Often one of the biggest challenges for women experiencing family violence is taking the first step to seek help. Women in Focus spoke to two not-for-profit organisations that support some of the most vulnerable women and children in our communities.
Over the past two years, the national conversation around family violence has seen dramatic change; a spotlight has been shone on the national emergency and what was once considered a private conversation has been brought into mainstream media and the nation’s collective conscience.
These brave conversations have resulted in more women reaching out to frontline services to seek support.
Annette Gillespie, CEO of safe steps Family Violence Response Centre and Jocelyn Bignold, CEO of McAuley Community Services for Women, explain that when women reach out to their services based in Victoria, it may be the first time that someone has really listened or believed their situation, and many may need immediate help and support to secure emergency accommodation for themselves and their children.
“For us, as a frontline family violence service, our challenge is to do everything we can to help keep women and their children safe from violence and abuse,” says Annette.
There are a number of services dedicated to protecting women and children, it’s important that women and children receive adequate support and have somewhere safe to turn. “We provide accommodation, support, services and advocacy for (and with) women who have experienced homelessness and women and their children who have experienced family violence.” says Jocelyn. The services and support that both safe steps and McAuley Community Services for Women provide are essential in protecting and supporting women and children who have experienced family violence.
Supporting the organisations safe steps data has shown that there has been a 20 per cent increase in calls to their Family Violence Response phone line across November and December 2015 compared with the same period in 2014.
“We are also seeing a rise in the number of women and children we are needing to accommodate. On average, we provide over 16,000 bed nights each year for women and children escaping the immediate risk of serious injury or death.” Annette explains.
As the demand on services increases, so too does the need to raise funds in order to be able to help the women and children who reach out to these organisations. It is the people in communities, both individuals and businesses, who enable organisations to support vulnerable members of our communities, and continuity of funding remains a constant challenge.
An equally strong component of the work of safe steps and McAuley Community Services for Women are committed to facilitating is the prevention and elimination of violence, both on a systemic and individual level. “Managing these competing priorities can be challenging as they are both vitally important to the health and welfare of the entire community and both require unrelenting effort,” shares Annette.
Some of the areas Jocelyn feels could further contribute to ensuring the elimination of family violence include: “A fully resourced national plan which incorporates a national safe at home program; a national affordable housing strategy which includes the full range of accommodation options from crisis to permanent housing; and, an effective employment program which takes into account the multiple barriers that exist for women entering into, and remaining in, the workforce.”
Annette believes we have never been at a more hopeful time to support women and children, and end family violence. “Every one of us can do something small to make big changes. From taking the time to ask someone you know if they are okay, to challenging gender stereotypes and sexist behaviours when you see and hear them, to volunteering for a group that supports victims, calling upon our governments to resource support services and change laws to hold offenders to account. We can all be part of the solution.”
Jocelyn’s vision for the future is a gender equal society, free of family violence. “Our vision for the future is that family violence is no longer acceptable; that women and children are safe in their own homes; that women have the health and financial capacity to provide for their futures and have equal access to all resources.” And we couldn’t think of a better future.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
To celebrate International Women's Day 2017, CommBank's Women in Focus are hosting events around Australia throughout the month of March, find out more and reserve your ticket. We’d love to see you there.
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