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Community calls for end of violence against women on White Ribbon Day

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Before her name became synonymous with the most violent of crimes, Paula Conlon was a loving mother and a funny, friendly woman with a smile that could light up a room. I knew Paula. She was one of our Zumba students. I didn’t know her well, but news of her violent murder at the hand of her partner in March 2012 shook me hard. That kind of violence simply didn’t belong in suburban Canberra. It doesn’t belong anywhere.

Over the past two years, her family has not only had to endure Paula’s loss; they have had to relive it. However, justice was served when Aleksander Vojneski was sentenced to life imprisonment for his crime earlier this month. Demonstrating remarkable strength in the face of adversity, Paula’s mother, Sharon Bell, has joined ACT Policing to urge the community to ‘Stand up, speak out, and break the cycle of family violence’.

“At her lowest time, and in desperate need of having someone to love and desperately wanting to be loved, Paula met somebody who she thought would make her happy and look after her,” said Sharon.

“This person turned out to have a long history of drug and alcohol abuse as well as violence to others over many years.”

“We all like to think that our family, friends, neighbours and ourselves are safe at home. Most of us would believe this to be basic human right, but sadly, for many people and in our personal case our daughter Paula, this is not always the case.”

Alarmingly one in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and on average one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner in Australia. As Australia observes White Ribbon Day – Australia’s only national, male led Campaign to end men’s violence against women – ACT Policing is encouraging people not to tolerate family violence.

“Stand up, speak out, and break the cycle of family violence – that’s our message to the community,” said Chief Police Officer for the ACT Rudi Lammers.

“As first responders to family violence incidents, we see the effects of violence against women on families. But this is not just a police problem, it’s a whole-of-community problem.”

It’s this sentiment that sparked the development of Hawk Help, an App which aims to harness the power of community to respond to people who need help in a crisis.

The inspiration for Hawk Help came to Canberra’s Gavin Lockwood in the wake of Jill Meagher’s murder. “I read that Jill had tried to contact a friend shortly before she was murdered but that it had been a missed call. According to The Australian newspaper, her friend was only 100 metres away, but asleep. I thought to myself that in times of crisis a person needs help from the nearest person who is positive and community minded and willing to help.”

image1The App is based around the idea of a community of people willing to help others. The person who downloads the App becomes both someone who can seek help from the Hawk Help community and a potential helper themselves.

“If you need help you activate the Hawk Help App on your phone and your location is instantly compared with the location of other members of the Hawk-Help community to find people that are nearby,” says Gavin.

“The app starts with a 3km radius and expands its search until it finds 10 people within range. Those people receive an alert and once someone has accepted your request for help, that person receives directions on how to reach you. You will also receive an update on your phone that tells you how many people are on their way to assist.”

Gavin says that the App is useful for anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they are alone and vulnerable. “This could be a woman out on an evening jog or walking to her car after work, anyone whose work involves them being unaccompanied with others e.g. real estate agents and children walking alone to school.”

With over 600 downloads in a 10-day period the Hawk community is growing every day, in turn creating a large support network for people in the community. But Gavin says the App is not designed to replace the police or encourage a vigilante mindset.

“The Hawk Help app does not encourage people to act the hero at the expense of their safety. What we are trying to do is create a presence of people that would have any perpetrator think twice about their actions, in turn creating a safer community for everyone.”

If you know somebody who is in trouble; it might be a friend, colleague or an acquaintance, pick up the phone and call police on 131 444 or the Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT on 6280 0900. You can find out more about Hawk Help here. 

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