May is Domestic Violence Awareness Month which is a time to talk about domestic violence, raise awareness, and support survivors.
The UN defines domestic violence as a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
The UN states abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.
Last year, The Australian Bureau of Statistics surveyed more than 8 million people and found that one in four women has experienced violence by an intimate partner.
Domestic violence survivor and mother of two Leah Dore, from Mandurah, says she didn’t think she would ever experience violence in a relationship.
“I was 23 when I met him, I was in love and I just ignored all the warning signs.”
Dore says it started with what she believed were small lies.
“He lied about his age when we first met, then it progressively turned into bigger lies, emotional manipulation and then physical abuse,” she says.
“I lived in a small country town in Victoria, it seemed it was happening in a lot of relationships around me, I just thought it was normal.
“It then turned bad. He fractured my eye socket, and even when I left him it still continued.
“I took the kids with me but he moved into a house around the corner from me, I couldn’t get away.”
“I got a five-year restraining order placed on him. We moved to Western Australia and now we fly back to Victoria once a year so the kids can have their yearly supervised visit.”
In 2021 the City of Perth created a program called Safe Night Space for women like Dore so they can have a safe place to stay for the night.
Perth initially had a Rough Sleeper Plan in place in 2020, however, a gap in emergency accommodation for women was identified. As a temporary solution the City of Perth, in partnership with Ruah Community Services, was able to initiate the Safe Night Space for Women.
Safe Night Space is held in the Rod Evans Centre in East Perth. The women-only space provides shelter for those looking for a safe place to sleep at night as well as a place to seek services and support in a secure environment.
The space opened in May 2021 and since then has provided shelter to more than 700 women.
Perth City Council has decided to extend the Safe Night Space from May to November 2023.
Robyn Westgate, a survivor of domestic violence and domestic violence consultant at Curtin University, believes it’s a program with merit.
“It’s a good initiative, it offers somewhere someone could go and hide if necessary.”
Westgate believes that along with more shelters and stable temporary accommodations, there needs to be follow-up with women.
“Making sure women have a place they can afford to live and that there’s access to so they don’t end up being homeless or going back to their old living situation.”
She says a long-term strategy is to change attitudes.
“There’s still a lot of victims blaming. What did you do to make it happen? Did you nag him? What were you wearing? All this sort of stuff where the onus becomes on the woman to explain why she was attacked.
“But where are the campaigns saying don’t attack her? It’s not right of you to stalk her and then attack her,” she says.
Through education, Westgate says she was able to understand that she was a victim of domestic violence.
She now runs a program at Curtin University called MATE Bystander which is an education and intervention program teaching people to be leaders in the prevention of gender-based violence.
“The program teaches that there are ways to speak out without stepping into the middle of it, but there are ways that you can defuse situations, break up situations if they overhear something the course teaches them how to step up and say something.”
Each night up to 30 women can stay at the Safe Night Space. Admission operates on an 80 per cent referral and 20 per cent self-presentation basis.
By mid-2023 the WA State Government’s Murray Street crisis accommodation will be up and running to take over Safe Night Space which is a more permanent solution for accommodation.
The Safe Night Space is open to women every night from 7pm to 7am.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact 1800RESPECT or Lifeline on 13 11 14.