In a new UN report, 45% of women globally have experienced violence or know someone who has, since Covid-19 began. In 2021 – in partnership with Miyalk Domestic and Family Violence Shelter – MAF rescued a woman every week in Arnhem Land in northern Australia. Never before has MAF’s service been more vital for women fleeing violence…
One in four women around the world feel more unsafe in their own home and have experienced more violence since the pandemic started, according to ‘Measuring the shadow pandemic: violence against women during Covid-19’ – a new UN Women report launched on 24 November 2021.
Research reveals that seven in ten women have experienced more verbal or physical abuse from their partner than before, and three in ten say that violence against women has increased within their community.
Restrictions and lockdowns to curb the spread of the disease have unwittingly curtailed women’s freedom, confining them to their homes with their abusers, thus creating dangerous conditions for them and their children.
Vulnerable women rely on MAF every week
Australia’s Northern Territory has the highest rate of domestic violence in the country. On average, 61 incidents are reported per day – 89% of abuse survivors are Aboriginal women, (source: Northern Territory Council of Social Service).
Arnhem Land is a vast, remote area covering 37,000 square miles. The terrain is mostly dense bushland comprising of dirt tracks only passable during the dry season.
Women fortunate enough to have access to a vehicle would have to endure a bumpy drive of up to twelve hours to escape their perpetrator, but with MAF, flights take between thirty and sixty minutes.
Kylie Lawrie is the Crisis Accommodation Manager for MDFVS in Gove, Arnhem Land.
Kylie reveals the extent of the crisis during the pandemic throughout her region:
‘This year, not a week goes by without a woman from a remote homeland community requesting transport to the shelter or to their family’s home community.
‘Partnering with MAF in Arnhem Land is an absolute necessity for these emergency evacuation flights, which support women and children experiencing or who are at risk of domestic violence. We are very reliant on this amazing partnership.’Kylie Lawrie, Miyalk Domestic & Family Violence Shelter
Sarah-Jane lives in a small community in East Arnhem Land.
She recently left her partner when he attacked her head with a hammer. A few weeks later he arrived at her house drunk, carrying a crossbow and arrow, threatening to kill their daughter. He then proceeded to smash up the house.
He also threatened to put a spell on Sarah-Jane using black magic, at which point she fled the house and went to stay with her mother.
The police were called, but they were too busy attending another incident.
The following evening, Sarah-Jane attended church. Her ex turned up holding rocks, threatening to throw them at her head.
MDFVS supported Sarah-Jane and came up with a safety plan until the police were able to get there.
Although the police finally arrived to take a statement from Sarah-Jane, the risk of danger increased, as reporting incidents often spark further aggression from an ex.
Daily threats to kill her and her daughter meant it was crucial to get them out of community as soon as possible, so MDFVS contacted MAF to evacuate mother and child to their safe shelter in Gove.
Without MAF, this would have been a four-hour drive.
Sarah-Jane and her daughter are now in a safe space. With the right support, they have started their journey of recovery from domestic violence.
Although survivors are out of danger when they arrive at the shelter, their self confidence is at an all-time low, says Kylie:
‘Their sense of worth is zero. Many of them are already defeated in terms of their self-confidence and self-ability. We build them up and strengthen their self-resilience so that they can connect with the services that they were not confident enough to do before because they’ve been so devalued. We journey with them, walk them through it and show them that they can do these things for themselves.’
Lucy had been exposed to abusive relationships from a young age.
Now as an adult, she had been in an abusive relationship herself for several years.
She has a history of self-harm brought on by feelings of worthlessness having been belittled throughout her life.
Lucy – an expectant mother – was unhappy with her life and felt unsupported by the people around her. She had been living in a very stressful and fragile environment.
With little support, Lucy was anxious about the circumstances in which her baby would be born into.
Following an argument with her partner, which escalated to violence, Lucy had to keep herself and her baby safe, so she contacted MDFVS.
This was incredibly brave as Lucy was isolated and far away from her family – they couldn’t easily support her from such a distance.
MAF flew Lucy home to her family.
