‘Why are the statistics for family violence still so high?’ ‘What can I do to change this situation?’ These are the kinds of questions Martha Maiorana wants to get more people in Mildura asking.
She has just been appointed manager of a family violence prevention pilot program at one of 5 regional TAFE institutes who are engaging staff, students and the local community in a new kind of conversation about gender equality and respectful relationships.
Although new to this job, she has a long history of supporting people who have experienced family violence. Graduating from university in 1996 her first job was in Child Protection where she worked for 15 years.
“During this time I saw how family violence continued to grow in Mildura despite our best efforts to respond to the problem. I knew this couldn’t be allowed to continue and it led me to where I am now – trying to champion respectful relationships, gender drivers and positive masculinity to address the issue in other ways".
“There is a lot more research and intelligence available now and in some ways, we’ve progressed past some of the gender stereotypes, inequality and old ways of thinking I learned about in Uni – but they’re not gone yet. Primary prevention is still crucial and in that sense, we still have a long way to go.”
As part of her new role, she will develop and oversee implementation of a 12-month action plan to guide program activity. She sees mobilising community action as key to preventing family violence.
“Our program is about trying to get the message out about gender equality and the gender-based drivers of family violence rather than solely focusing on response. People usually know there are agencies out there where you can get help but we’re focusing on the gender drivers and asking what are the social aspects, the stereotypes that perpetuate these behaviours and keep the cycle of violence going".
“When I tell people I work in family violence the reaction is often ‘Wow, that’s a big job. You must get a lot of resistance’. People are curious about how the prevention program will work. My response is that if we have respectful relationships first, that would do a lot to eradicate family violence.”
Martha believes that Victoria’s response to the recommendations in the Royal Commission into Family Violence has spurred a lot of change in the sector and fostered a necessary sense of collective action.
“So far I love the collaborative atmosphere at SuniTAFE and in the sector generally. It feels like we’re part of a broader collective that is steadily gathering momentum. Increasingly there’s a desire and willingness among people working in the sector to connect, listen and share resources. The idea that like-minded people are banding together across Victoria to tackle family violence is powerful and makes me feel like we’re part of a bigger community.”
She also sees changes in the profile of the family violence workforce, which is gradually reshaping itself to better reflect Victoria’s changing demographics.
“We often talk about the gender lens, but the sector also needs to look at respectful relationships through other lenses. We need to be able to support Indigenous people, people with a refugee status, people for whom English is a second language, people from the LGBTQI community – and we also need these people in our workforce. We must be creative in how we support them to get qualifications so we can include them".
“We need to address intersectionality in the sector, and having more variety and more diversity in our workforce will help towards this".
“I think there are opportunities in the family violence sector for people with different skills – and not just women. We need men as champions to change what is historically a female-dominated field.”
Reflecting on the reasons people join the family violence workforce, Martha sees passion and empathy as necessary traits, and while she knows people considering a career in the sector may have concerns about their health working in this challenging area, she is keen to highlight the support available.
“There’s so much support and so many structures in place to help people. You’re part of a team and managers in family violence organisations are very supportive. People working in this sector look out for one another because we all know it’s challenging; you develop lifelong friends because you need each other for support".
“You don’t need to have experienced family violence to work in this sector but you need to be able to empathise with someone who has and understand how hard it is for them".
“If you have passion and drive you will succeed in this field, and helping people along their journey is a very rewarding career.”
How to become a primary prevention practitioner
If you are interested in working in a role like Martha's, you may be expected to have completed a qualification in Social Work, Community Services, Health Promotion, Community Development, Communications or a range of other similar qualifications.
If you want to make a positive change to end family violence, you will need to have passion, empathy and be an effective communicator.
Primary prevention practitioners generally have experience in project management, policy development, advocacy, partnership development and/or community development.
Reviewed 13 December 2020