Eighteen months in the planning, this initiative of the Gateway Cluster clubs lead by Brimbank Central PP David Bennett attracted a strong audience including DGE Bronwyn Stephens and Mark, DGEN Grant Hocking and representatives from Gateway Rotaract, Brimbank Council, Djerriwah Health and Womens West Network.
With Guest Speakers Jimmy Bartel, former Geelong Premier-ship player, renowned Family Violence researcher Kristie McKellar and Sgt Steven Phillips from the Family Violence Unit at Victoria Police, the information presented was heartfelt, inspiring and direct. All speakers recounted personal experiences with family violence, the impact and the emotional responses; as well as the feelings of helplessness,
Jimmy spoke of the process when he reached his limit and spoke about his experiences for the first time; the release felt by his mother, his sisters and himself when they finally shared their experiences and were able to speak freely for the first time. He also spoke of his decision to open up to the media, when he grew his beard and hair and the opportunity that provided for people to question and thus speak about the issue with their children, friends and families. It became a catalyst for open conversations and opportunities to change behaviours and culture.
Kristie McKellar is well known to many of us following her presentation at the District Conference in Hobart. She recounted how her academic and employment experiences were no protection in her personal battle with family violence and was open about the physical violence she suffered. Kristie also recounted the trauma of being believed, the lengthy time between charges being laid and the court hearing, the legal challenges and the discrepancy between what had been inflicted on her and her child and the resulting penalties. Her work in the field is now influencing Government policy and changes to reporting and response by Victoria Police as well as the support programs now being offered to victims.
Sergeant Steven Philllips is in the Family Violence unit at Caroline Springs, after a period in Highway Patrol and working at Sunshine. He was in the Australian Army for 28 years and understands the nature of a male dominated culture, and the issue of gender inequality which is seen to be at the centre of family violence. He spoke of his work in the unit, and how 20 years ago, Victoria Police did not respond adequately to reports of family violence; how this was seen as a nuisance not an opportunity to support women and children. Now, these reports are taken seriously, and responded to with the range of supports available for women.
After a supper break, the 3 speakers returned alongside representatives from Djerriwah Health and Womens West Network to respond to questions from the audience.
Cathy from Djerriwarrah reported that there had been 19 men attend the Mens Behaviour Modification Program at Melton on Monday evening – referred by a number of agencies including some self referrals. Patrizia from women’s west spoke of the issue of gender equality as did Sgt Phillips who recounted speaking with women police officers who all stated that they had a scripted response to inappropriate comments or sexual inferences which men did not require. He was astonished that this was needed and spoke to his fellow officers about this. He said that he then began to understand what women felt and what gender equality really meant. MC Terry Coyne ran the evening smoothly and agreed with an audience member who commented that such work from Rotary in helping to start conversations was invaluable in working towards elimination of family violence.