John Minz, from anti-domestic violence group Toowoomba Together, Red Rose Foundation member Andrea Frost, Zonta's Kirsten Tydings and Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio unveil the district's first Red Bench at Clewley Park.
John Minz, from anti-domestic violence group Toowoomba Together, Red Rose Foundation member Andrea Frost, Zonta's Kirsten Tydings and Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio unveil the district's first Red Bench at Clewley Park.

Red alert against violence

YOU will likely have noticed a lot of red and orange around Toowoomba over the past couple of weeks.

Both colours have joined the white ribbon as part of the movement against domestic violence, which experts say is as relevant today to seniors as younger people.

It started with the unveiling of Toowoomba's first Red Bench, near the family violence memorial sculpture at Clewley Park, on November 25.

The bench carries the simple message, "Change the ending: let's stop domestic violence".

An initiative of the Red Rose Foundation Brisbane, taken up by Toowoomba Regional Council, it aims to inspire conversations about the need to stop violence, particularly against women and children.

Other Red Benches will follow at Webb Park in East Toowoomba, Mervyn and John Hart Park in Pittsworth, Campbell St in Oakey and near the post office at Yarraman.

The unveiling marked the start of a united 16-day "Orange the World" campaign against gender-based violence by local women's service clubs - the Soroptimists, Zonta, Quota, CWA and Inner Wheel.

"Domestic violence is just as prevalent here as anywhere else," said Toowoomba Domestic Violence Action Centre manager Kath Turley.

"We speak to women every day who have experienced the whole plethora of abuse, from physical abuse, including strangulation and sexual abuse, to control and intimidation through psychological, financial, coercive and verbal abuse."

Kath was pleased to see such a coordinated effort by women's groups to spread the word against domestic violence across all ages and demographics.

"It's great to see the community raising the flag because what we need is a coordinated community response and a united message to stop domestic violence," she said.

Worldwide, one in three women and girls will experience violence in her lifetime with, on average, one female dying each week in Australia, as a result of domestic violence.

And older women are far from immune, despite younger women traditionally being more willing to seek help.

"This is a real issue and a growing one for women over 50, who are more prone to homelessness as a result of leaving DV situations because they don't have the financial resources behind them," Kath said.

She said many women, even in their 70s and 80s, who had not previously felt they could speak out due to lack of support or the prevailing culture of dealing with such matters in private, were now doing so as the world embraced the #MeToo movement.

While the 16 days of action will be almost over by the time you read this, the Photo Voice Exhibition at Toowoomba's Another Life Cafe continues until December 10.

It comprises up to 50 photos by women who have lived experience of domestic violence.

One, a photo of smashed egg shells, shows the fragility of life and is accompanied by the powerful narrative: "I felt as though I had to walk on egg shells every day. I would pray that the next day I would be good enough …"

Part of the power of the Red Benches campaign, Kath said, was its longevity, unlike many initiatives, which come and go.

"They are a symbol that sits there permanently in the community to prompt discussion and challenge people of all ages to end violence against women and families," she said.

It is hoped to have at least one Red Bench in every local government area in Queensland, with at least 100 expected to be in place by December.

Interstate interest is already occurring for the simple campaign, which asks government and community groups to paint one existing public bench red and pay for the metal plaque.

Clifford Gardens Shopping Centre, Fairholme College, the Toowoomba Mosque and Harristown State High School have all signed up.

Kath urged everyone to be aware of and challenge, where it was safe to do so, attitudes and comments that denigrated women, and to "believe and listen to victims because sometimes that's all they need" to help them act.

If you need domestic violence help or to speak with someone about historical sexual abuse, contact DVAC on (07) 4642 1354 or, for 24-hour crisis help, call DVConnect on 1800 811 811 or Lifeline on 131 114.

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