At Christmas, a safe home is never more important

By: Jack de Groot   |   CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society NSW

For almost the entirety of 2020, we have been told to distance ourselves from others, work from home, and disrupt our usual routines.

Obviously, this is all to thwart the spread of COVID-19 and, here in Australia, we have been remarkably successful at limiting the effects of this potentially deadly virus.

However, much of this sound and well-intentioned advice takes for granted the idea of having a safe home to retreat to.

Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case for everyone.

Women and children who experience domestic violence are one group who have been negatively and disproportionately affected by the response to the pandemic.

This isn’t just because they may be spending more time in homes that are not safe but it also increases the difficulty of reaching out for vital support outside the home.

There are many stories we hear each day at Vinnies. I remember how one of the women we assisted, Jenny was faced with impossible choices at every turn. With three small children to think of, getting out of her situation was far from easy. Jenny’s husband was routinely violent towards her, even attacking her while she was pregnant.

Sadly, this is something experienced by far too many women, as the risk of domestic violence from a current or former partner increases when a woman is pregnant.

Jenny had no illusions as to what a tough choice it would be to leave. She shared how she didn’t have a roof over her head or even food. She was isolated and didn’t have anyone to turn to.

But she found her courage and took the impossible choice. Her words still stay with me: “A wife would have stepped back, but a mother has to step forward,” she said.

Despite the risks Jenny decided to find a way out for the sake of her children. By the time she arrived at one of our domestic violence refuges in NSW, Jenny felt like she had lost her humanity. But the refuge gave her breathing space to heal and grow as a person. Meanwhile, Vinnies caseworkers assisted her with Centrelink, Medicare, and bank applications to help her stand on her own two feet.

Domestic violence, after all, manifests in a variety of ways and it’s not just about physical attacks.

It takes many other forms, including verbal and emotional abuse, financial control, cutting people off from their friends and family, using technology to stalk and monitor, and more.

In the past year, the Society has supported approximately 2,300 women and children in NSW through our domestic violence refuges.

They provide a safe haven to live, nutritious meals, case management support, and the confidence for people to rebuild their lives.

The St Vincent de Paul Society is always there to help vulnerable people but the increase in domestic violence seen in 2020 and the surge for help we expect in 2021 has re-focussed our Christmas Appeal.

We know we will face increased need as life begins to get back to normal post-COVID. We want to boost our capacity to help women and children experiencing domestic violence by 10 per cent over the next 12 months.

To do this, as always, the Society’s is relying on the generosity of our donors to fund our services.

It is a positive goal but the increase in incidence of domestic violence means, this Christmas, we have the unfortunate task of needing to talk about uncomfortable facts like:

  • about half of women who experience domestic violence have children at the time
  • about a third of those women’s children witness the domestic violence
  • exposing children to domestic violence can have profound effects on their development and continue the cycle of abuse

Witnessing domestic violence can take many forms for children, from over-hearing arguments to being forced to watch or even take part in violence, to trying to defend a parent from attack.

For the kids in these situations, the trauma of domestic violence can mean they bear the effects for a lifetime. It can lead to anxiety and depression, alcohol and drug problems, and early death.

There is help available to these women and children, but the nature of the coercive control exercised by violent partners can make it difficult for them to seek it.

Increasing our capacity to help is one of the Society’s goals for this Christmas.

Whilst women and children experiencing domestic and family violence are under increased risk due to the isolation of the pandemic, the scourge of this often-hidden violence is something that has always been present.

At the end of this most challenging of years, it is vital that we make sure that women and children have a safe haven to turn to.

To donate - click here.

St Vincent de Paul Society NSW 2020 Annual Report

Dec. 09, 2020

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