The women behind Hastings Women's Refuge

By Victoria White

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Hastings Women's Refuge manager Julie Hart at their pop-up shop to raise much-needed money for the refuge. Photo / Warren Buckland
Hastings Women's Refuge manager Julie Hart at their pop-up shop to raise much-needed money for the refuge. Photo / Warren Buckland

From offering shelter in their safe house, advocating for victims, to a 24/7 support line - Hastings Women's Refuge has been providing support to those affected by domestic violence since 1978.

Refuge manager Julie Hart has been at the Akina refuge for 22 years. It was not until she underwent training for the role in the 1990s that she realised she too had been a victim of domestic violence.

"I never stuck around in those relationships," she said.

However, as she had shared the misconception domestic violence was only physical, it had "never occurred to me I'd been in a violent or abusive relationship."

Now she uses her experience to help others, along with Charmaine and Carol who asked for their surnames not to be used.

While the job entails its fair share of sad situations, the best part was seeing the change in the women and children who sought help from the refuge, Carol said.

Charmaine added: "because when they come to us they come at their lowest, lowest points and then when they leave here they're totally different women."

Women can stay at the refuges' safe house overnight for a few months or just use its programmes, and services.

HWR staff meet weekly with other community agencies, including the police, to identify, and at how they can assist families.

"We cold call [women] a lot of the time and introduce our services and they accept it and allow us to come into their homes," Carol said, "so it's pretty humbling."

"Safety planning" was the first service provided to women, which taught them how to keep their family safe whether they were remaining in, or leaving a relationship.

Staff would show a woman how to achieve her goals - from becoming financially independent, to finding a new home.

However after working to assist women to make positive changes, or live lives free from violence and abuse, one of the worst parts of the job was their revictimisation.

"That's the most frustrating part," Carol said. "Through the court system or whatever blocks they come against where the process is put on them to solve the perpetrator's problems."

Victims were made to be responsible for stopping violence, Ms Hart said.

"We hear that all the time, 'why doesn't she just leave, why does she allow her children to witness this'. People keep directing it at the victim."

Another of the worst parts was the children involved.

It was also hard to see "damaged children", Ms Hart said, who given different opportunities could have had the chance to grow up into completely different people.

"But unfortunately through having to witness violence, the effect it has on them carries forward into their adulthood. We have worked with some quite angry children sometimes for me that's the saddest part," she said.

"Adults have choices to make but often the kids don't."

They, and other referred children, go through their own Tamariki programme.

"They've been experiencing some not-good stuff at home which is not their fault," Carol said. Through the programme staff work to teach safety skills, improve children's self-esteem, and teach them that they are not alone.

Seeing how children had benefited from the refuge was "kind of why we do our work really".

Over the years awareness of domestic violence, and those reaching out for help - from affected women, to their employers or friends - had increased.

Policing had also changed, with a better understanding of how violence affected women, and to better look after women.

However, Ms Hart said with twice as many people seeking help - they received less government funding, which only covered 36 per cent of their work.

"The rest we have to try and find ourselves in a world where we're competing with many worthwhile charities," she said. "It's really difficult and that puts a lot of stress on the workers. We've got to do everything on a shoestring budget."

An example of this was the funding they received to respond to Police reports - when the refuge makes contact with women mentioned in domestic violence situations attended by police.

They are funded to respond to 67 reports. For the year ended in June, they had actioned 523.

If the refuge were to stop at 67, "that actually puts families at risk, it puts women in danger".

Often this was the first conversation had with these women around their safety, Ms Hart said.

"Sometimes that's a courageous conversation and sometimes we're not thanked for that because people sometimes aren't ready to hear it. It's a conversation that has to happen."

Although the refuge received a host of contributions from the community, from moral support, to people donating their skills, time, and money - they were always open to more.

The refuge is looking for volunteers to man the support line.

"We receive around $13,000 for it to be on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," Ms Hart said. "It doesn't even really pay for the rental of the phones."

Material donations were always needed - as when women arrived at the safe house, it would often be empty-handed.

"All of our services are constant and increasing," Ms Hart said. "It's that money that helps provide services for women and children."

Where to find help:

• If you need help, support, advice or more information, call the Crisis Support Line 24/7 on 0800 733 843, or the Hastings Women's Refuge office on (06) 870 6024.
• To donate, ring (06) 878 9519.

Hastings Women's Refuge pop-up shop: Drop off clothes or household goods to the shop at 108 Heretaunga St West, from 11am to 1pm.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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