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Working alongside incredible people: my saving grace

Opinion by Liana Papoutsis

Thursday, 28 March 2019 at 6:05 am

Liana Papoutsis is a member of the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council (VSAC), an academic, advocate and mum. The first of its kind, VSAC is made up of a diverse group of 12 people with lived experience of family violence. VSAC was set up to ensure the unique insights of people who have experienced violence, and their loved ones, are integral to all levels of policy development and service delivery.

As a woman with lived experience of family violence and a passionate advocate, nothing makes me more excited, proud and hopeful than when I see concerted efforts being made to tackle what is the number one scourge in our society – that of coercive, controlling and destructive family violence.

It is pertinent to note that the complexities of family violence also provide us with a range of challenges. We are very well aware of the systemic shortcomings and cultural attitudes which continue to magnify the immense difficulties faced by victim survivors and cause many to suffer silently. However, we also need to acknowledge the wins – no matter how small these are. We are seeing improvements in police responses, an enormous reform agenda undertaken by Court Services Victoria which keeps victim survivors at the centre and have witnessed the successful launch of the first five locations of The Orange Door; all despite the many obstacles faced by the hard-working teams behind each of these endeavours.

I was pleased to attend a one-day forum led by Family Safety Victoria’s (FSV) Centre for Workforce Excellence this month which highlighted innovative leadership and best practice in responding to family violence from across the entire sector. Attendees had the opportunity to hear from content experts and sector leaders, and to be involved in significant workshops focused on leading change to augment positive outcomes in family violence response.

Aside from all the aforementioned, I would like to bring to attention via this op-ed piece what it is like to be what one would consider to be in the ‘recovery phase’ as a survivor of family violence. The recovery phase essentially refers to, and I will use myself as an example, having escaped from the perpetrator, been protected by the law, connected with a family violence service provider whereby new housing may be found, or locks changed and a safety plan put in place. Reeling from the family violence you begin to attempt to rebuild your life and to the average punter as well as to the system, you appear to be well on the way.

However, the recovery journey is not always a smooth one as the repercussions of family violence are pervasive. Sometimes all it takes is a hint of a particular smell which brings to the forefront those times when the perpetrator had his hands around your neck. Other times it is an unnecessary sense of hyper-vigilance, although you soon realise you are actually physically safe. Then there are times when you are petrified to be alone, when you know on a deep level that the fear is irrational but nevertheless extremely real and moments when taking care of yourself or your children seems insurmountable.

The echoes of the verbal abuse can creep up on you without warning and memories evoked can sometimes lead to intense physical and emotional reactions. There are often the ugly realities of dealing with the details of the legal separation and everything that comes with that in the context of family violence.

No matter what, I, like many of my counterparts, have reoriented myself after my world was thrown off its axis. I have regained what was taken away from me. I refused to give up on myself, even though I felt I had been acclimatised to doing so. I have fought every day to stand firmly on level ground and that has not always been a bed of roses. The world is not my abuser – it’s mostly a kind place and on my recovery journey I have been so fortunate and grateful to have met and work alongside incredible people. This has definitely been my saving grace. The aftermath of years of enduring and subsequently surviving family violence certainly tests you and it is not lost on me that during that time in my life I had been reduced to someone else’s property and chattel. More importantly, my lived experience of family violence does not define me.

What I wish to see as part of the work led by our state government is that eventually the laws of patriarchy and gender inequality cease to seep into our society.

As a member of VSAC, a campaigner and a survivor of family violence I am not remaining silent. I do not condone the way many victims are blamed to the point that the violence inflicted against them is justified in both overt and insidious ways, and how the perpetrator is almost granted absolution from accountability.

The survivor of family violence is one of the strongest human beings you will ever meet even though they do not feel that they are indeed strong and resilient. The trauma survivors have been through is unimaginable, however, hope for change and inspiration from our leaders who took the risk to charter such demanding terrain is more than encouraging; it is pivotal for change.

We are fortunate to be in a state such as Victoria which is challenging what seems to be the impossible.

Everyone working on Victoria’s massive reform agenda with regard to family violence should be proud of the work undertaken as change is definitely afoot.

I sincerely thank each and every one of you.

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