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Community conference to protect kids

by Michèle Nardelli

Baby faceIn a unique collaboration, UniSA is working with the worldwide volunteer women’s organisation Soroptimist International to stage a one-day conference that hopes to build awareness and action across the community about domestic violence and its impact on children.

The conference United Against Domestic Violence will be held at UniSA’s Magill campus on July 4 and a key focus for the organisers is to engage with volunteer networks already well-established in the community.

UniSA social work and social policy researcher Dr Sarah Wendt says the collaboration with community groups is highly significant.

"Soroptimist International has taken an important lead here by accessing State Government funding for the conference, approaching UniSA for support, and now working to bring about involvement from the big names across the service clubs – Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Apex, Zonta – groups that are broadly representative of the community," Dr Wendt said.

"Domestic violence is an issue that touches many people’s lives but there is a danger that it can be viewed as something impacting only on a small group of women.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. The Australian Personal Safety Survey 2005 showed that in the 12 months leading up to the survey,5.8 per cent of women reported that they had experienced relationship violence and the Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey 2004 found that 57 per cent of women reported experiencing at least one incident of physical or sexual violence over their lifetime.

"And the hidden factor is that in many, many, situations children either witness or experience domestic violence too."

Dr Wendt said a recent UNICEF report across 20 countries estimated between 1.3 and 2.7 million children worldwide were exposed to domestic violence and as many as 750,000 Australian children were witnessing or experiencing domestic violence at home.

Soroptimist spokesperson, Annette Korzeba, says a goal for the conference is to reach out into community networks with the message that domestic violence is everyone’s business.

"Silence around the issue of domestic violence only makes it easier for the problem to continue and for those closest to the situation - the children - to continue to suffer silently," Korzeba says.

"We are hoping to attract individuals but also people involved in service clubs from across the State because they have working networks established and can help to inform and disseminate information about domestic violence and develop supports for women and children which can make a difference.

"At the end of the conference I hope we’ll emerge with a list of actions that we can extend out into the community through these groups and some recommendations to government about how we can better protect women and children against domestic violence."

More information about the conference is available online.