This article contains content about domestic and family violence.
Care has however been taken to omit graphic descriptions of violence.
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Usually, when you read news on the topic of domestic and family violence, it's a sad report of injuries, deaths and stalkings, or a dobbing-in of politicians failing to fund crucial community services. The article will so often begin with a highly-triggering image of a man's balled-up fist, and a blurred-out, despairing woman pictured slumped upon a stair.
I'm not blurred out. I am, in fact, a high-resolution human who defeated domestic violence in a flawless victory. I am very much in the foreground of my survival story. Balled-Up Fist Guy be damned. I kick him in the head every morning when I wake up... you know... alive.
The temptation to introduce a domestic violence article with statistics and population profiles is strong, even in this writer, with distinguishing social features of Sydney's northwest threatening to spill all over the keyboard. The fight against the widespread careless use of Balled-Up Fist Guy in stock images is shelved for yet another day.
Today, I choose to share the good news. Even survivors of domestic and family violence - with all our experiences of trauma, unwell children and systemic failure - become weary of beating down bureaucratic doors to shout for help. Some days, warrior-women must rest their weapons, and gaze beyond the battleground.
In comes the Hawkesbury Action Network Against Domestic Violence. Comprised of specialist community sector workers - including Hawkesbury PAC's DV Liaison Officer Constable Renee Comber - the group's aims are to share information and resources, discuss current issues, promote community awareness and develop strategies to support families who need support through domestic violence. A member of the HANADV group reports that it generally takes a woman at least five years to rebuild after escape. If she has children and they too are traumatised, this recovery time can be stretched far longer.
The HANADV group released a 2017 Action Plan that they say was helpful in identifying two areas needing attention; transport and accommodation. Two years later, the group says that while they have made a plan for a transport service with Peppercorn Services, this goal remains unfulfilled and public transport in the area remains "virtually non-existent". While Peppercorn are unable to fill the service gap, families are heavily dependent upon friends and extended family (if they are lucky enough to have that level of support) as well as taxpayer-funded cab fares to carry out their safety plan.
The HANADV group also takes care to highlight that our semi-rural Hawkesbury is a region of animal-loving families, and a safety plan will often include planning for animals. For families experiencing violence in their homes, pets are also known to be at risk of harm. For today, transport for families fleeing violence remains an open space for solutions. The HANADV group's day-to-day experience with the logistics of supporting these families informs a highly pragmatic discussion with me on the challenges we face in providing these services. Even Constable Comber says she's found it necessary to transport members of the community to court, so that they can appear in their own court mentions as a person in need of protection.
The second main area of concern raised in the 2017 Action Plan was accommodation. The challenge for the region in establishing its own dedicated domestic violence refuge continues, with efforts from local organisations toward this goal now sadly being counted in the decades.
The HANADV group's "wish list" for a Hawkesbury shelter includes the inclusion of self-contained units (where families don't have to share bathrooms or other facilities with strangers), "truly holistic" support, longer stays, and a location close to public transport.
The group takes care to underline the basic need of stable routines for children in times of stress and upheaval; to achieve this, a DV shelter needs to be in a location that is close to kids' schools and other familiar surroundings.
Currently, Hawkesbury families needing to find safe shelter are forced to travel to the nearest facilities in Penrith and Blacktown. Conversely, youth accommodation clients from youth-specific services are being transported from opposite poles of Sydney to find shelter at a youth refuge in the Hawkesbury. This criss-crossing of clients to services in unfamiliar postcodes is an ongoing story of "chicken-and-egg" gaps and funding grants that are based upon past data instead of projected demand. For the rapidly-expanding northwest of Sydney, this seems like a counter-intuitive setup, and maybe it is.
The accommodation and housing puzzle remains unsolved for Hawkesbury families today, but tomorrow's always a new day for the HANADV team. This power-huddle of passionate and highly-specialised community sector workers powers on, meeting regularly to problemsolve and compare notes. They agree that the remarkable consistency of teamwork and collaboration in the funding-starved Hawkesbury community sector can be attributed to that scarcity of resources. Together, they call for more. Today, they've flagged an urgent need for local services that cater to Indigenous and other culturally and linguistically-diverse locals.
Also high on the agenda is the challenge of providing support for survivors of domestic violence in the court system. For anyone classed as a "PINOP", or Person In Need Of Protection, their day at the courthouse can follow weeks or even months of anxiety; often coupled with an escalation of attacks from the abuser. When a client is struggling with the unimaginable task of caring for traumatised children with a highly-traumatised body and brain as well as dealing with these court and police events, support has to be available.
For those who will continue to be immediately at risk following their court appearance, the safe rooms and services that gather at the courthouse can be a crucial safety barrier, as well as a referral to supports such as Victims Services. Victims Services may provide funding for free counselling/psychologist appointments and financial compensation for some of the losses experienced. The HANADV group is currently focused on "mapping" these court support services, to improve efficiency in how they work together to support the community.
The challenge to improve efficiency is a constantly-turning barrel in unsure waters for workers in the HANADV, who struggle with being able to constantly identify new challenges on a finite supply of funding with which to resource their solutions. Their efforts to wrap their services around Hawkesbury families is truly a marvel.
No matter what uncertainties lie ahead for survivors of domestic and family violence, we can be sure that strong and capable Hawkesbury locals are working daily to improve the social services landscape.
For the protection of vulnerable families and the community sector workers supporting those families, names and images of other HANADV members are withheld.
The Hawkesbury's own Reclaim the Night event is currently being planned for Thurs 24 October. Save the date!
You can read more about the HANADV and find contact details for them here.
Do you need assistance to put together your own safety plan?
You can go to this link to chat online with someone who can help.
For help in an emergency, please call 000.