Melbourne expert delivers domestic violence seminar

Ursula Benstead

Ursula Benstead

A domestic violence education campaign that uses the analogy of a shark cage to protect girls and women from violent predation was brought to Tenterfield recently, and Glen Innes people working in the field were quick to travel up the highway to take advantage of the opportunity.

Melbourne psychologist Ursula Benstead has travelled across Australia and beyond presenting her workshop on understanding and reducing violence against women, and it was a coup to bring her here, according to organiser Jane Hynes of the Benevolent Society. Mrs Hynes had seen Ms Benstead’s programme several years ago, and was so impressed by its relevance to the local community that she has been working since to bring Ms Benstead to town.

The undertaking was only made possible with the collaborative support of the Tenterfield Rotary Club, Tenterfield Social Development Committee, Glen Innes Severn Council (GISC) Children and Family Services and New England Partners in Recovery, in addition to the Benevolent Society.

“Everybody was very receptive,” Mrs Hynes said.

“It has really been a community approach, and everyone came on board willingly. To bring someone of (Ms Benstead’s) calibre here is something the community can be proud of.”

Seven GISC staff participated in the workshop, thanks to funding from the Department of Family and Community Services, Ageing Disability and Home Care. GISC’s Children and Family Services team leader Angela Sisson said the training provided professionals with a key approach to mentoring families experiencing domestic violence. 

“The analogy of the shark cage enables a useful resource that directly relates to the experiences of domestic violence, with the perpetrator being the shark and the bars being individuals’ human rights,” she said.

“This project has been in the making for three years and I am so grateful to the Benevolent Society for their persistence and organisation in seeking funding and arranging for Ursula to deliver this training in our rural area.

Ms Sisson said the training has allowed her to feel more confident in supporting women of domestic violence, and empowering them to identify changes they want to make in their own lives.

“Glen Innes Severn Council’s Children and Family Services are pleased to have been able to be a contributor in the delivery of this event and we hope that with the many professionals who travelled from Glen Innes to attend, the words ‘shark cages’ will empower women in our local community to make positive changes in their lives and in turn, the lives of their families,” she said.

In Ms Benstead’s analogy the bars of the cage represent physical, sexual, emotional, financial, spiritual or social rights. Some girls develop strong cages, some cages may be a little dented due to circumstances outside their control such as bullying at school or verbal abuse or perhaps a mum that didn’t have a strong shark cage of her own, according to Ms Benstead.

By recognising these rights girls and women can work to strengthen their own cage, and to trust themselves to recognise when the bars are being pressured.

Workshop participants were shown how to teach skills to defend breeches, but only when safe to do so. This may be through assertiveness training and recognising self-care. Ms Benstead said self-care is important, putting a priority on the individual's rights as long as they don’t impose on someone else’s.

The workshop concluded with learning to distinguish between sharks and dolphins, and how to distinguish a shark in a dolphin suit through signs and behaviours that violate those rights. 


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