For almost 20 years, Karen Willis has led a team of women, dedicated to helping put a full stop to sexual, domestic and family violence. As Executive Officer of the Full Stop Foundation, Karen and her staff provide trauma specialist support services, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by phone or online.
“It doesn't matter whether it's three o'clock in the morning, just after the violence occurred or 50 years after an attack, we’re here to listen.” says Karen, a fearless advocate for women’s rights, for over three decades.
Alarmingly, but unsurprisingly, at the height of lockdown, support services reported an increase in client caseload by as much as 56 per cent. Now, according to the woman front and centre of the crisis, the worst is still to come.
“I'm actually really concerned about what's going to happen next because for the last few months offenders have had total control over everything, but as people start to go back to work and move around, they lose that control. We've already gone from one dead woman every 10 days to one every seven. I'm really afraid for what's going to happen”
Against this backdrop, NRMA Insurance announced $2 million in funding to support the Full Stop Foundation to help increase phone counselling services and support women as they move to safety and recovery.
“The NRMA Insurance donation comes at a critical time.” says Karen. “This financial year alone, the Full Stop Foundation will receive up to 8,000 phone calls through our crisis counselling service.” The donation will also go toward up to 50 organisations which help provide critical services across Australia.
Karen grew up in a working-class family with a mum who upheld Christian values of respect for all and a dad who was a unionist. Both, she says, focused on helping maintain the rights of others, which Karen believes provides some explanation as to why these principles come through in the work she does.
“Violence against women is a human rights abuse. This is about human dignity. This is about respect. The question isn’t, why doesn't she just leave? The question is, why doesn't he stop? Each of us need to look at ourselves and what we do, then we need to look in our families and our close friends and relationships. We need to look in our communities and our workplaces, and we look, need to look at our society. We need everyone from our leaders down.”
When it comes to help, Karen is quick to re-define the term. ‘Yes, we are helping, but we are helping this person to figure it out themselves. Helping is about empowering people to be able to make their own decisions about what they want to do and where they want to be, and then assisting them. And at the end of the day, if they're saying, ‘I did that’, then that's actually a really good help because they've developed their own competence in their own capacities to help themselves.”
The work the team at the Full Stop Foundation does is not for the faint hearted. The stories are tough, the situations, often life threatening. “We are all absolutely passionate about the rights of women to live their lives forever violence free and absolutely passionate about helping individuals to recover from the violence that they've experienced.”
The NRMA Insurance funding will also go toward a client centric broker approach. This may be helping a woman purchase a fridge or even a new outfit, so she can be empowered to go to a job interview.” It’s about regaining control with no judgement, some for the first time ever.” Says Karen passionately. “We're not interested in women being depicted as victims, bugger that women are strong, they can do things and they will.”
To find out more or to make a donation visit the Full Stop Foundation website.