Parish communities in the Gippsland region continue to equip themselves with knowledge, tools and a deeper understanding in how to respond to family and domestic violence as part of a pilot program being coordinated by Catholic Social Services Victoria and the Catholic Diocese of Sale. A series of ‘Shining A Light’ workshops have been running across the diocese since March 2022, with 20 people attending the most recent worksop at St Joseph’s in Warragul.
Sr Nicole Rotaru RSM has been leading the workshops attended by key people in parish communities including clergy, safeguarding personnel, staff and volunteers, and community volunteers including St Vincent de Paul. She explained that the pilot program is ‘grounded in a whole-of-Church response to violence against women and children’.
‘People’s understanding of the complexities and subtleties of domestic and family violence is expanded along with their awareness of unjust structures,’ said Sr Nicole.
The pilot program is backed by the CSSV Domestic Violence Working Group, the CSSV Council and the Diocese of Sale, and is supported by a Reference Group that meets regularly. The program will run until mid-July, with a total of seven Shining A Light workshops to be offered throughout the six regions in the Sale Diocese.
The initiative is a response to Recommendation 165 from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence (2016) which listed a total of 277 recommendations for implementation by 2025. Among those, it was recommended that ‘faith leaders and communities establish processes for examining the ways in which they currently respond to family violence in their communities and whether any of their practices operate as deterrents to the prevention or reporting of, or recovery from, family violence or are used by perpetrators to excuse or condone abusive behaviour.’
Seventy-five people have participated in the workshops across the diocese including at Berwick, Sale and Bairnsdale. Each workshop provides participants an opportunity to understand more deeply that violence can take a number of forms and gives ways in which we can assist and respond safely and empathetically to those impacted by domestic and family violence.
The first workshop activity invited participants to choose picture cards, word cards and objects that could be part of an environment of domestic and family violence. Having engaged in this, Fr Peter Slater commented, ‘The opening activity was good and led into the input that was to come. I know a little more of the horror of domestic and family violence for people caught up in it and feeling trapped.’
In the workshop, another participant commented:
‘I had always thought domestic violence involved physical violence and the ancillary use of bad language. None of these were true in my marriage. The first example used by Sr Nicole was precisely my story! I realised then that I had in fact been in a relationship where I had suffered domestic violence. Naming the issue goes a long way into freeing oneself from the guilt of a failed marriage.’
A spontaneous role play depicting power and control over another through calculated manipulation and blaming led another participant to say, ‘I began to see a pattern of behaviour that always ended up with me being blamed and feeling worthless.’
Participants expressed shock in learning of the pressure on young men to conform to societal view of attitudes and values that constitute ‘being a real man’. Sr Nicole said many people were taken aback at the statistics from the Man Box survey. Some examples include:
- 56% believed – a real man would never say no to sex
- 49% believed – a real man shouldn’t get respect if he talks about his fears
- 37% believed – a real man always knows the whereabouts of his wife or girlfriend
- 27% believed – a real man has the final say about decisions in relationships
It became clear in the discussion that we are all part of society and so we contribute to societal attitudes and values.
At each workshop, participants have been invited to complete a before-and-after evaluation of the workshop. ‘An initial analysis of the after evaluations to date have shown an increased understanding of domestic and family violence as a result of the workshop. Further analysis will help to guide the next steps to be taken,’ said Sr Nicole.
A comprehensive review of the pilot program will be undertaken, and a report will be written by September 2022.