Speaking fearlessly on family violence


By Dr Rhonda Cumberland, CEO, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand

Fourteen women have died in Australia since the start of 2015 as a result of family violence. It’s a shocking statistic.

It’s a statistic that forces people to realise the truths about our society that have been hidden, dismissed and silenced for generations. 

Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, has shown remarkable courage and leadership in putting family violence on the national agenda. Rosie’s story of the tragic death of her son Luke at the hands of his father touched the hearts of everyone in this country. Her voice has, without doubt, been a call to action.

In particular, we were pleased to see the Victorian Government take action through the establishment of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence. The systems that embed inequality need to change to ensure that women and children are safe, day in, day out. We’ll be actively participating by providing research and knowledge to inform policies that create lasting change in people’s lives.

Every day we see firsthand the harm that is done to women and their families in the home, whether the abuse is physical, psychological or economic. Often women and their children experience all these forms of abuse at any given time.

Some years ago our organisation began to look into economic abuse, how it impacts lives and how survivors of abuse can be better supported in the community. This is important because economic abuse is a little understood form of abuse and not given the attention it requires.

Economic abuse is defined as a form of family violence that impacts a person financially and undermines her efforts to be economically independent. It’s not just about behaviours such as withholding money, it’s also about the intent behind those behaviours. For example someone can keep their partner isolated by limiting their access to money or transport or services or exercise power over them by threatening to take money away or punishing them for using money.

We’re championing the issue of economic abuse with Good Shepherd Microfinance because we know from the women we deal with every day money is a critical issue. And we believe that every person has the right to feel in control of their finances and their lives.

Dealing with all forms of family violence goes right to the heart of our mission to disrupt the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage for women and girls. We conduct research in the areas of safety, educational participation and financial security. Most important of all we integrate education, safety and financial security in order to meet the entrenched force of inequality, discrimination and poverty. One approach alone is never enough to disrupt the hold of intergenerational disadvantage.

The way to stop family violence has two essential parts. One is to focus directly on what causes it and the other is to unify against it. Power-fuelled family violence is 24/7. It is present behind closed doors. It is determined and calculated. It mocks the cracks in our state-wide service system, the loose ends, the fragmented response, and the gaping holes.

The time is right for us all to intensify our efforts around this issue of equality in Australia. Co-responsibility is one of our core values and we believe it will take a united approach to defeat exclusion with inclusion.

Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand is an organisation that aims to disrupt the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage with a focus on women and girls. We achieve this through integrated services that address social and economic exclusion. These include family violence services, family support services, educational pathways, financial counselling and microfinance. We are a part of the One Good Shepherd Mission, partnering with Good Shepherd Microfinance, St Clare’s School, Good Shepherd New Zealand and The Trading Circle. A central part of our mission is to challenge the systems that entrench poverty, disadvantage and gender inequality. We do this through research, advocacy and social policy development. www.goodshepherd.com.au

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