Bulletin Board: Good Sams curbing violence against women

Bulletin Board: Good Sams Foundation

Sarah Fraser-O'Brien (left) of the Good Sams Foundation
Sarah Fraser O'Brien, foundation manager for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan Foundation (Good Sams), which supports the projects of the Sisters of the Good Samaritans, including safe houses and programs for women and children escaping domestic violence, says that changing a family's culture around domestic violence is hard work.

"Breaking that cycle of domestic violence is often that's a real challenge because it's a long-term lifestyle that a woman might have endured, even from her own childhood, so you have to deal with self-esteem and all those sorts of concerns," she says.

"The aim is to try to get her back on her feet and to try to build her networks, her support network, and build her confidence, and get her in a position where she doesn't want to go back to the perpetrator and hopefully we won't have that cycle continuing in her children. Our big aim is to try to break that whole cycle, and to have that wonderful change in their lifestyle."

One in three women – across ages, socio-economic demographics and cultures – will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, while one in four children will witness violence against their mother or step-mother. Every week in Australia, two family members, including children, are killed by loved ones.

Fraser O'Brien points to the recent case of a 16-year-old schoolboy stabbing his 14-year-old girlfriend, who wanted to leave the relationship, as an example of how the culture proliferates even at the youngest ages, while the emotional toll on children from homes where verbal and physical abuse is present can't be underestimated.

From June 7 this year, a new Commonwealth family law amendment will require the Federal Magistrates and Family courts to take account of what is in domestic violence orders and take prompt action when violence or abuse is alleged, while new Queensland laws coming into force in September give a broader definition of abuse, to include behaviour that is physically, sexually, emotionally, psychologically or economically abusive, threatening or coercive.

"It's always about control," says Fraser O'Brien. "And every week in Australia there's a death."

Journalist/author Kaz Cooke devoted a chapter of her latest book, Women's Stuff, to issues of control and abuse.

"What really shocked me about this is that I didn't expect there to be hundreds of responses of women saying this happened to me," she said. "This is happening to so many women. It's so hidden. And many women said, 'I'm in it now, I know I'm in it, and I can't find the strength to leave'. They won't do it for themselves because their self-esteem is shot. It can be terribly insidious."

Family violence is increasingly being recognised not simply as a private or individual issue, but rather as a systemic issue arising from wider social, economic and cultural factors, meaning the issue needs to be dealt with in the private and public spheres, including workplaces, schools and community organisations.

"When I first started with Good Sams, I didn't realise what happens with domestic violence and family violence and how prevalent it is in the community," says Fraser O'Brien.

"Most people don't talk about it, most people don't like talking about it; it's one of those sort of things that is kept in the cupboard. I think a lot of our role models aren't there anymore and a lot of people don't know how to have healthy relationships or how to deal with anger or control issues."

On a macro level, the issue is also having a big impact on the nation's GDP, which has given the government added impetus to support efforts to curb domestic violence.A 2009 survey conducted by KPMG found that the cost to the community of domestic violence alone is $13.6 billion each year, and that's increasing.

"You have to take into account that two-thirds of women in a domestic violence situations actually work," says Fraser O'Brien.

"If they're going through trauma, then they might have time off work. Often a family will break up, and there's costs involved in that, there's Centrelink costs for children. That's why the government is now flagging that as a community we have to do something about it and bring it out from the shadows."

The furnished safe houses, professional support workers, workshops for building confidence, awareness and understanding, as well as crisis accommodation, that organisations like Good Sams provide all come at a cost.

While Fraser O'Brien says Good Sams receives some government funding, and significant support from its patron-in-chief, Governor General Quentin Bryce, it also hosts fundraisers and events to get the word out. It costs $1000 for Good Sams to host a school workshop.

Good Sams is holding a family fun day in Samford, Brisbane, on May 27 to promote community awareness of the Foundation and the Queensland Government's Act as 1 campaign.

"We had a client who had been in care in 2009 with us, and had been in a terrible relationship and had one child, and now she's got a uni degree," says Fraser-O'Brien. "She just needed that break and support and encouragement to be independent and believe in herself. That makes it worthwhile."

Good Sams is looking for help at the Wavell Heights, Brisbane, office. "If someone has certain skills, for example writing or social media, and are able to dedicate a couple of hours a week, or even having someone volunteer their time or expertise, for events and admin, it would go a long way," says Sarah. "But even talking about us or liking us on Facebook, or making a financial contribution, would go a long way. Right now, we'd just like some hands on help."

Go to www.goodsamsfoundation.org.au for more information and/or like Good Sams on Facebook.

Girl With a Satchel


Brenda Pruitt said...

It happened to me. Wrote about it on my blog. Have been divorced seven months. Creating a new life. Trying to make ends meet. Makes women quite vulnerable.