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International Women's Day is no time to rest on our laurels
Community|Author Simone Patterson
07 March 2018

With almost three decades experience as a social worker and counsellor, Simone Patterson knows how complex a topic domestic violence can be. Her pet-friendly shelter committed to helping traumatised women and children rebuild their lives and confidence in a way that creates role models for others. 

By Simone Patterson

International Women’s Day (IWD) can certainly serve as a focal point for the community at large, but as someone who works with traumatised women and children every day, it’s a reminder that we still have a lot of work ahead. All of us.

A report last week from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) confirmed that the scourge of domestic violence is alive and well in all parts of Australia. It showed that one in six women in Australia has suffered family violence, physical or sexual, at the hands of a former or current partner.

Statistics like this are the reason my husband Nigel and I set up The Sanctuary, a unique Gold Coast refuge for women who have suffered domestic violence. What makes it different is that is not only welcomes children, but also their family pets.

"The challenge is to not only help women and families to heal, but help put an end to domestic violence."

Having worked in community services for 29 years as a social worker and counsellor, I know there are many complex emotions at play when it comes to domestic violence – and it’s not uncommon for women to stay in violent relationships for fear of leaving their beloved animals behind.  

Every day at The Sanctuary we work to empower these women to be positive, confident role models that other women can look up to. Every day is International Women’s Day here in that the focus is to help women to regain or acquire self-confidence. However, the path to this point is often difficult and confronting.

Our aim is to put as many complimentary and complementary therapies in place, so each woman can come into her own, in her own time. We have daily group meetings with counsellors, case managers and therapists. The women, who all play a role in helping to run the refuge, are encouraged to care for their health and wellbeing through weekly gym sessions, walking and pampering sessions. We also assist with housing applications and legal aid applications.

The challenge is to not only help women and families to heal, but help put an end to domestic violence.

This will mean cultural change and addressing the power imbalance that still permeates our society. But it will also take financial investment from both the private and public sectors to make it happen.  

So while it’s great that International Women’s Day keeps these vitally important topics on the national agenda, the best healing for the women The Sanctuary supports is to see one of their peers recover. This can be moving into safe housing in the community, finding a job or pursuing an educational goal. These women become relatable role models and their stories become the inspiration others desperately need.      


Simone Patterson was one of 45 AMP Tomorrow Maker to share in $1 million in grants in 2017. Find out more about our 2018 AMP Tomorrow Fund, opening on 5 April, at

Simone will be one of three female AMP Tomorrow Makers who will pitch at the upcoming The Funding Network live crowdfunding event at AMP on 11 April.

If this article has raised any issues for you, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

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