Call to boost family violence services

Sarah Akamo is the founder of Grace and volunteers her own time and money to helping victims of domestic violence. Photo Breck Carter.
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The creator of a non-profit family violence organisation in the western suburbs is calling for more to be done to help tackle the demand on services like hers. Breck Carter reports.

The creator of a non-profit family violence organisation in the western suburbs is calling for more to be done to help tackle the demand on services like hers.

Sarah Akamo, founder of Grace: West Melbourne Families Against Domestic Violence, juggles this with another job to support her family and says services are struggling to meet the increasing demand.

Established in 2015, Grace spreads awareness about family violence and donates hand-made care packages to services dealing with victims/survivors containing sanitary items, toiletries and long life food.

Akamo’s own experiences with family violence influenced her decision to start Grace, saying “it was definitely significant enough to impact me” and there needs to be “more centrality” in the support systems.

“Something as simple as having to keep retelling their story for every service… (is) painful (and) traumatising,” she says.

Her team of seven volunteers started off producing 12 care packages a month, this increasing to 90 a month. Despite this, the care packages are not meeting demand.

Kelly Ventress is the communications manager at Footscray’s Women’s Health West, which receive some of Grace’s care packages, says they are “are always really well-received”.

“In a state of having nothing…they appreciate being given essential items. Clients have told us that it makes them feel like someone cares and is looking out for them.”

People fleeing domestic violence tend to have very little belongings, money or confidence in finding help and support. Photo Breck Carter.

The demand on both services is immense, with Women’s Health West receiving over 1000 family violence police referrals every month.

When seeking support, victims/survivors sometimes have no money, housing, food or belongings. Akamo’s care packages help to provide the basics but it is not enough to support them.

She says she feels having various organisations delivering different services makes getting assistance harder, and that a “central point more well identified and…connected” would help people to know where to go.

Family violence is increasing as a prevalent issue, resulting in more funding and new programs pledged by both the Liberal and Labor parties in the lead up to the federal election.

Ventress says the government needs to make a long term commitment to funding . “Family violence is preventable – however this work receives a very small portion of overall funding.”

Akamo plans to focus on raising awareness and making a difference for the next generation.

“It’s not up to the court system,” she says. “It’s not up to politicians or the government, it’s not up to the police … but it’s actually time for us as a community to take a stand….

“Being in a home where you’re supposed to be safe and losing your life…is not okay.”