The power of advocacy: one survivor’s story

The power of advocacy: one survivor’s story

Monday 24th August 2020

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Reclaiming and redefining one's self after experiencing intimate partner violence is fraught with many challenges. Overcoming the trauma of abuse and the injustices of the legal system are just two of these challenges.

Cathy Oddie knows this all too well. In spite of this, her decision to become a victim survivor advocate has been one of her most life changing and rewarding experiences. Here she reflects on her advocacy journey and her recent appointment to the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee Victoria (VOCCC).

Cathy Oddie has been a family violence survivor advocate for 13 years. Her journey to becoming an advocate began as a result of experiencing life threatening abuse by her partner when she was 22.

“I endured every sort of abuse for three and a half years, and ongoing stalking once the relationship ended. What I didn’t expect was to be let down by the systems and services that were meant to support me. It made me angry. If someone with my white privilege finds the system that difficult, how much harder would it be for a person who is Aboriginal, or from a culturally diverse background, or who is living with a disability find it?”

Participating in the safe steps Survivor Advocate Program was a major turning point in Cathy’s life. The program supports victim survivors of family violence to get media training, to challenge victim blaming myths, and be able to tell their stories in the way they want them to be told.

"The decision to become an advocate for change saved my life."

Since completing the program Cathy has given many media interviews about her experience as a victim survivor and the need for system reform. She has also drawn upon her lived experience to help inform the production of early intervention resources for victim survivors.

In 2015, Cathy also found the confidence and courage to provide her own independent submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence. As a result she was called upon to provide a witness testimony about her experience as a victim survivor and the difficulties she encountered navigating the service system.

“Giving that testimony was simultaneously one of the hardest things I’ve ever done plus one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s something I’ll be forever proud of.”

Cathy’s submission and testimony helped result in two of the Royal Commission’s final recommendations – Recommendation 104 and Recommendation 106, which led to the 2018 review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act.

“To know that just by putting my experience out there for the Commission to consider, that it could have such a lasting impact for victim survivors, that’s something I’d never want to change.”

What are some of the challenges and rewards you’ve experienced as an advocate?

“There’ve been points where I felt like walking away because, when you’re a victim survivor of family violence and sexual assault, the trauma doesn’t just end when the crisis ends. The impact that it has on you emotionally, physically, and financially is ongoing and really tough.”

“The advocacy work has kept me going forward in my life. It’s given me an opportunity to take myself outside of my own individual circumstances, to see the bigger picture and the need for broader reform and change.”

“By speaking up I’ve been able to be part of creating change. I’ve got a voice in this space that people are listening to. I also have a responsibility to use that voice in a way that amplifies the voices of those who are not being heard.”

Tell us about your recent appointment to the VOCCC and what this means to you?

“It means being part of informing policy and legislative changes that help improve the victim supports that people who’ve experienced serious violent crimes receive.”

As a representative on the VOCCC, Cathy will bring a lived experience lens of what women who experience family violence and sexual assault go through. This will include advocating for:

  • the need for legal representation
  • changes in court designs so that victim survivors are not placed at risk of encountering their perpetrators
  • more specialised case management
  • victim survivors not having to repeat their experience and story of abuse

For Cathy, this role gives her an opportunity to ensure victim survivors’ voices are central to any reform and system changes.


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Q&A: The ins and outs of DV Vic’s new Code of Practice

Q&A: The ins and outs of DV Vic’s new Code of Practice

Thursday, 6 August 2020

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Building on a resource that informed the development of Victoria’s family violence sector over many years, Domestic Violence Victoria (DV Vic) has officially released the second edition of their Code of Practice: Principles and Standards for Specialist Family Violence Services for Victim-Survivors (the Code).

To celebrate the launch, we recently spoke with DV Vic’s Senior Practice Development Advisor, Erin Davis, about the redevelopment process and how the Code’s principles and standards will guide better responses to victim survivors of family violence across Victoria.

In an ideal world, how would this resource be used by specialist family violence practitioners?

