‘Time to stop the cycle’: Domestic violence workers call for change in NSW

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Aboriginal and multicultural specialist workers say they are feeling optimistic after meeting with the NSW attorney-general and the state’s domestic violence prevention minister to discuss the need for change.

Tammy Wade travelled all the way from Moree in northwestern NSW to Sydney to meet with the state’s attorney-general, Mark Speakman, on Thursday.

She is one of 28 Aboriginal domestic violence specialist workers who met at NSW Parliament House to discuss the issues they face working on the ground in their communities and to try to push for change.

Aboriginal domestic violence specialist workers meet with NSW attorney-general Mark Speakman.

Aboriginal domestic violence specialist workers meet with NSW attorney-general Mark Speakman.

Supplied: Hayley Foster

Ms Wade said they simply want better outcomes for the women they work with.

She said among the main priorities is services that focus on behaviour change for men, and funding for case workers to support women affected by domestic violence. 

“We see lots of repeat victims in Moree,” Ms Wade, a Gamilaroi woman, told SBS News.

“It’s time to stop that cycle. If we can be with a woman from start to end, if she can have a caseworker, that will make a difference.

“Lots of women struggle with leaving. They don’t want to leave for a number of reasons and they might go back 100 times before saying ‘I deserve better’.

“And the men, we don’t have any perpetrator behaviour change programs for them. We can’t break the cycle by only focusing on one side of the equation.

The multicultural specialist workers also echoed the need for caseworker funding during their meeting with Mr Speakman.

Yvet Jones is a multicultural specialist worker in Sydney and said women from migrant or refugee backgrounds often face ‘huge barriers’ in accessing services.

“They often don’t have family support here, or face language barriers, or just don’t know where to start to find a service,” she said.

“Sometimes the perpetrator will be controlling their finances. It can be really tough without the right support.”

But Ms Wade warned against taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, with women from regional and rural areas facing starkly different problems than women in major cities.

“As Aboriginal women as well, we love our job and we love working in our communities but sometimes it can be hard,” she said.

“We don’t just work 9-5, we work around the clock to make sure our women are safe.

“We have to travel long distances to go to court in Boggabilla, Inverell. It’s a full day out of the office, then you have to say ‘I’ll see you next week or next month even’ because it’s so hard for us to go to them or for them to get to us.

“You just have to wait to see them until the next court date, and so much can happen in that time.”

Multicultural domestic violence specialist workers meet with NSW attorney-general Mark Speakman.

Multicultural domestic violence specialist workers meet with NSW attorney-general Mark Speakman.

Supplied: Hayley Foster

Women’s Safety NSW CEO Hayley Foster said the meeting was prompted by specialist workers feeling like their perspectives and concerns were not being heard. 

She is optimistic that the issues brought up in the meetings will gain traction.

“This didn’t feel just like another meeting, it was powerful,” she said.

“And it was powerful because it was the first time these women got to directly share their experiences with the government.

“Talking to the women afterwards, they said they felt listened to, which means so much.”

While there are challenges working with women on the frontline, Ms Jones said it is worth it.

“We hear so many stories of survival, every day we hear stories of resilience,” she said.

“We just want to help these women with the resources they need to have the future they want.”

And as a survivor of domestic violence herself, Ms Wade said even with the challenges, she is passionate about the work she does.

“If my parents didn’t get the support they needed 30 years ago, I’d just be a statistic now,” she said.

“If I can change one young person’s life, I’m happy. Sometimes we hear horrific stories but my job is awesome because I get to help people leave that behind.”

Ms Foster said the women also called for two representatives – one for the Aboriginal specialist workers and the other for the multicultural specialist workers – to be included in the peak body, Women’s Safety NSW.

“Both groups of women say they want a voice in the peak body,” she said.

“The representatives would consult with government on how to deal with the specific needs of their communities, in their own voice.

“That was one of the strongest messages.”

Readers experiencing domestic violence who need support can contact: 24-hour phone and online counselling service 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732, the Aboriginal Family Domestic Violence Hotline on 1800 019 123, Mensline on 1300 890 978 (specifically for men) and Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

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