Words from the wise
Walking alongside women who live with violence
Jackie Clark has given love, support and untold time and resources to women who have lived with, or are living with, domestic violence. But she says it’s the women who have healed her in return. Jackie leads a group of anonymous donors called The Aunties, who give resources, such as food, clothes and money, to a number of women, mostly in South Auckland, who face, or have faced, violence in their daily lives.
Acting as the interface between the donors and the women, she provides emotional support as well as practical and financial help. The other part of her role is working with women’s refuges, housing agencies, social workers and organisations such as Te Rōopū o Te Whānau Rangimarie o Tāmaki Makaurau and The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective.
Here, the former kindergarten teacher clarifies some misconceptions around family violence.
The women that I work with are incredibly intelligent, incredibly powerful, and incredibly strong women. They’re strong because they’ve embraced their vulnerabilities. They’re super kind, they’re always wanting to give back, they always want to help. A number of them are actually ‘Aunties’ themselves.
We use a whānau model so we acknowledge that women are in a whānau and that will include their partner or ex-partner. The idea isn’t to end a relationship, but to see if they can find contentment together and heal each other. And if that’s not going to happen, what a refuge does is ideally give someone tools.
Strength is power
Stand in your mauri. Stand in your power.
Not just physical
The narrative that Once Were Warriors gave wasn’t that accurate in terms of what domestic violence looks like for most people and who does it the most. That’s the narrative we have, that domestic violence is solely physical. But family violence is not just physical, it’s mostly verbal, emotional and psychological. It’s power and control.
The women I’ve worked with are tattooed on my skin and they are tattooed on my heart.
The Aunties and I together, through the resources and money we provide, help to create an environment that facilitates women to walk on their path to freedom.
My ‘girls’ [the women that I provide support to] do extraordinary things for their children. They’re incredible parents and extraordinary cooks and budgeters. They’re amazing women; I’m so filled with admiration for them.
A silver lining
Doing this has healed me. My best friend died about six months after I started working with women in refuges. That’s mostly why I threw myself into this. She was my best friend, my soul sister. For 33 years she reflected who I was, so when she died, I had no clue who I was.
I didn’t start this work to help; I did it because it needed to be done. That’s a very important distinction. If there’s a need, you fill it. It’s not about ‘helping’ people.
I’m trying to change the language around what charity is, and try to get people to understand that ‘white knighting’ is not effective. You have to genuinely understand that people help themselves when they are ready and if you can help create an environment that eases that situation, good. The more worries we can take off someone’s plate, the more time and space they have.
The person who has lost their power has to be the one to get it back. My relationship with these women, particularly the ones I work very closely with, creates an effective environment for them to be able to do that. I’m not there to fix them, they do all of that themselves. It’s just about walking alongside them.
Women don’t want to talk about [violence], because it causes them pain. That’s why people don’t talk about it; that’s why New Zealand doesn’t talk about it. It takes them back to that place and they’d rather leave it far behind.
I do this because I am good at it and because I can. I’ve got the resources to do this; I’ve got the heart to do it. I’ve got an extraordinary stomach for it.
I didn’t start this job because of the things it’d give to me, but what it’s given to me… it’s given me my life.
How to be seen
The book we are working on – which will tell the stories of some of the women we work with – is thrilling, because people don’t know how powerful these women are, and how impacting and healing being in their presence is. A lot of people don’t see ‘them’, they see the violence.
Cry it out
Tears are love.
TO DONATE OR FIND OUT MORE, VISIT AUNTIES.CO.NZ.
If you need help, visit 2shine.org.nz or womensrefuge.org.nz • or call the 24-hour helpline 0800 REFUGE.