After spending time with family and feeling supported and loved, Lucy is now excited about her pregnancy.
Lucy finally has the time and space to think in a safe and supportive environment in preparation for the birth of her baby.
Kylie explains that physical abuse is only part of the problem:
‘Most people think it’s always about physical abuse, but that’s only part of the cycle. There’s also financial abuse, where the perpetrator controls the household finances right down to the point where women aren’t allowed to have phones. They have to ask to buy food.
There’s also psychological abuse, where they’re degraded and told that they’re no good until they believe it – the perpetrator is the only one who gives them their sense of value. This behaviour is pretty standard worldwide – there’s no real difference across country or culture.’
Sarina has been in and out of the hospital due to a number of violent assaults by her partner.
He is currently serving time in prison for domestic violence.
As her children are settled in the community where her ex is from, Sarina initially stayed put.
Sarina, however, does not receive any support from her community. They are hostile towards her and make her feel bad about her partner’s situation. She feels intimidated.
Sarina feels exhausted and is in desperate need of safety and security. She needs her family who are far away.
MAF are able to fly her back to her family and home community – Sarina now feels safe and is able to rest.
Her children now have good, healthy routines.
In many cases, the behaviour of the perpetrator can continue for years, so life with them becomes ‘normalised’. Kylie explains how difficult it can be to break the cycle of domestic violence:
‘It’s something that people go through quite a few times before they realise it. Each time they contact us, we peel back another layer and show them what a healthy relationship should look like.
‘Each time, we give them another viewpoint until gradually they become aware of the patterns of behaviour that they’re involved in. They might need to travel through that cycle and keep touching base with us until it all starts making sense and they begin to transition out of it.
‘That’s why it’s called the ‘cycle of violence’, because people go round quite a few times before they make changes. Domestic violence survivors can take anywhere up to five years to seek help for the first time.’
*The women’s names have been changed to protect their identity.
Saving time saves lives
Throughout the pandemic, MAF has provided a lifeline to many women and children in Arnhem Land. MAF simplifies emergency evacuations and reduces the burden of travel costs for MDFVS.
Without MAF, MDFVS simply would not be able to save as many women says Kylie:
‘MAF’s support is a necessity – they increase our capacity to assist women and children to safety. Our response is now more immediate, which saves lives. Violence can escalate quickly within families and without MAF’s support, it would be frightening to see the outcomes.
‘Before MAF, we’d look at our finances to cover the cost of remote transport, but it wasn’t enough. We had very limited resources. Now – thanks to MAF sponsorship – complexities of an emergency evacuation have been reduced.’
Supporting wider female empowerment
In addition to emergency evacuations, MAF supports the wider work of women’s empowerment within Australia’s remotest, indigenous communities.
In September this year, MAF transported the guest speakers to and from the ‘Galiwin’ku Women’s Space: 2021 Empowerment Conference’, hosted in Nhulunbuy and Elcho Island off the north coast.
The guest speakers for the two-day conference flown by MAF were:
Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM – Aboriginal activist who won ‘2021 Senior Australian of the Year’ award
Prof MaryAnn Bin-Sallik AM – the first indigenous person to graduate as a nurse from Darwin Hospital and the first to gain a doctorate from Harvard University
Wendy Burns – international coach, mentor and senior Aboriginal police officer
Bettina Danganbarr – chair of Galinwin’ku Women’s Space
Altogether, more than 160 local women attended.
Galiwin’ku Women’s Space (GWS) provides a range of crisis and preventative support resources and services to overcome domestic violence plus events, which seek to support and empower women and encourage healing and wellbeing within their communities.
MAF also partner with GWS to rescue women in the area who are subjected to or at risk of domestic violence. Without MAF, the work of GWS simply wouldn’t be possible as manager, Bridget Woods, testifies:
‘MAF enables us to support women and children experiencing domestic violence. Your continued support has enabled us to evacuate high risk cases, which make the difference between violence or safety.
‘Violence is pervasive in this community – every woman has a story, every woman deserves a chance and every woman matters. MAF enables GWS to show these women that they matter.’