It was not something he had seen before.
As a young occupational therapist just beginning his career, Tom Conway remembers vividly the first few times he saw people present to the hospital that appeared to be victims of family violence.
Tom acknowledges he is fortunate. He grew up in a family where violence and harassment was just not a part of his life experience. It wasn’t something that affected his friends or his peers.
“But working in a hospital, I began to see it,” he said.
“So many of the people that access our services, that come to the hospital seeking our help, are in a vulnerable position. What I saw, and what I see, in my line of work tells me that family violence is still an issue in our community.”
In Australia and around the world, women and children, primarily, continue to suffer abuse from male family members and partners.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that one in six Australian women (and one in 16 men) have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by their partner.
Despite seismic cultural shifts, women and children are still vulnerable to family violence. For Tom, further change is needed.
Which is why he is leading a new group of male staff at Bairnsdale Regional Health Service (BRHS) calling themselves Champions 4 Change, working to highlights issues of gender inequality in the hospital and the community. Growing out of BRHS’
Strengthening Hospital Responses to Family Violence initiative which is led by BRHS Social Worker Carolyn Aston, Champions 4 Change has brought together male staff members from across the full spectrum of health and non-health roles found at most regional hospitals.
It includes kitchen staff and cleaners, admin staff, security guards, health professionals and IT experts.
“The idea is that we represent a genuine microcosm of our local community,” Tom said.
It is a diverse group united only by a shared commitment to proactively promoting safe and respectful relationships toward women and girls.
“Attitudes need to change. “Our goal with Champions 4 Change is to make some contribution to change that culture around treatment of women for the better. We know Champions 4 Change isn’t the only answer, but if other organisations in our community can see what we’re doing and feel like they can do something similar, then that will really feel like we’re making a difference.”
The Champions 4 Change group is just a few months old and still finding its feet. The dozen or so men meet regularly to share education resources and information related to gender equality in the hospital and in the community.
The group has created a Champions 4 Change badge (designed by BRHS’ food services director and Champions 4 Change member, Cameron Penwill) that they’ll wear each day, in order to spark conversations with other people and spread awareness of their goals.
Later this month it will hold a workshop to help people learn what they should do to interrupt situations of harassment, violence and abuse.
Tom says Champions 4 Change has already expanded his understanding of the issue.
“I used to think that family violence was just about physical abuse,” he said. “Now I understand that it goes further. It’s also about financial abuse, emotional abuse, social abuse. The impacts are ongoing, particularly on children.”
72,000 women, 34,000 children and 9000 men sought homelessness services in 2016–17 due to family/domestic violence.
IMAGE: BRHS occupational therapist, Tom Conway. (Photo: Jake Lynch/BRHS)