We have lost our way in the battle to reduce domestic violence.
To make the point, consider that domestic violence has already claimed the lives of 70 women and 19 children in Australia since January 1, 2018.
For Port Macquarie's Leonie McGuire that statistic paints a damning picture.
Ms McGuire worked for over a decade as the manager of the Taree women’s refuge. She is highly vocal in her condemnation of how refuges are run across the State.
She says the move from feminist, secular-based refuges some four years ago took the focus from the needs of affected women, placing the emphasis on programs for perpetrators.
"Prior to the economic rationalism of the Baird government, refuges worked in partnership with the aim of returning these women and children safely back to society," she said.
"This was done without judgement.
"But the whole dynamic shifted and, I believe, was coupled with a backlash against feminism.
"The extreme male agenda took hold. People with no experience or qualifications in the field were tasked with writing policy."
Ms McGuire remains critical of the decision to shift funding away from women in need.
"There is a 12 year plan called National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children in Australia. But it is very hard to find reference to women needing to escape a dangerous situation and to get to an available safe place," she said.
"It is now all about changing men's attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.
"But men make the choice to abuse women," Ms McGuire says. "It is this idea that, based on your gender, you have the right of power and control over women.
"So, while men get away with domestic violence they will continue to do it.
"Shifting the funding toward the perpetrators while you are trying to change men's behaviour, only means that women are dying."
But men make the choice to abuse women. It is this idea that, based on your gender, you have the right of power and control over women.- Leonie McGuire
She said as long as women are devalued by society, women are easier to abuse.
"If two shark attacks can force the Queensland government to hold a summit, where are our political leaders on domestic violence in Australia?" she added.
She believes our leaders are, effectively, normalising deaths of women and children by their silence, which is a dangerous situation.
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According to Ms McGuire, the first women's refuge opened with a promise by then treasurer in the Whitlam Governmen, Bill Hayden to provide a safe place for women to go.
"That saw a network of feminist women's refuges begin," she said.
"We operated 24/7, we introduced programs designed to assist women and children regain their autonomy and independence and served as early intervention.
"But the economic rationalisation of the Baird government saw a depletion of specialist refuges. It went from something like 100 in 2014 to just 20 within 12 months.
"The remainder were turned, effectively, into homeless hostels.
"Many were also moved to large faith-based organisations whose main tenet is the idea of male headship; that the male is the head of the household and that women must obey."
Ms McGuire says legislation, enforcement and education are three key platforms to successfully altering men's behaviour.
"The most powerful tool available to women is education. This helps empower women with knowledge, information and support," she said.
She says more men should "call out" domestic violence even at its simplest form.
Someone once told me that men will continue to abuse women and children for as long as society permits them too.- Leonie McGuire
"Someone once told me that men will continue to abuse women and children for as long as society permits them too.
"We are talking about assault.
"If you were walking down the street and someone assaulted you, would you want that person charged or to undergo ‘counselling’?
"Why is it any different for a women who is a victim of domestic violence?"
She says domestic violence is not restricted to physical harm, with emotional and psychological abuse harder to detect but equally as damaging.
The domestic violence champion called for the restoration of the peak body Women's Refuge Movement and to challenge political leaders and social commentators about their silence on the topic.
She wants a "laser-like focus" on the women and children who are suffering.
"People making policy should consult with affected women and find out what they need to feel safe and autonomous," she says.
"We need to start our education at the pre-school level.
"The current system is easily corrupted when it is about dollars and cents."
On Friday, November 16 Ms McGuire received an award for contributions to feminism at the annual Edna Ryan Awards.
In September, Leonie launched a web page designed for victims to share their story. “I am hoping women, by using it, can create some pressure on politicians and policy makers to restore some quality, specialist, domestic violence services to NSW once again.”
For more information go to www.metoo-domesticviolence.org
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