Sharing Wisdom and Inspiring Change

2nd of May, 2019

Carol BrownIn her 10 years with Aviva Carol has supported thousands of women and children to become safer. Working with people through some of the hardest times in their lives - trauma, grief, fear and hurt - may not sound like what most of us want to do every day, but Carol Brown loves working with women and children who have experienced family violence, and seeing them flourish.

Carol is well known within the Christchurch family violence sector in which she has spent 15 years supporting others, and recently celebrated her ten-year anniversary with Aviva. Carol thinks she will be at Aviva until she retires – and then probably still supporting women experiencing violence in some way; it’s her passion.

What initially inspired Carol into the work was her own experience of an abusive relationship in her first marriage. She had utilised safe house services and swore that she would help other women to become safe once she got herself sorted out. “A lot of people think it is just an issue that affects lower socioeconomic groups, but I’ve seen violence that goes all the way up the social scale” Carol says. “A really big thing – and I experienced it myself – is the ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’ attitude. People have no understanding of the absolute pressure – trying to manage an abusive partner’s behaviour, manage children and their behaviour which may be affected by what is happening around them, perhaps being the breadwinner for the family. How does she get the time or energy to work out how to do that?”

When things improved for Carol she made good on her vow to help. She began volunteering on an after-hours crisis line and collecting women who needed access to a safe house before eventually becoming employed as Safe House Supervisor and volunteer coordinator. Since joining Aviva in 2009 Carol has had a range of roles including Women’s Services Manager; Earthquake Coordinator; [email protected] Coordinator; Independent Victims Specialist (as part of the ISR pilot) and now as Senior Practitioner leading group education for both women and children. “What I love about working at Aviva is the team, and the teamwork; it really is like a family.  Everyone is professional in the way they do their jobs and there is always someone to talk things through with. There’s also real variety and challenge in the work. You never know what the day will bring.”

It can be hard, demanding and stressful, so what makes it all worthwhile for Carol? “What I really love most is when you engage with women and begin giving them the tools to recognise what is happening to them and their children” she says. “Just providing that support and knowledge to help them address what is going on, letting them see that there are options available, and then supporting them to make good choices.

“I see women coming into (education) group so laden with shame, guilt and stress, not knowing which way to turn. By the end of the (10 week) programme the changes are amazing – some of these women are barely recognisable. The guilt and shame are gone and placed where they should be – with the abusive person. And that group dynamic is a real force – they are empowered by being part of a group. They realise the behaviours of their abusive partner are not about them (the women) or their fault, because other people’s partners have the same behaviours. I feel very humbled when you see how hard many of those women work, and very humbled that they think so much of you for helping. Many of them aren’t used to having someone help them.”

When it comes to children, the work is much harder Carol says, but just as rewarding. “It’s about developing a good rapport and creating a safe environment to talk about what is happening. It’s about building safety all around them, so that they know that there is someone who is going to listen and believe them. You get disclosures sometimes (e.g. sexual abuse) and, although that is awful, I feel really good that those children feel safe enough to talk about it in group. You leave them all with a bond. They know we’re a team here – someone may be working with them, someone else with mum and/or dad. They know we have their back.”

Aviva services are only partially government funded (60%) and the rest are funded by community support and generosity. If you would like to support Carol and her colleagues to continue helping more women and children overcome the effects of violence, please make a donation at donate.avivafamilies.org.nz