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Tackling a domestic violence barrier head on in Australia

NGOs

Surging domestic violence rates lit the “fire in the belly” of social worker Simone Patterson to establish one of Australia’s most unique safe havens on the Gold Coast of Queensland.

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When Simone Patterson discovered most domestic violence refuges did not take women fleeing with their teenage boys or their pets, she decided she had to step in.

She drew on her own life savings to purchase an acreage on Queensland’s Gold Coast and built The Sanctuary Women’s, Children and Pets refuge.

She now operates the haven, one of Australia’s only refuges to accept boys aged over 12 years, as well as all manner of pets from cats, dogs, birds and even goats, of women fleeing domestic and family violence.

“Australia is in the grip of an epidemic of domestic violence,” Patterson said.

“I have people driving through two states to get here with their animals. It’s quite emotional when she just falls into your arms and cries because she knows she’s safe.

“But we need more services.  I’m trying to do what I can.”

The Sanctuary Women’s, Children and Pet’s Refuge founder Simone Patterson with Coco the cockatoo on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

Patterson said The Sanctuary had never been government-funded and instead relied on donations to stay open.

“I love what I do each day, but when I know how much I could do, it’s hard,” she said.

Patterson took out a personal loan to buy the property and build family units for The Sanctuary after deciding she had to take action rather than leave governments to tackle domestic violence.

She said she made the decision to accept boys aged more than 12 years at the refuge to help women who could not leave without all of their children.

“For me it was a no-brainer, I know I wouldn’t leave without my 13-year-old son, and I wouldn’t leave without my pets,” Patterson said.

“I got a loan, and I just did it.”

She said she was motivated after attending a rally for Brisbane domestic violence victim Allison Baden-Clay. In 2012, Baden-Clay’s husband Gerard killed the mother of three and dumped her body in a creek so she wouldn’t find out he was cheating on her.

“I just looked at everyone at the rally and thought everyone was just talking.  I thought nothing was going to change,” Patterson said.

“Something hit me like a brick, and I thought I just had to do something.  I rang my husband and said let’s do a refuge.

“I couldn’t wait anymore. It got the fire in my belly to keep women safe and I knew I could do something to help.”

Patterson, who was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in this year’s Australia Day honours, said the refuge opened its doors to women on the Gold Coast in 2016.

Hundreds of women, children and animals from around the country have since passed through The Sanctuary, where they are permitted to stay for up to three months before being helped to find community accommodation.

“Most of the women who come here have pets and or children with them.  We don’t get that many singles, we get mainly families,” Patterson said.

“But there’s been three times in the six years we’ve been running that we’ve almost gone broke. We’re spending $5,000 a week, but only getting around $2,500 in through donations. We need to do a whole lot more.”

Patterson said she spent evenings collecting donations after working every day at the shelter.

Under the funding model, receipts for newly purchased items to support women and families are also put on the shelter’s Facebook site so people can contribute to the cost.

“That could be for new clothes, a washing machine, a birthday cake,” Patterson said.

“We need to make sure these people are starting their new life from the moment they get here. And there’s just so many people to help.

“But right now, I just need a printer that works.  That’s just not something we can spend the money on.”

The Sanctuary Women, Children and Pet’s Refuge is a registered charity.

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