There is no doubt the field of criminal law can induce some big ethical questions….
The house sits in a quiet, leafy street in a suburb full of families and green spaces.
It doesn’t look like the nerve centre of a sophisticated organisation that can leap to action at a moment’s notice. But that’s kind of the point. That’s because this is one of the secret offices of Toora Women’s Inc, an organisation dedicated to the support and safety of women and their children that will celebrate its 40th birthday this August.
Beginning with strong feminist roots and one house in Canberra’s Inner North in 1982, Toora began life as a women’s refuge in the traditional sense—a house filled with bunks that temporarily sheltered women and their children fleeing domestic and family violence.
In 2022, Toora Women’s Inc operates 50 properties across Canberra, and its services have grown to encompass homelessness assistance and alcohol and other drugs programs. In 2021, Toora provided services to more than 500 women and children.
Over the years, its services have evolved, as have its houses. Secure multi-house properties give discreet accommodation for at-risk mothers and their children while shared living spaces offer 12-week to 12-month alcohol and other drugs health service programs.
Working with organisations like Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT and the ACT Government’s OneLink social services system, Toora is able to provide women with emergency and temporary housing options.
Recognising that ACT housing isn’t readily an option and sometimes not a preferred one, Toora has established a rental subsidy scheme where women and their children can move from crisis accommodation or directly from Toora’s intake assessment into private rental.
Toora support low-income earners with up to $20,000 per year, and affordable income earners up to $10,000 per year rental subsidy as well as ongoing case management support. The goal is for the women to take over the tenancy when they are financially secure and their life has stabilised.
It’s these services that Ann says helped her in her time of need.
The 33-year-old mother of one experienced a nightmarish year in 2018. Involved in a long-term relationship with her child’s father in which Ann was subject to violence and abuse. Her child was removed into the custody of her parents, and using drugs and alcohol to dull the pain, Ann lived in fear for her life.
Considering herself an average woman, Ann still doesn’t know how things became so bad.
“We were together for 12 years. We had a child. I wanted the dream, the family, the home, just a nice life.”
But when her partner’s violence escalated dramatically after a number of ongoing episodes, Ann finally summoned the courage to flee.
She had nothing, and could not return to her parents for fear of endangering her child. She was homeless and was referred by OneLink to Toora, who took her into their domestic violence refuge.
She lived there for six months, gradually mending the pieces of her life and learning to function without drugs, alcohol or the constant anxiety and fear that had become part of her existence.
Step by step, Ann gained her independence, moving into Toora’s transitional house mid-last year, before being reunited with her daughter in a mother and children’s house.
This was indeed a joyous moment.
At the end of last year, with incredible support from her Toora family, Ann was finally able to move into her own ACT Government rental property with her daughter.
Along the way, Toora has assisted in helping Ann access a raft of support services when the administrative and paperwork load seemed too daunting. She also accessed invaluable life skills education including nutritional advice, budgeting and emotional regulation. She has received counselling over her experiences at the hands of her ex-partner who is now in prison.
“It’s hard to put into words how much Toora helped me. When I arrived I had nothing. I was emotionally drained. I was frightened, I wasn’t eating or sleeping.”
Now Ann is focused on being a mum, which she loves.
“I’ve always had confidence I would be a good mum.”
She is relishing the comforts of having her own home, keeping it tidy and engaging in fun activities with her child including cooking and lots of arts and crafts, which they both enjoy.
While Ann has chef qualifications, her time at Toora has opened her eyes to the need for acute services for women at risk.
“I’m actually studying community service work. My experience at Toora got me thinking about how I can help others with their journey. I am still going through a lot of things myself but I am in a much better place. I owe it to Toora.
“My mum said to me that if we had known about the services Toora offers a bit earlier maybe my life would have been able to go down a different path. And I want others to be able to know and access these services. If sharing my story helps in any way then I am happy to do it.”