The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as: "any act of … violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or … deprivations of liberty, … occurring in public or private life."
Although we may like to think violence against women happens infrequently or perhaps somewhere else, Australian figures are alarming when it comes to domestic and family violence, with a staggering 28.5 per cent of women having experienced some form of domestic violence in their lifetime (whiteribbon.org.au).
The link between domestic violence and homelessness is increasingly clear, and it requires a different and better response.
At Wesley Mission Victoria, we see people experiencing homelessness on a daily basis, and far too many of these are women and children who are victims of violence in the home. We know now that domestic violence doesn't discriminate and can take place in any suburb, in any socio-economic group, and in any ethnic group. Domestic violence is about robbing an individual of their power, so one key way to end it is to ensure that victims (predominantly women) are supported, heard and empowered.
Early intervention strategies and an integrated model of service delivery are important if we are to tackle the far-reaching and profound impact of domestic violence on women and children.
Wesley Mission Victoria is a major provider of homelessness and support services in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne to women and children suffering family violence. Wesley has partnered with the Safe Futures Foundation, to develop proactive, innovative and responsive service models to better support women and children who have experienced family violence. This partnership has identified methods of early intervention to ensure women and children remain connected to their own communities and to reduce the likelihood of homelessness.
'Safe at Home' is a model whereby a support worker makes regular visits to a Centrelink office to provide advice, information and support to women who are experiencing or may be at-risk of experiencing domestic violence. The visits are a non-threatening way to spread information and to educate women who may be at-risk while also keeping them engaged with supports in their local community. Once an incidence of domestic violence has been identified, women are then connected to appropriate supports within the community including health services and emergency services.
By preserving strong links to the community, women and children experiencing domestic violence will be less likely to end up homeless.
Children also need their own, specialised support networks and care plans, to help them to manage the emotional and physical trauma of experiencing or witnessing domestic violence.
'Resilient Kids' is a program that offers a series of supports, resources and activity groups for children, from the very young through to adolescents. Resilient Kids runs school holiday programs, outings, and camps and co-facilitate a range of therapeutic responses to children who are homeless or have experienced family violence, with the ultimate goal of keeping children engaged in learning and education.
These programs are of course only part of the response that is needed to deal with this terrible blight on our society. They are mainly dealing with the aftermath of domestic violence, providing support to those already wounded physically, emotionally, financially and in some many other ways.
Recently, I had the privilege of meeting Anj Barker. A highly inspirational and motivated young woman, Anj is a survivor of domestic violence. When she was just 16, her then-boyfriend beat her to near-death, leaving her with a severe brain injury. Since then, Anj has made a remarkable recovery, was the Victorian Young Australian of the Year 2011, has represented Australia at the International Women's Health Coalition in New York, and educates the public about domestic violence and advocating for healthy and respectful relationships.