Women fleeing domestic and family violence could soon have access to a “one-stop shop” of support services, meaning they’ll no longer have to tell their stories – and relive the trauma – on multiple occasions and to different organisations.
The region’s federal Labor MPs revealed on Wednesday that $1.5 million would be handed to the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre, should their party win Saturday’s federal election.
The cash would see the centre partner with Lifeline South Coast and the Illawarra Legal Centre to offer a service that simultaneously addresses financial and legal issues, and provides trauma-informed health and wellbeing support.
Chairwoman Judy Daunt said the women’s centre had long advocated for such a service and the funding showed “significant leadership and vision around a public health issue”.
Ms Daunt said the partnership would allow the centre to initially provide a “wraparound” service of crisis support and then longer-term recovery initiatives.
Last month, Lifeline South Coast answered 100 calls on its 13 11 14 crisis line where the caller identified domestic and family violence as the reason for making contact.
However, that number is likely higher because not every caller discloses DV as why they’re calling.
“Women … are often coming to us quite late into the picture and therefore the problem is greater,” Lifeline’s financial counselling service coordinator Anne Marie Sharkey said.
“We witness cases where they are retraumatised by having to retell their story and go back and revisit the circumstances to how their debts were incurred.
By providing this service what we see is that one-stop shop where they get to tell their story once and as part of a team we’re able to work together to support them.”
The initiative – based on a model developed in Victoria, would be based at the women’s health centre in Warilla, but provide services across the southern Illawarra.
Almost 800 women presented at the centre citing domestic and family violence as their primary issue during the 2017-18 financial year.
More recently, up to five women a day have sought crisis support from the centre.
“We know we’ve got a significant problem with domestic violence in the Illawarra, Sharon [Bird] and I want to do something meaningful about it,” incumbent Whitlam MP Stephen Jones said.
“So often we talk about domestic violence being a women’s issue, or a women’s problem. It’s not, it’s a social problem and men have got an important role in standing up and doing something about it.”
Mr Jones said he hoped the funding, which is contingent on Labor being elected to government, was “something that we never have to renew”.
“We hope that we’re able to deal with the problem of domestic violence but between now and then we want to ensure there are referral services so the women and the families who are victims of these horrible incidents are able to get their lives back together again,” he said.
Incumbent Cunningham MP Sharon Bird described the partnership as “really innovative thinking”.
“Wherever somebody comes in, they can be connected,” Ms Bird said.
“It’s a really complex and difficult time of life. You may be having health issues, you may have need for legal advice, you may have a need for financial assistance.These are all complex matters and if one of them fails that woman and her children then they can be forced back into circumstances that they don’t want to be in or not get the support they need, and that has implications for the whole community.”