ED: I think this question is really good because it reflects how people maybe initially understand the Code: as something you give to a practitioner. Of course, the Code is for practitioners to use, but actually, it is first and foremost for service leaders to implement into their organisations. Leaders can use the Code and its audit tool to do continuous quality improvement work, compare service design against standards and indicators, and then make action plans when improvements are needed within their own contexts. Services can bring the Code into their strategic planning and value-setting work, to redevelop policies, procedures, education, training and induction programs for staff.

In their day-to-day practice, practitioners can also use the Code for their own self-reflection, to work through ethical dilemmas or to think about their practice capabilities.

“The Code doesn’t necessarily have an answer to every question that may come up in practice, but it will have a principle, standard, or way of thinking that you can draw on to inform your response.”

Importantly, leaders and practitioners can also use the Code for systemic advocacy. It can be used to promote understanding of the sector and advocate for the rights of victim survivors.

Can you tell us about the process involved in redeveloping the Code? 

ED: It started at the end of 2018 and ran all way across 2019. First, we unpacked the previous Code and identified what we wanted to maintain and bring into the second edition. We then undertook a literature review, drawing on contemporary guidelines, standards and research into good practice responses and analysed those.

We also looked at how we needed to map this new Code with legislation and policy frameworks that had evolved since the first edition in 2006 and, in particular, since the Royal Commission into Family Violence. We wanted to make sure the new Code reflected the essence of other frameworks like the Human Services StandardsChild Safe StandardsEqual Opportunity guidelines for family violence services and MARAM.

What about engagement and consultation processes? 

ED: A lot of participatory engagement processes were set up. We established an advisory group that consisted of representatives from specialist family violence services, an academic advisor, as well as key partners – including DVRCV, NTV and Family Safety Victoria. That group met at key points during the development of the Code and was very actively involved in co-designing it, which was awesome. Regular discussion and consultation was also held with the Specialist Family Violence Services Group and the Refuge Roundtable, which are key networks convened by DVVic.

I also travelled around the State and ran focus groups and interviews with practitioners and victim survivor advisory groups. We were able to really benefit from asking them how they felt about the content being developed and what key messages they wanted conveyed to the sector. I think that was a really critical piece in developing the Code.

What is the value of this resource? How will it benefit Victoria’s specialist family violence sector? 

ED: I would say the value of this resource is in its ultimate, overarching purpose: to guide consistent quality service provision for victim survivors who are accessing specialist family violence services.

“The Code is an industry resource for the sector, but the proof of its value really is in how victim survivors experience the quality and consistency of the services offered by the sector. “

Of course, the specialist violence sector is already doing many of the things that are in the Code – after all the Code came from them! But it’s just going to take things to a next stage of development.

What are the key ways the new Code builds on the original 2006 version

ED: The second edition builds on the first by providing principle-based standards and indicators that act as a roadmap services can use to self-audit, action plan and do continuous quality improvement work.

It also expands on the foundational feminist, human rights and social justice frameworks used in the original Code. While those frameworks all still underpin it, the new Code also brings in a strong intersectional feminist framework. Throughout the development process, the intersectional feminist framework – time and time again – came through as the primary way of thinking the sector wanted to see reflected across specialist family violence services.

This framework helps us understand the complex ways in which family violence interacts with gender-based oppression, with homophobia, with transphobia, ableism, ageism and many other forms of oppression. Those forms of oppression are exploited by people who use violence. They perpetuate discriminatory service responses. And ultimately, all of that exacerbates the harm that victim survivors experience.

“Specialists can use intersectionality to unpack how family violence plays out in a more nuanced way, engage in critical reflection on their own policies and practices, and to work with other sectors that respond to these oppressions and build coalitions with them.”

What is your message to other services involved in the family violence response? Is this resource useful for them as well?

ED: The Code is primarily designed for the specialist family violence service sector, but I think it’s definitely a resource that would be useful for other non-specialist services.

Many have an important role to play in family violence response. Tier 2-4 services can use the Code as a quality improvement resource, just as specialist family violence services would do. That means not just handing the Code over to individuals responding to family violence, but using it at that leadership level in self-auditing and strategic planning discussions.

