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Turning Compassion into a Solution for Family Violence

11 June 2015 at 10:57 am
Xavier Smerdon
As the COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and Children held its inaugural meeting in Sydney last week, Sarah McKenzie writes about how philanthropy has made a difference for the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria.

Xavier Smerdon | 11 June 2015 at 10:57 am


Turning Compassion into a Solution for Family Violence
11 June 2015 at 10:57 am

As the COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and Children held its inaugural meeting in Sydney last week, Sarah McKenzie writes about how philanthropy has made a difference for the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria.

We’ve all become used to the chilling statistic: one woman a week is murdered in Australia by her partner or ex-partner.

But this year, so far, it’s two closer to two women a week. And many, many more women and children experience physical, emotional, financial and social abuse every day.

But while we feel shocked at such statistics, it can be difficult to know what we, as individuals, can do to solve such an enormous and pervasive problem.

When Sarah Kirsch heard about the horrific murders of Indianna and Savannah by their father Charles Mihayo in 2014, and then the murder of Fiona Warzywoda at the hands of her ex-partner soon after, she decided that it was time to act. She made a personal donation to the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV) of $25,000.

“I heard about those murders and just thought – this is too terrible. Every day, women and children are being exposed to this kind of violence in their homes. I wanted to be part of a solution,” Kirsch said.

Kirsch has a history of large philanthropic donations. For more than 30 years, she has given away over ten per cent of her income. In the past, she has mainly donated to Oxfam projects, including food security programs in East Timor, gender violence programs in Papua New Guinea, and ending poverty projects in Cambodia and Laos.

With family violence increasingly becoming a priority political and social issue – indeed, many are labelling it a national emergency – Kirsch believes that her donation will make a real and practical difference to the lives of Australian women and children. And now she is urging others to also consider giving to organisations that are working to eliminate family violence.

“For me, my personal politics led me to donate to this particular organisation. I’d had some exposure to the Domestic Violence Resource Centre when I used to work for a youth refuge. I decided to give to them because I wanted to improve their capacity to help women and children to be safe.

“For me, it was important to give to a service that had a wide reach, was inclusive, and could educate and support lots of people,” Kirsch told us.

While Kirsch believes that Australians are very good at showing generosity when people suffer individual loss, she thinks we could do much better at developing a culture of philanthropy that attempts to solve problems at their root cause and to organisations that might not be as well supported by Government.

And in order to develop this culture, Kirsch believes that we need to stop the false modesty and start telling others about our generosity. “It’s very important that people start publicising the fact that they give money away. It’s about telling other people – hey, you could do this yourself. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money.”

Vig Geddes, Executive Officer of DVRCV, says that donations such as Kirsch’s are invaluable and can help bring about significant change.

“They enable us to reach more women with information about where they can get help and to train the professionals who will be supporting them. Sarah’s donation enabled us to provide more information online and to keep that information up-to-date. Another financial contribution is assisting us to develop a new pamphlet with safety information for women. We will distribute the pamphlet, put it online and include this information in our training programs.”

For Kirsch, giving money is more than just a financial act. This sense of altruism is deeply ingrained in her character.

“I don’t live a very luxurious lifestyle, but giving money is how I can feel more comfortable with how lucky I got in this deal. Look at me – I’m in a safe country, my children are relatively safe. You’ve got to stop and think, I can afford to do this.

“People need to be reminded that a dollar makes a difference – it doesn’t have to be much. I think, as Australians, we need to rethink the way we spend our money. We need to remember that money can do incredible things. You don’t need a new car every year, or to buy expensive wine or handbags. You can actually put your money into something that makes life better for someone else. You might not be able to do everything, to solve all the world’s problems alone, but you can do something.”

Geddes agrees, saying that every dollar can move us closer to eliminating family violence.

“Even small amounts of money can make a difference. For example, $50 might mean that 50 more women find out where they can get help or 50 young people might think more about what it means to have a respectful relationship. Family violence is everybody’s business and it is preventable.”

For more information on the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV) go to

Note: The COAG Advisory Panel has been asked to provide three reports to COAG, including a high level assessment of current approaches by all Governments and areas for greater leadership advice on the implementation of the three COAG priority areas and advice in relation to the future direction of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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