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Young Women’s Champion Program: Stop Violence Against Women

Diane Leow

Thu Dec 13 2012


WHAT should you do when you’re confronted with acts of violence? Diane Leow got some self-defence tips and insights on how to deal with abuse after attending the first Young Women’s Champion Program.

When we think about violence, images that often come to mind include people wielding knives or hurling words of abuse – definitely not a pretty sight. But violence can go beyond those sterotypes.

In Australia, domestic or family violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviour through which a person seeks to control and dominate another person.

Most of us know physical and sexual assault can be considered an act of violence, but emotional, psychological, spiritual and economic harm are also categorised as violent actions. Stalking someone or harming family pets also fall into this category.

Unfortunately, statistics collected by the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition (VIWRC) suggest women from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) communities are more likely not to report  incidences of domestic violence due to a perceived lack of available resources, language barriers, fear of a system they do not understand, as well as fear of asking for help from a stranger as opposed to a family member, amongst other reasons.

The (VIRWC), together with the City of Melbourne, presented a series of workshops last Monday to equip young women (and men) with the knowledge to stop violence. In attendance were State Member for Melbourne Jennifer Kanis, Dure Dara – who is on the board of directors for the Victorian Women’s Trust,  Executive Director of the VIRWC Melba Marginson, as well as women and men from a wide age group and a number of cultural backgrounds. Some international students also came along  to find out more about the situation here in Australia, or get connected with other women with the same interests.

Emma Baker from United Voice first gave an interactive presentation about violence in the workplace. She detailed a few real-life scenarios and asked the audience to determine if that could be considered workplace violence. For example, a hotel chambermaid had a dilemma: she was being paid less than other workers. But after informing human resources about this discrepancy, she begun being assigned to clean the dirtiest rooms.

Unfortunately, Emma says incidents like these are very common and people need to know help is available.

Here are some tips from United Voice:

  • Keep a record of every incident. As violence is “a pattern of abusive behaviour”, keeping a record helps establish and explain your situation.
  • Get information and advice from organisations like Worksafe, the Australian Human Rights Commission or Fairwork Australia. Know your rights – then you’ll be in a better position to know what to defend.
  • Speak up even if you are told not to make a fuss. Emma says many superiors often advise their staff to keep quiet about their situation. Trust your gut. If you believe you are being discriminated against, highlighting your situation may help you get the respect and remuneration you deserve.
Emma believes international students, as well as those who have work restrictions on their visas are more likely to be marginalised. Employers typically take advantage of students by paying them below market rates and giving them terrible work conditions. If you think you are a victim, do speak up and seek help.
Utilise self-defence 

Self-defence is often seen as violent actions – but it should be considered a right. Instead of the common perception of self-defence as a way to give an attacker what he or she deserves, its purpose should actually be to help the victim get away as quickly as possible. Everyone at the workshop (yes, even the guys) got the opportunity to participate first-hand and learn some self-defence techniques.

International students get in the spirit of things and practice some self-defence techniques. Photo: Diane Leow

The golden triangle of self-defense is the eyes, cheek bones, and collarbone area – if you are able to blind anyone temporarily or injure them on these areas, escaping a sticky situation will be a lot easier.If you are picked up by someone a lot larger and stronger than you are, the instructors from Guardian Defence suggest it may help to be a cat in a bag – keep struggling. That way, it may be easier to break free from a strong hold.

Finally, the instructor showed us how commonly-found items in one’s bag could help in tricky situations. Coins can be thrown at an attacker’s face, while a small torch may help blind someone temporarily. However, bear in mind that carrying a particular item (especially a knife) for the purpose of self-defence is illegal in Australia.

Guardian Defence holds regular self-defence classes especially for women. For more information, click here.

Write it in a letter

Actor Diana Nguyen shares her experience as a witness to domestic violence using interactive drama. Photo: Diane Leow

To cap off the event, actor and comedian Diana Nguyenshared her experiences as a child who witnessed acts of domestic violence for most of her adolescent life.  She chose to do this by reading aloud a letter she’d written to her father, who often emotionally, verbally and physically abused her mother.As she performed, audience members were invited to tie red ribbons to every part of her body, signifying the trauma she’d experienced as a child. Her performance moved many to tears.

Diana says while not everyone has had direct contact with violence in their lives, letter-writing is a helpful way of releasing pent-up emotions from repressed memories. As she penned the letter to her father, she did not realise she had filed her emotions away for so long, only to revisit them when speaking to VIRWC’s Melba about contributing to these workshops. She found a sense of release after finishing the letter, even though she knew her father would never read it – and hopes those who choose to undertake this exercise will be able to find a similar sense of reprieve.

During her performance, she had also invited members of the audience to share their stories, reminding them of the power of communication. And the message that it’s okay to talk about these issues and it’s okay to ask for help.

For example, Wendy, an international student from China, used communication to her advantage when she saw her father physically and emotionally abusing her mother.

“I saw I can’t continue to let my dad continue to do this anymore,” she says.

So she spoke up.

“I just told my dad how I feel and my dad was shocked and just stopped it.”

The VIRWC now  hopes to hold other Young Women’s Champion Programmes to empower young women with the knowledge to stand up for what they believe in, and what they are entitled to.

To find out more about the VIRWC, do check out their website.