The holiday season is full of sentimental memories, but for women experiencing, or at risk of, domestic or family violence, this is not always the case, writes Jessica Morris.
The holidays should be a happy time, full of carolling, Christmas lights and community. Yet for one in three women across Australia who have experienced domestic violence at the hands of a partner or loved one, it can be a traumatic experience.
The staff at Catherine Booth House in Darwin know this all too well, providing emergency crisis accommodation and outreach services since 2010 to women 18-plus faced with this violence.
Nestled in the leafy suburb of Palmerston, the domestic violence crisis centre has provided emergency accommodation for 169 women this year, ranging from one night to 13 weeks, and has supported 119 women. Housing up to 12 women at a time, it has become a safe haven for locals who need to make a fresh start.
When these women arrive at Catherine Booth House, they need more than shelter—they also need love and support. This is why the staff of nine (including one volunteer) provides them with clothing, hygiene packs, food, emotional support and assistance with legal issues (including domestic violence orders and liaising with the Department of Children).
Whether a client needs assistance or advocacy, the staff comes alongside them so they can take the next step towards their future. This includes seeking public housing, sourcing referrals for bond assistance, helping to fulfil immigration requirements and maintaining or gaining employment.
‘Christmas is a difficult time of year for our clients because many have left behind family and friends,’ manager Jenny Gabel says.
‘The financial burden of the season causes distress and self-blame. It is also difficult for many people who have suffered intergenerational trauma as memories of this time of the year can evoke some powerful emotions which are often traumatic.’
By creating a warm and cheery environment, the staff provides women with the Christmas they deserve. Aside from making the house a home through decorative craft activities, the annual Christmas party is always a highlight, where clients enjoy the full holiday experience, from the delicious Christmas roast and pudding, to sharing in carols and Christmas presents around the tree.
This is topped off by seeing the Christmas lights in town and joining in the local Darwin Christmas Carols. The women are also treated to a day of pampering, courtesy of some dedicated locals. With hair styled and trimmed, nails done and receiving a massage, these women can relax in the busy lead-up to Christmas.
‘These events are memorable because we are changing people’s lives,’ says Jenny. ‘We are making new memories and attempting to give people back hope. To see a lady, who was destitute and emotionally broken, smile and enjoy Christmas gives us reason to celebrate our successes as a service provider in our mission to transform their lives.’
Christmas time is made all the richer when we help others, and the women at Catherine Booth House embrace this by volunteering their time with local emergency relief programs. From packing Christmas hampers at the food bank to assisting The Salvation Army with their Christmas appeal, they find purpose in their own generosity.
‘We find these events and activities give the ladies a feeling of self-worth as they are involved in giving back to the community to those less fortunate. It empowers the women to see the good in others and in themselves,’ Jenny says. ‘For many women at our service, they have never truly experienced the joy the Christmas season can bring, so if we can give this to them, it makes our roles worthwhile.’
We all find meaning over the holidays, but for some people it’s more difficult than others, especially when they are weighed down by violence, stress and trauma. Thanks to the staff at Catherine Booth House, women in Darwin have the chance to leave the past behind and create new memories and traditions this Christmas, and that is priceless.