For most of us, sending a postcard is a chance to connect with loved ones while on a fantastic holiday. But the postcards domestic violence campaigners Ruth Herbert (64) and Deborah Mackenzie (47) plan to mail carry a more powerful message.
Both women have worked in the domestic violence sector for decades and while they admit it can be exhausting, they say their job gives them purpose. “There isn’t a week that goes by that Deborah and I aren’t in tears in our office because of something we’ve just read,” says Ruth.
The women are co-founders of The Backbone Collective, a national coalition and online community for women to share their experiences when they feel they aren’t being heard and have nowhere else to turn.
The Postcard Project is part of a campaign to get victims’ voices heard. They want to learn how victims feel about the support available to them when they reach out for help. They also want to hear from those around them who are attempting to offer support.
About 9000 postcards will be sent out. On them, women can write their personal experience or a message to send to a politician or organisation.
“We want the postcard to be used by a wider group who have been affected,” tells Deborah. “That includes others who are beside them, the close friends and parents walking the journey with them.”
Deborah and Ruth say they are inundated daily with heart-wrenching stories from women who have suffered in violent relationships and may also be struggling to navigate the system.
“We are not here doing this as a job,” explains Ruth, who led the Glenn Inquiry, an investigation into the rate of child abuse and domestic violence in New Zealand.
“We are doing this because we know the lived experiences of women and children, we know the pain they are going through. That’s what drives us."
They argue the justice settings – social services, organisations, charities and the family court system – designed to keep women and families safe once they make the decision to leave violent situations aren’t always working.
About 200,000 cases go through the courts each year. The pair surveyed 600 women who had approached the Backbone Collective about their experiences of seeking help.
They were astonished to learn some women felt re-victimised by the court process or felt their complaints were brushed off.
“We want a woman who decides to get out of a bad relationship to be able to and to step into a system that helps her and her kids,” asserts Deborah.
In the four months the collective has been running, more than 900 women have signed up, and Deborah and Ruth say the number increases daily.
“One of the reasons Backbone has been so successful in such a short time is because most women feel it’s not safe for them to speak out,” says Ruth.
“It’s time for these voices to be heard. We’ve talked about being a funnel. Our job is to collect the voices of these women and megaphone them out. The Postcard Project lets them have their voice.”
Ruth and Deborah hope these postcards will amplify women’s voices, ultimately leading to a Royal Commission of Inquiry on family violence.
“There’s a solidarity that these women know they aren’t alone in this and that they’re being listened to,” says Ruth. “That’s the plus of the collectiveness of Backbone.”
Adds Deborah,“I call it my bitter pill of hope. We are determined that life can get better for women who leave a dangerous situation.”
Family Court weighs in
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