Musings, rants, opinions, awhi and aroha from the whanau

I’ve been reading. Apparently a good blog is supposed to catch your attention.  A conversation, a challenge, an opening for lively debate.  I’m supposed to draw you in with my witty repartee and insightful musings.

It’s been suggested (on more than one occasion) that to wander around in my head could be very dangerous. But seeing as no one else was up for it and I’m the first cab off the rank, here we go…..

I’m not a huge fan of telling people what I do for a living. Reactions are usually met with one of several things.

Firstly surprise.

I’m used to that. People just don’t have a clear perception of what Women’s Refuge’s role is in combating family violence, or the kinds of services we offer.  When you say Women’s Refuge, people think we just provide safe housing or emergency accommodation.  Yeah right.

Secondly it’s met with pity.  Something I find more than a little embarrassing and just plain irritating. “That must be such a hard job.” “Gosh how do you do it?”, “You must see some terrible sights?”  Blah blah blah.

And yup, we do.  But we also do what needs to be done.  We advocate for women and children. We keep families as safe as we can, with the resources at our disposal. See our Need Help page for a full breakdown of services.

None of those things deserves surprise or pity. And neither do our clients.

Thirdly, it’s met with judgment.  There is an assumption that, as feminists, we are naturally ‘man haters’ or previous victims ourselves and judged to be working from a premise of revenge.  The truth is, we are feminists, we’re not men haters and some of us have previously been victims of family violence. And some of us haven’t.    But those are not the only things that define us.  We’re as diverse and unique as all people should have the right to be.  And what defines us is our commitment to create safe families and working together to achieve that; ensuring that the wider context of violence is understood within society and that we are actively participating in its elimination. End of story.  Full stop.

And yup, this is sometimes a hard job. Make no mistake about it. I’ve seen sights that would make you sick and listened to truths that have made my insides turn. I’ve  dealt with situations that could have gone either way, and some that have been particularly dangerous, when I look back in hindsight.   I’ve delivered babies (truly amazing), cradled broken women in my arms, thwarted suicide attempts, confronted offenders,  picked people up from the side of the road in the middle of the night, sat through hundreds of hours of statements and court cases  and undertaken  operations with police in order to achieve safety.  The list goes on, as does the struggle.

This role isn’t for the faint hearted and it isn’t for the scaredy cats. I have met a few tigers in my time though!

Finally and most importantly, we get those folk that show genuine interest and concern for the people we work for.  “Far out, what a cool job.” And you know what? It really is.  Really!

Sure the pay is not the best and there are no health benefits or dental, but my spirit is in pretty good shape, I reckon.  Some of the most amazing and inspirational women and children I have ever had the privilege of meeting, have come through our doors and taught me more than any text book ever could.  I’ve learnt more about the human spirit, resilience, forgiveness and empathy from these women and children than I could have ever hoped for and for that I am truly grateful.  I’ve watched families change the cycle for themselves and I’ve been a privileged participant in their process.   I’ve worked with inspirational advocates and agencies and seen the power of what we can do together.  All of these people have changed me forever.

Family violence intervention is a specialist field.

The dynamics and effects of violence on women, children and even men; as perpetrators of violence, is pretty evident in our society and on a daily basis. Oh and if I may. Let’s be really clear here. It’s not just a Maori issue, or a Pacific Island issue, or even a low socio-economic issue. Family violence is everyone’s issue and no one is immune. I mean no one!

In fact some of the most insidious abuse I have encountered in my career, has been from prominent men, with power and influence.  The very power and influence that should be used to protect is used, quite simply, to abuse.  And what continues to perpetuate this is still the overarching belief that men have a place of dominance over the women and children in their lives and unfortunately our society still supports that premise. By holding a gendered analysis to violence we aim to break down those societal barriers that support violence in our homes and our society and create more equitable relationships within the families we work with and for.

The team here work particularly hard to ensure that the families in our catchment are safe, supported are living free from violence and can confidently take their non violent place in society, with mana. That’s our job. We take great pride in seeing women and children happy. We get a buzz from seeing women go from strength to strength, discovering who they are again and making plans for a better future.

We are committed to establishing and maintaining a collaborative service for perpetrators because we believe that in order to facilitate safe and happy families, we can’t do that in isolation. Our Men’s Caucus is committed to achieving this, alongside community stakeholders and we continue to support men in achieving safe, loving and equitable family relationships.

And at the end of the day our women deserve to have what they ask for!

That’s what we believe anyone really wants, at the end of the day.  Not pity, nor surprise and certainly not judgment. Just to be heard, understood and provided with the tools and insight to live safely and autonomously. To love and be loved.

And we plan to make sure people have that.  Our goals are long term, because the epidemic that is family violence in Aotearoa isn’t going away in a hurry.

So next time you see me around, leave your judgment, surprise and pity at the door and make the decision to ask how you can make the difference for your whanau, for your community, for your country. It begins with all of us.

Ops and the whanau at Eastern Refuge  xxx

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