White Ribbon Night and Ending Domestic and Family Violence

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A word from our Acting CEO, Brad Webb:

This weekend is officially White Ribbon Night – a campaign from White Ribbon Australia to encourage people to host an event that creates a culture of respect and equality among loved ones, communities and workplaces.

Samaritans is proudly a White Ribbon Accredited Workplace, the first in the Hunter region to gain accreditation, and a number of senior male staff members are White Ribbon Ambassadors. I’m proud to be a White Ribbon Ambassador and privileged to sit as Chair of the Samaritans Domestic and Family Violence Prevention and Awareness Committee. The Committee meets monthly to provide leadership and support to Samaritans in its goal to end domestic and family violence (DFV).

DFV is close to home for many people. It might have directly affected you, someone you know or someone in your community.

There are news reports almost every week of major DFV incidents – take for example the father who shot his two teenage children in their Sydney home earlier this month. Following the incident, Rosie Batty said she could relate to how the mother was feeling, after her own son was killed by his father at cricket practice in 2014.

While DFV crimes make the news regularly, behind them hides hundreds of others happening in our communities every week.

The Australia-wide statistics are confronting, and more locally, it was recently reported that in the past five years to March, almost 21,000 women and girls in the Hunter region were victims of reported violent attacks, more than half being domestic violence.

We mustn’t forget that it’s the most marginalised among us suffer the most: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls are 35 times more likely than the wider female population to be hospitalised due to DFV. 90% of women with intellectual disabilities have experienced some form of violence by the time they turn 18.

It is these confronting statistics that encourage governments to act. Legislation and dedicated funding can help victims of DFV to have a possibility of safety and stability when leaving a partner who is perpetrating violence.

The Residential Tenancies Act is a key piece of legislation that protects victims of DFV who are living in rental homes. Major changes to the Act in 2010 meant that victims of DFV were no longer liable for property damage caused by a perpetrator, as well as being able to break a lease without penalty in order to flee a violent partner. The Act has been amended multiple times since, including most recently where victims will be protected from being blacklisted on a real estate database if the property they are renting is damaged due to DFV.

A woman killed by her partner is most likely to be killed in her home. The NSW Government increased funding in the recent State Budget for the Staying Home Leaving Violence program, which aims to prevent victims and children becoming homeless or having to move away from their support system of family and friends. The program works in cooperation with police to remove the perpetrator from the home and provides a range of support such as improving home security and help with the legal process.

Samaritans supports countless people who are facing, or have faced, DFV. People who find their way to our Youth and Women’s refuges are often fleeing some form of DFV. Samaritans also has a casework team that support to house young people who are facing homelessness into private rental properties.

Given the various housing and homelessness services Samaritans offers, we have regular dealings with real estates and property management agents. While the particular businesses Samaritans works with are very aware of the rights for tenants who face DFV, there are many who are not. Victims of DFV regularly approach Samaritans with damage bills or rental arrears from rental agencies that don’t know the safeguards in place.

I look forward to Samaritans capturing more opportunities to educate businesses and the wider community about DFV, particularly highlighting lifesaving safeguards that are in place for those fleeing violence.

This weekend, I encourage you to consider what you can do to create a culture of respect and equality in your workplace, social circles or family. More ideas and information at https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/night/.

Samaritans runs numerous Specialist Homelessness Services throughout Newcastle and the Mid North Coast. For information phone 1300 656 336. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 000. The National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service is available at 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), or you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.