• Michelle Meehan | Features Writer intouch

Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence: Liann Taffe


Liann Taffe knows the fear and pain caused by domestic violence. As a caseworker at Wallsend’s Warlga Ngurra Women and Children’s Refuge – and a survivor of domestic violence herself – the former Nyngan woman is constantly confronted with examples of the harrowing abuse being perpetrated within family homes.

Having freed herself from her own situation, Liann now dedicates her life to supporting others in need and raising awareness of the issue of domestic violence.

“I am a survivor I guess you can call it, but I hate that word. I experienced domestic violence for a long time, and I had to flee, so I came here (Warlga Ngurra.) I found a counsellor here, and I started dealing with the real issues,” she said.

“I was told to go and get an education and bring it back so to speak, so that’s what I did. I went and got an education, and then a position became available here, and I came here, and that’s what I live for now.

“I started off with a Cert IV in Community Services at TAFE - it was the first time in my life that I completed something as far as education was concerned. Then I went on to university (to study Social Science), and I have not finished, I’ve put it on hold for a little bit.

“I love this field. What I’ve done I’ve done alone for myself and my babies, and I didn’t know where to turn to until I came to this refuge. Then I learned a little bit about not going back, about standing strong.

“When clients come here I feel their pain, you know, a lot of people don’t get it, and as much as it’s out there in the open they’re still saying ‘It doesn’t happen in our family’, but it does. So I just became a very passionate domestic violence support worker.”

The statistics around domestic violence are eye-opening. According to the White Ribbon Australia website, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them, while even more shockingly, over a 12 month period, one woman is killed every week (on average) by a current or former partner.

Indigenous women and girls are also 35 times more likely than the wider female population to be hospitalised due to family violence.

Liann said it is a difficult journey for a woman to free herself from a situation of domestic violence.

“It’s hard to leave domestic violence. It’s very fearful and traumatic, and the victims believe that they’re going to be killed,” she said.

“And it is not a journey that ends in a year, and then you’re living normally, it’s something that you live with forever, or you go back to, whether it be to your original perpetrator or a new one. Until you educate yourself on what your standards are and what your limits are then people just keep going back or finding a new one.

“Going through the refuge system as a client and now as a worker, I’m seeing fewer women lowering their standards just to be with someone and just to be happy and just have someone be a daddy to their children, you know.

“I see them set standards for themselves and it’s amazing. The people that you think are the weakest are actually the strongest.”

Aside from the practical support she offers her clients at the refuge, Liann is also passionate about educating others and encouraging more men to get involved in the battle to eradicate family violence.

That passion was recognised recently by the Newcastle Jets, who named her one of their ‘Local Heroes’ for 2017-18 in recognition for her role in creating the Walk a Mile Koori Style event, which Liann has been organising for the past six years with the support of Warlga Ngurra and a number of sponsors.

Inspired by similar community events including the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes campaign overseas, Liann has helped encourage more than 4000 men and boys since 2013 to walk through the streets of Newcastle to the top of King Edward Park and take the White Ribbon oath to “stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women.”

Her hope is that one day the event will catch on in other communities across Australia, with interest already coming from a number of areas.

“We started off with 250 men, boys walking and now we average 600, 700 (each year),” Liann said.

“At the end of the year between November the 25th and December the 10th there’s 16 days of activism, and it’s about no more violence towards women and children, so we hold the walk during that time.

“I’ve got interest all along the east coast (of Australia), no one has just picked up and started doing it yet. It is hard work what we do, and I guess no-one’s got that passion yet to do it, but it’ll get there one day, that’s my dream.

“Two, maybe three years ago, 84 women died of domestic violence and there was such momentum when the 16 days of activism hit that year.

“I think it was 2014, the momentum was astronomical, I could feel it, and I could feel a change, a shift, and I still feel it, I feel things are changing.

“It’s up to the person ultimately to change, but I see changes. They’re very small, but they’re significant, and I just think that the change will come and I think the youth who are taking the walk, who are giving the oath to the women, who are feeling the power on top of the hill, they’re going to change everything for us, I feel it.”

The find out more about the 2018 Walk a Mile Koori Style, check out the event’s page on Facebook - www.facebook.com/WalkAMileKooriStyle

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