If an organisation has one family violence practitioner or as small local family violence response program, the Code is for them too. A key challenge is ensuring the Code reaches those parts of the sector.

Download DV Vic’s new Code of Practice.

If you need assistance navigating and using the Code, contact DV Vic for guidance and support.

Are you responsible for embedding the DV Vic Code of Practice into your organisation? Join DV Vic’s Implementation Champions Group!

This group will support professionals in funded specialist family violence services who are responsible for embedding the Code of Practice, MARAMIS and the future Service Model in their organisations. To learn more about this group and how you can join, click here.

Page last updated Thursday, August 6 2020


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Rigid gender roles and stereotypes

Rigid gender roles and stereotypes

Thursday 6 August 2020

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Gender inequality creates the social conditions for violence against women to occur. There are four key expressions of gender inequality that have been found to predict or drive this violence. To prevent violence against women, we must focus our efforts on addressing these drivers. Rigid gender roles and stereotypes are one of these drivers.

What are rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and feminity?

Rigid gender roles and stereotypes are fixed beliefs and assumptions that men and women are naturally suited to different tasks and responsibilities or have likes, dislikes, desires, interests and abilities that aren’t based on their individual personalities but their gender. Examples of rigid gender roles and stereotypes include:

  • assuming women will do the cleaning, cooking or administrative tasks at work or community events.
  • viewing men as the primary breadwinner, and women as the primary homekeeper / child carer.
  • thinking men are ‘naturally’ more violent or driven by uncontrollable sexual urges.

We are all gender socialised from the time we are born. Messages received from family, friends, advertising and the media influence children to take up limited and stereotyped gender roles and identities. These gender norms become internalised and established as part of the ‘natural order’ of life. For example, the belief that men should be tough and dominant often means that boys and men feel like they shouldn’t cry, show emotions or demonstrate abilities to play caring roles; and the belief that women should be nurturing, ‘lady-like’ or sexually appealing means women and girls often feel pressure to behave in certain ways to meet these expectations.

People who support rigid gender roles and stereotypes are more likely to approve and uphold attitudes that justify, excuse, minimise or trivialise violence against women.

The socio-ecological model

Looking at how rigid gender roles and stereotypes manifest within different settings where people live, learn, work, socialise and play can help you to plan your approach to addressing them. The socio-ecological model comes from the public health field and is used to help explain how violence is a product of multiple, interacting factors at the individual, organisational, systemic and societal levels.

The four gendered drivers exist at all of these levels and are the social conditions which predict, or ‘drive’, higher levels of violence against women.

Reinforcing factors interact with the gendered drivers at the individual and relationship level to increase the probability, frequency and severity of this violence.

Rigid gender roles and stereotypes take many shapes and forms

At an individual or relationship level rigid gender roles and stereotypes can look like:

At an organisational or community level, rigid gender roles and stereotypes can look like:

At an institutional or systemic level, rigid gender roles and stereotypes can look like:

At a societal level, rigid gender roles and stereotypes can look like:

What are some actions that you can take to challenge gender stereotypes?

To address stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity it’s important to foster positive personal identities and challenge gender stereotypes and roles. This means supporting people to critique and reject rigid gender roles, and to develop personal identities that are not constrained or limited by gender stereotypes. For example:

  • undertaking activities that promote and encourage women and girls’ participation in sport and STEM subjects,
  • using the arts to raise awareness of gender stereotypes and explore alternative forms of masculinity and femininity,
  • promoting gender equitable parenting and domestic practices,
  • promoting flexible employment conditions for working fathers,
  • implementing workplace policies that tackle biases in recruitment and training.

What you can do


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Survey Captures FV Practitioner Experiences During COVID-19

Survey Captures FV Practitioner Experiences During COVID-19

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

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As many parts of Victoria move to Stage 4 restrictions, it’s a critical time to reflect on how measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 impact the incidence of family violence and how professionals can overcome challenges associated with supporting victim survivors under lockdown.

