Content warning: this story contains reference to domestic and family violence. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.
Last week the Victorian Government announced an investment of over $40 million in crisis accommodation and specialist services for victims and those at risk of domestic and family violence.
The investment will include dedicated funding for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs).
In a time of increasing social isolation due to COVID-19 Public Health Orders, exposure to violence has grown, particularly for First Nations women.
An ACCO with reach across seven regional Victorian office as well as a head office and Koori Women's Place in Abbotsford, Djirra is focused on supporting Aboriginal people experiencing family violence.
With 98 percent of their clients being Aboriginal women and their children, Djirra CEO Antoinette Braybrook welcomed the investment from the Andrews Government.
"For Aboriginal people there is a lot of distrust and fear when it comes to reporting violence to police, family violence especially. That is why we say it is extremely important that there is investment in Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations," Braybrook said.
"The women that we work with within our communities trust us, there is absolute confidence in our organisations, in us, in the services we provide.
"The fear that I am talking about is in response to the racism that comes from the mainstream sector, not all, but many service providers. We see the fear of the police and justice system and also the fear of children being removed because we know that family violence is a primary driver of the removal of Aboriginal children from their families."
Women's Services Network (WESNET) National Director, Karen Bentley, noted the importance of funding services that work with marginalised victims of family violence.
"It is really important whenever you are working with any women and survivors of domestic and family violence [to know that] ... there is no one-size-fits-all ... we need to be working with the woman in the community or place she is at," Bentley said.
"We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are at higher risk of being adversely impacted by the COVID-19 virus. That means ... the [amount of] support required to deal with that needs to be taken into consideration."
Although a large investment, it has not been confirmed directly with Djirra whether they will receive a share of the funding. Braybrook said a funding boost would significantly assist Djirra.
"Receiving additional funding will support our capacity to keep Aboriginal women and children safe during this really challenging time of COVID-19," Braybrook said.
"It will enable us to ... provide more referrals to a broad range of services and it will enable us to work more closely with Aboriginal women and some mainstream services so that Aboriginal women feel safer when accessing those services.
"It will allow us to ... ensure that Aboriginal women are aware of what legal options are available to them during this difficult time. These are things we usually do but [COVID-19] makes it worse.
"Having increased access to funding for emergency relief will help us get Aboriginal women set up with data on their phones so that we can have [video] contact with them."
Braybrook said face-to-face contact via FaceTime will enable Djirra staff to assess a client physically and further ensure their safety.
Extra funding would also support Djirra to extend their service hours for those in need.
Although Djirra has enabled all staff to work remotely in response to COVID-19, Braybrook is wary of the effect it may have.
"Everything has moved to phone, one thing that we have been really conscious about is that we don't want to become invisible to the women who most need us."
Peak body discussions on hold
At the end of 2019, funding cuts to the National Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Forum (NAFVPLS) were announced by the Federal Government.
The Forum held 13 members with Braybrook as Chair. After the funding cuts, a campaign was launched to resurrect the service and retrieve the $244,000 that was withdrawn.
"Not long after our advocacy around that the $244,000 came back to us, but we were told it would be distributed equally between our services, so we each get $17,000 ... which comes in as of July 1," Braybrook said.
The Forum approached Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt's office and requested the return of funding to the national body.
"We deserve to have a national body, as much as every other organisation has a national body. We want that commitment from the Federal Government to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims and survivors are at the national table."
With their request denied, the Forum began conversations with the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) to develop a structure which could align with the Federal Government's criteria.
Due to COVID-19, these conversations have been postponed. However, all 13 members of the forum have been meeting fortnightly via video conferencing software, Zoom.
"We have all joined together and we've all shared resources around how we have individually responded and continue to respond to COVID-19."
"We have supported each other with the many challenges that have come up and if that does not show the benefit of us being able to work together in a coordinated way, in this circumstance, I'm not sure what will."
For now, Braybrook is focused on keeping Djirra visible to those who need it most.
"Pre-COVID we always talked about visibility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, more so now. But it is also our organisations that are not only becoming invisible to the women and children in community who need us, but also the issues our women and our people experience are invisible within government as well. That is the challenge for us, keeping that visibility up."
If you are experiencing family or domestic violence, please contact:
Domestic Violence Line NSW â" â1800 656 463
National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence counselling service â" 1800 RESPECT
Kids Helpline â" 1800 551 800
VisitÂ respect.gov.auÂ for more information and to download free resources.
By Rachael Knowles