NEWS CENTRE

Violence and women: a sister reflects

This fortnight’s contribution from the Institute’s Specific Issues Committee on Women and Poverty is the second of three articles concerning women and violence. Sister Miriam Grech (North Sydney) reflects on her involvement with women who were in abusive relationships. As we approach a Federal election, the committee calls us to examine the policies of political parties which affect women and their need for safe housing.

Miriam Grech is a Sister of Mercy from North Sydney and up until this year has been involved with many families during her ministry at Mercy Family Centre (10 years) and with Centacare (7 years) in Sydney. Although Miriam worked with both men and women, she talks about her involvement with many women who were in abusive relationships.

When I commenced my ministry on the upper North Shore of Sydney, a comment occasionally made to me, was “Why the North Shore, why not out west (considered to be less affluent)?” I was aware that violence occurs in all cultures, races, ethnicities and religions but I could never have imagined how horrid and violent some of the women’s stories would be. I worked with very disadvantaged women and also with professional women who were living a ‘privileged’ lifestyle. The effects of violence on all of these women regardless of their situation were similar. In the majority of cases, the women left the relationship, however long it may have taken. They tended to leave and return a number of times before permanently leaving. I recall a young woman who had left on four occasions and when she wanted to return yet again, I reminded her that the situation would not have altered. She then made a tiny circle with her thumb and finger and said to me, “While there is this much hope left, I want to give to give it a chance for the sake of the children”. Having four children she didn’t think that she would be able to cope on her own. This woman did finally leave – for the sake of the children!

My experience made me realise the impact violence has on women, and of course, the children. The physical and psychological damage can have long term effects with the majority of the women experiencing low self-esteem and depression as a result. This impacts on all aspects of their lives.

Some of the women feared reporting to police or to carry out a threat to take out an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) out of fear of retaliation and threats from their partner; or of the shame of having a partner who was violent. I always considered it a privilege to support women who did go to court, as on their own they were more likely to withdraw their complaint. The women’s lack of confidence in their own ability made it difficult for them to continue with the process of the legal system.

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