The Monash Gender and Family Violence Centre recently published a research report capturing the voices and experiences of 166 Victorian practitioners supporting women experiencing violence during Victoria’s initial COVID-19 shutdown period.

The responses, collected through an anonymous online survey between April and May 2020, are insightful, inspiring and informative. Here’s a summary of the key findings.

More frequent, more severe violence

Among the practitioners surveyed, 59% of respondents reported that COVID-19 has increased the frequency of violence against women, while 50% said it has increased the severity. 42% of respondents reported an increase in women experiencing family violence for the first time.

As violence has become more frequent and severe, women’s support needs have become increasingly complex. Over three quarters of respondents reported an increase in case complexity and 55% reported a significant increase.

Enhanced tactics of control

Practitioners also highlighted that perpetrators are using new forms of violence and “enhanced tactics” to control, coerce and socially isolate victim survivors during the pandemic.

These tactics include weaponising the COVID-19 restrictions and using the threat of infection to control women’s movements and decision-making power. As one practitioner articulated:

“Perpetrators are using COVID-19 as a reason to keep women isolated, for example, not letting them out of the home to ‘protect them’ from COVID-19.”

Additional barriers to support

In addition to impacting the prevalence and nature of family violence, the pandemic has also diminished women’s capacity to reach out for support. In particular, practitioners were concerned by increased perpetrator surveillance over victim survivor’s devices and online activity, restricting their ability to safely contact support services. As one practitioner voiced:

“Partners who are monitoring phone use now have an increased amount of power and control in this domain as the phone is now quite literally the only connection with the outside world. “

Another shared:

“Women have been very concerned about their phone calls being overheard and not having a safe space to speak freely. Women have often ended phone calls, changed the topic or called back later when it is safe to talk.”

According to the report, lockdown measures have also further isolated victim survivors from their usual support networks, increasing the overall invisibility of their victimisation.

Overcoming challenges posed by lockdown 

Across the sector, services and professionals are working in new, innovative ways to continue safely reaching and delivering support to at-risk women during COVID-19. A few innovative approaches to service delivery professionals shared via the survey include:

  • Integrating family violence support into “essential services” that have remained open through lockdown periods, including GP clinics, Centrelink and childcare centres.
  • Creating new alert systems victim survivors can use if in trouble or in need of support.
  • Partnering with all-women rideshare company, Shebah, to provide safe transport and deliveries to women and children experiencing family violence.
  • Getting clients to provide virtual “house tours” to provide more information to support risk assessment and safety planning.
  • Using alternative phone solutions that do not require app downloads to devices, such as Gruveo.
  • Utilising video streaming technologies such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp to connect with clients and do virtual risk assessments and safety planning.

Implications for professionals’ wellbeing

The research also drew attention to the effects COVID-19 has had on practitioners’ wellbeing. Several respondents reported that – since shifting to remote service delivery – the lines between work and home had become increasingly blurred, making it harder to “switch off” after a day of work. As one respondent shared:

“Boundaries for me personally – [having] work computers at home [I’m] more likely to check emails out of business hours because of concern for the family [and] wanting to see a response to be reassured they are ok. “

Others mentioned that adapting to new modes of service delivery when family violence is increasing in severity and frequency has created additional work-induced stress. In the words of one practitioner:

“[There is] increased stress on clinicians due to the pressure to not place the client at greater risk of harm when delivering an adapted service model whilst the client is in isolation with the perpetrator.”

If you’re struggling at the moment, remember there are particular services and people in your organisation you can lean on for wellbeing support. Check out this section of The Lookout for information on what supports are available to you.  

To learn more about this research project, and read the entire report for yourself, click here

For more information and resources to support your practice during COVID-19, check out our COVID-19 and family violence section. 

Page last updated Tuesday, August 4 2020


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WISHIN: a safe home for every woman

WISHIN: a safe home for every woman

Monday 3rd August 2020

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Homelessness is a gendered issue. Jade Blakkarly knows this more than most people. For the past three years, she’s been at the helm of WISHIN, a small organisation that’s at the interface of homelessness and family violence.

