-stage to the extent that the mantra of a child's need to be protected from physical (and mental) abuse, no matter how much a risk to the father-child relationship, is paramount?

rosabud Sat 15-Feb-14 10:26:32

Can I just add that I know the main point of the OP's post was not about violent men's rights to see their children, I posted the above because of all the other posters' interesting answers that made me think of that angle. I don't mean to derail.

DonkeySkin Sat 15-Feb-14 12:22:27

Rosabud, I don't think that's a derail at all - I think it's one of the main issues to come out of this horrible case.

The Luke Batty murder comes on the heels of several cases in Australia where fathers with restricted access to their children have nevertheless managed to find ways to murder them. An in all cases, there was an obsession with the ex-wife or partner: a belief that she had ruined his life and he was going to make her 'pay' in the worst way possible. To these men, their children are not human beings that exist independently of them and have a right to their own lives - they are objects to be wielded in their battle to control their wives. That's what makes the media's willingness to bestow the 'loving father' tag on them so sickening.

As you say, it seems to be an article of faith that violent men nevertheless have an inalienable right to have a relationship with their children. We need to move to the opposite position and make children's right to safety the top priority and guiding principle of custody arrangements, which should include denying dangerous parents any access.

Apparently, Victoria's Child Safety Commissioner is going to conduct an inquiry into Luke's death to see how 'the system' failed him. I certainly hope that custody/visitation rights will be part of that review, but given the way the debate has so far been conducted, maybe it's a foolish hope.

And you are absolutely right that MRAs/fathers' rights groups have played a big part in all of this. They have really managed to drive into the public's consciousness the idea that 'kids need fathers' above all else. When the truth is, kids don't need fathers like Greg Anderson - they need society to protect them from such men.

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