shining a light
Julie Stewart knows only too well the horrifying reality of domestic violence. As CEO of the North Shore and Northern Beaches' Women's Resource Centre she is often at the coalface of advice, counselling and resource allocation for women and children fleeing this terrifying situation.
What she does know is that the scourge afflicting our society does not discriminate between the wealthy and the poor in our community.
“It's quite difficult to get a really accurate picture of the occurrence in areas like the North Shore - but we know there have been more incidents reported to police in the past 12 months," Ms Stewart tells North Shore Living.
"This reporting is often a last resort, so we do have a good idea of what is going under-reported. Victims often present with problems at other agencies like doctors or psychologists, so the true statistics can be difficult to quantify.
"I think it's fair to say that every woman knows a sister, cousin, friend or work colleague who has experienced domestic violence in some form."
Although domestic 'violence' conjures up images of physical hurt, beating and bruises, much of it comes in the form of psychological control. "Women can be playing tennis or golf in wealthy areas but they are being controlled financially, with no access to any of the family’s personal or business finances." says Ms Stewart. "They are continually kept in the dark and intimidated through their partners controlling behaviour."
She says these domestic violence situations can be very complex. "It's a difficult problem for people of privilege because it's all about appearing to be successful and content."
North Shore psychologist Chris Barnes says her recent candlelight vigil along Balmoral Beach was designed to reach out to victims and raise awareness. “In my private practice I'm seeing more women who are being abused in various forms and I really wanted to do something to raise awareness." Ms Barnes says.
"Women who find themselves in a violent or controlling relationship should make sure they know their rights and seek help. Everyone has a right to live without fear and feel safe," she says.
According to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, in Mosman during 2014, domestic violence related incidents were at their highest in a decade, with 54 reports to police. The previous high was 36 in 2011 and 2007. Throughout NSW, police deal with 400 instances of domestic violence each day and it accounts for two in five of all homicides and assaults.
Half of the women seeking a refuge in NSW are turned away due to chronic shortages of accommodation. Many councils including North Sydney are supporting agencies like the lower North Shore Domestic Violence Network. The network was established in the mid 1990s to support and seek strategies to help victims and promote awareness.
Mosman Council's deputy mayor Carolyn Corrigan has introduced a scheme for the establishment of a community forum to discuss the rise in domestic violence and strategies to tackle it.
The forum will include a local general practitioner, psychologist, police representative, high school representative, spokesperson from the Lower North Shore Domestic Violence Network and White Ribbon organisation.
"I think there has been too much silence on this issue for far too long: Cr Corrigan tells North Shore Living.
"We are hearing more and more horrific details in the media each day and it's a good time to call it out - we need to look after each other."
White Ribbon ambassador Daniel Strickland, who attended the Balmoral vigil says many people -including men - simply pretend the problem does not exist.
“It's still a well kept secret,” he says. “There are many forms of domestic violence and men are in a unique position to speak out and to change their behaviour. It's up to men to help to change this insidious culture.”
The former police officer said his motivation in being a White Ribbon ambassador was intensely personal.
"I held the hand of a woman as she died from a domestic violence incident and this changed my life. That night was a wake-up call to me that it's happening all over Australia and in every community.”