“Women’s homelessness is an issue of gender inequality, poverty and lack of affordable housing intersecting with other forms of discrimination and marginalisation. More than 75% of the women we see have experienced family violence.  On top of that, over 50% have a diagnosed mental health issue. We’re also seeing more women who were born overseas – over 40%.”

WISHIN’s clients have many multiple and complex needs and this often leads to them falling through the gaps. These are women who’ve been through the family violence system and felt like it hasn’t worked for them. They may have substance and child protection issues or have had lots of criminal justice involvement.

“Generalist homelessness services sometimes struggle to respond to the complex support needs of women and children.”

Many of WISHIN’s clients have previously presented to mainstream homelessness services, with active family violence issues and high risk safety concerns. Homelessness services aren’t always well-equipped to manage that risk and may refer the woman to a family violence service. Meanwhile, some family violence services may refer women to a homelessness service, if they see housing as their main issue. Jade points out that “this can lead to women bouncing backwards and forwards between those two systems and not getting an appropriate response from either.”

How does a small organisation provide housing to an overwhelming number of victim survivors, all on a shoestring budget?

“It’s a constant challenge for us but the uniqueness of our service delivery model means we’re better placed to catch many women who fall through the gaps,” says Jade.

WISHIN’s approach is to provide a holistic trauma informed response that includes initial assessment, safety planning, case management and a long term Wellbeing Program to help women transition out of the program at their own pace.

WISHIN have specialist family violence workers located at homeless access points, the places where women come to get homelessness support. These workers provide a direct response to women who come in with a current family violence crisis. This includes conducting MARAM assessments and developing safety plans, negotiating with police around intervention orders, and working with safe steps if the woman needs to access a refuge.

These workers also do a lot of advocacy between the two systems – working out the type of family violence response that women should be getting as well as the homelessness response.

WISHIN also do capacity building and training for the homelessness sector. They have staff members located at homelessness organisations such as VincentCare. This approach provides the benefit of supporting homelessness staff to develop skills in doing basic identification and risk assessments. “This has really improved the staff’s confidence and understanding in recognising and responding to family violence,” says Jade.

How has COVID-19 impacted WISHIN’s clients?

“The priority given to funding homeless people in hotels has been phenomenal. Over 2,000 households have been supported since COVID and it’s provided somewhere safe for a lot of people to stay in Melbourne’s north,” says Jade. (WISHIN’s catchment area covers the northern metropolitan suburbs of Hume, Moreland, Yarra, Whittlesea, Nillumbik, Darebin and Banyule.)

COVID-19 has exposed social inequalities with women disproportionately affected. A highly gendered casualised workforce has meant that many women have lost their jobs. WISHIN is finding that a lot of their clients who had previously moved forward and established themselves are now re-engaging with their service. As Jade points out, “they’ve lost their jobs and their options are tighter. Although there’s been a temporary increase in income for some with JobSeeker, the loss of work also creates an issue for their ongoing sustainability.”

WISHIN has also found that some women have chosen to move into private rental because the market is not as competitive as it has been, particularly for those on Centrelink and who have children. These women are willing to risk the private rental market even though they are still financially insecure.

The Victorian Government has announced a $1billion increase in social housing. How do you welcome that?

Jade acknowledges that this is a great outlay by the government but also cautions that it will take a long time to see the full benefits, especially given Victoria has the lowest percentage of public and community housing per capita in Australia.

The Victorian Government has also committed another $150 million to assist the homeless to find housing in the transition post COVID-19. Whilst this is highly welcomed, it will not in itself solve the long term cycle of homelessness for many women, especially given the ongoing high rates of family violence and poverty that many women will continue to experience.

“We’ve been carrying a long history of very poor [housing] investment and women have suffered because of it. Social housing is a major part of the solution. Working with an integrated model of support is another.”

Donate to WISHIN’s emergency appeal to raise urgent funds for homeless women and their children during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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