May 4, 2016

Day 929 – Candle light

Whilst I had worked with female survivors of domestic violence, for three year, in London, I hadn’t worked in this field aboard. Yes I’ve travelled and I tried to support women in Paraguay but my lack of Spanish made this next to impossible so I gave up. My passion for supporting and empowering women however, will never fade. It is something that is deep rooted inside of me and one of the causes that I firmly stand by and support.  It is one of the biggest injustices that so many women unfortunately experience.  There is no set type of survivor, there are no factors which predict which type of woman will be affected by domestic violence. Domestic violence can happen to any woman regardless of her ethnic background, her age, her social status and age. In the same way, there is no set type of man who is the abuser. I wish we had set characteristics which enabled us to predict such abuse but there are none. The fact of the matter is any type of man can be a abuser and any type of woman can be abused. Sure there is research which attempts to predict or more explain how and why some men are abusers but one can not stereotype.

I am aware that we have many events to help raise awareness. Whilst I was in London for example, I attended several international women’s day conferences and one year we took part in the one billion raising campaign.  I sometimes felt, whilst such events received media attention, it was like preaching to the converted. I mean we were all there because we are committed to ending violence against women and we are dedicated to achieving this. It’s other people, the ones that care but don’t do anything about it or the ones in complete denial that domestic violence even exists. I am aware that men also experience domestic violence but we supported and worked with women. Each year I heard accounts from different survivors and each year I got choked up. It amazed me how these women had fought, how they found the strength to keep going and how they were brave enough to share their account. I’ve had many a friends say what I have done is brave but I have always disagreed because for me travelling solo is not brave. These women who have experienced and survived the domestic violence, they are brave in my eyes. It takes great courage to come out of a abusive relationship and to then start to piece your life back together. These women are brave and strong beyond measure.

Upon finding employment and moving to Townsville, I started to familiarise myself with legislation in Queensland. I wanted to get a better understanding of both the level of support available for these women but also what legal rights they had. I did research legislation prior to my interview so I was familiar with domestic violence orders which are equivalent to injunctions back home.  Now, whilst in London, increasingly we encouraged women to call police and report incidents, this was not the case here. Here, women were increasingly hesitant to call police let alone report incidents. This is partly due to the police response and the lack of training and sensitivity when supporting survivors of domestic violence. Another difference was, we didn’t report to family children services. We did when there was child abuse or neglect that was either made evident or disclosed but we didn’t make referrals purely on disclosure of domestic violence.  There is an extensive amount of literature and research which shows the correlation between domestic violence and child abuse. In many cases, where there is domestic violence, it is likely one or more of the children will experience some form of child abuse. Given this, back in London, our organisation and the police had to make automatic referrals however this was not the practice of my current workplace.

Child abuse sometimes may not be evident but through child contact, many perpetrators try to get back at their partners. Unfortunately, child contact is denied in only 1% of cases in the UK because legally it is deemed that a child should be raised with both his mother and father. Unless it is proved that the father is a threat or abusive towards the child, child contact arrangements will commence.  And it is during this time that many children die at the hands of the perpetrators.  I came to learn about Rosie Batty who unfortunately lost her son because of ex-partner. She is one of many Australian women who have lost their child or children because of ex-partners or husbands.  It shocks and upsets me that despite such losses, changes haven’t been endorsed, improvements or amendments have not been implemented. Progress has been made but it is slow and piecemeal. Robust action should be taken and legislation should be changed to protect the lives of innocent children.

I know back home, two women a week die of domestic violence and one in four women will experience it. Police receive a call every minute regarding domestic violence and it takes a woman thirty-five incidents before she discloses to police. Here in Australia, one in three women will experience domestic violence. In both countries, domestic violence is high amongst young people. The statistics for sexual violence are also high, with one in three women are likely to experience sexual violence.  We also know that not all women report incidents to services so we are missing a large proportion of society. I know there are a whole host of emotions that prevent a women from disclosing with feelings of shame and embarrassment to self-blame, fear and angry. It is not easy to make disclosures and it is not easy talking about the incident either. And questions like- why doesn’t she leave? Also do nothing to help. What professionals and society should be asking is why is he abusing her? Responsibility needs to shift to the perpetrator and he should be held accountable for his behaviour not his childhood, alcohol or drugs.

Domestic violence exists in many cultures and countries. As my mum joked, I went half way around the world to do the same work and it maybe a little funny but yes I did because this my calling.  Fighting for women’s rights, the end of violence against women and justice is something I will continue to pursue no matter where I go. I stumbled across it here in Australia and I didn’t even think I could or would get a job in the field but I did. I used to call it luck but increasingly I have come to believe that it is more than luck, it was no coincidence that I got this job here in Townsville, it was meant to be. The universe created some magic and this was the result. I don’t know where I will head to next or what my next job will entail but I hope it is in this field. This is a cause that makes my blood boil, it is something that I dedicate my life to and above all it is something I am prepared to die for because as Martin Luther King said, “a injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.  What is your passion? What are you prepared to die for?