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The changing face of domestic violence in Canberra

Emma Macdonald

As Canberra’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service celebrates 30 years in operation, it has had to adapt to new understandings of family dysfunction while withstanding the vagaries of government funding. 

And while it is a happy time to celebrate three decades of invaluable support to Canberra’s most traumatised families, CEO Mirjana Wilson considers how the service almost didn’t survive to adulthood, and how much more “mainstream” the concept of domestic violence in Canberra, and Australian, households.

“It is an extraordinary achievement to have turned 30 and survived the cycles of uncertain government funding and the balancing act of meeting demand. In many ways, it is incredibly sad that we still exist and have grown so much to support Canberrans through some of the most unsafe and vulnerable times in their lives. We are incredibly proud, however, of having such a unique service that many in the other parts of Australia have envied,” Mirjana says.

DVCS Board of Governance, Dr Justin Barker, Kylie Walker, Sian Jowitt, Emma Bird, Dr Judy Putt, Jennifer Newman, Di Lucas, Victor Martin and DVCS CEO Mirjana Wilson.

She said that the most recent years had been among the most challenging of her 14 years at the service.

“Our new working landscape can be best described as no longer working in and within anonymity as the domestic and family violence conversation has been thrust into the mainstream. This is in part due to our 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty and in part the deaths that have occurred not only in our community but in many communities all over this country.”

“We now have ads on Prime Time TV highlighting the issue, inviting us all to engage and do something as a community and here locally DVCS continues to combine forces with different parts of the media to highlight the issues that our community and service system are wrestling with.”

This means that the unprecedented increases in demand upon their services – while still needing to have the issue out there and promoting DVCS service offerings – creates an ongoing dilemma.

“How do we ensure that our awareness raising does not set people up with the expectations of support that we cannot then meet? How do we deal with more calls from distressed women seeking reassurance that the protection order we had assisted them to apply for in the preceding weeks was actually going to keep them safe? What is the next step now that public awareness is almost saturated with images of women being killed by those that should love and respect them the most?”

The team of 46 has had to adapt to increasing complexity in understanding the dynamics of violence.

“If you’d asked us why domestic violence occurs two decades ago we would have answered it very differently to how we will now. Years ago, we would have said it was entirely about male abuse of power and control. Predominantly and overwhelmingly, we think in most relationships where there’s violence and controlling behaviours, there are issues of male abuse of power and control, but we also think that alone is a narrow story that leads to a narrow response.  We think that if we see every situation as the ‘same’ then we are not really listening to the individual story.  Every story is different and therefore requires an individual response.”

DVCS Board Member Kylie Walker and DVCS Champion Adam Shirley.

According to Mirjana, violent relationships can be as varied as those women who are living with violence.

“We need to be careful we don’t stick people in boxes and believe that we know what is best for them, because we are not the experts of their lives and experiences, they are. For example, years ago we would also have said the violence always gets worse and that the only thing that would ultimately make it okay for the woman and her children is for them to leave.”

“Many, many women tell us that they don’t want to leave their partner; that they just want him to change his violent or abusive or controlling behaviour.  Some of these women will at some point decide to leave because they no longer hold any hope that he will change, some will stay and the violence will continue, and in some relationships, the man will stop using violence.”

To celebrate their massive contribution to the community, DVCS has planned a number of worthy and wonderful events and are keen to see as many members of the community join them for the celebrations as possible. Here is a rundown of their big-ticket events.

DVCS 2018 30th Anniversary Gala Ball

This is the services’ major fundraiser for each year.  The event will include Adam Shirley from ABC Canberra, SparrowFolk, HitParade and heaps of amazing prizes and fun to be had.

Hotel Realm | Saturday 19 May, 6.30 pm for 7.00 pm | $225 per person or purchase a table of ten for $2,100 | Bookings: Essential, via the DVCS website

High Tea at Burbury Hotel

For the first time, Burbury Hotel and DVCS are partnering and inviting our wonderful community to join us for High Tea!  This event will see 20 percent of the ticket price is donated back to DVCS.  So grab your girlfriends and enjoy some of the scrumptious treats and bubbles on offer!

Burbury Hotel | Two afternoon sittings on Saturday 11 August | $50 per person | Bookings: Essential via the Burbury Hotel website

DVCS Community Family Activity Afternoon (Saturday 13 October)

For the first time ever, DVCS is inviting our community to a free BBQ with lots of family entertainment including a jumping castle, face-painting, singing and dancing and celebrity meet and greets!

Black Mountain Peninsula| Saturday 13 October from 11 am to 3 pm | Free | Bookings: Not required, but if you are on Facebook, please select “Going” to the event to help them with catering.

And finally, keep an eye out for further details of this upcoming and important event.

DVCS and DVPC International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children Lunch (Friday 23 November)

Scheduled for its second year in a row this lunch is an opportunity for those wanting to hear more from those working on the frontline within the ACT about the issue of violence against women and children.

Where: To be advised | Friday 23 November from 12 pm to 2 pm | Cost: To be advised | Bookings: Essential via DVCS website

Feature image: Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry, DVCS CEO Mirjana Wilson, DVCS Chair Dr Judy Putt cutting the cake. 

Photography: Alanna Davis


Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

  • Jeremy Morris

    This article does not mention DV against males. A bit one-sided.