Day of a Shine advocate

Minor details have been changed to protect clients’ identities.  

Mary is a Shine Advocate, and loves her job. 

“It’s so rewarding to help people who are striving to make their lives better in the face of conditions akin to being a prisoner of war. The work is always different, and it is exciting for me to help a woman become safe.”  She’s been working for Shine on and off since 1998. She has also been a counsellor for the Auckland Medical Aid Centre, a senior Family Court Coordinator in Auckland and South Auckland, and a social worker at Starship.

No two days are ever the same for Mary. While most of us contemplate our second cup of coffee for the morning, Mary is heading out of the Shine office for her first call of the day. First up is Pia, who Mary has been supporting for several weeks. Pia is categorised as being at “high risk”; she fears for her life after being beaten and threatened by a former partner.

Pia is a nurse-aide in her mid-50s. About a year ago, she began a relationship with Lua, the new gardener at her work. Soon after he moved into her house, but almost immediately became violent, controlling, and obsessively jealous. During arguments, he would frequently threaten Pia with knives. Sometimes he would also threaten to stab himself, which he once did, ending up in hospital. He also punched numerous holes in the walls of her house during these episodes. 

Things came to a head after Lua got drunk and began accusing Pia of being unfaithful to him. He got in her car and revved the motor until it blew out, then got out and punched her, landing blows on her face and body. Luckily, neighbours rang the police, and Lua was arrested.  It was after this that Police referred the case to Shine, and Mary first met Pia, who was terrified that Lua would kill her.

Mary talked to the Police and the Victim Advisers at the District Court about the severe risk that Lua posed to Pia. She helped to inform the Police decision to oppose bail for Lua, which then gave Mary time to help Pia put in place measures to keep her safe after Lua is released. (Domestic violence offenders rarely get a prison sentence.) Mary also helped Pia get a Protection Order, and applied to a trust fund for money to repair the holes in her walls, and other damage caused by Lua.

Today’s visit is to install a monitored alarm, which connects directly to the Police Communications Centre. If Pia activates the alarm, the police can immediately attend. Mary has prepared a report which she will send to the Communications Centre so that Police will have enough information to identify Lua, and understand how dangerous he is to Pia. Mary has also referred Pia to the Shine safe@home programme so she can get a home security upgrade before Lua is released.  While installing the alarm, Mary chats with Pia to find out how she is doing, if any new safety concerns have arisen, or if there is anything else she can do to help Pia feel safe while waiting for her home security upgrade.

Flatmate from hell...

Next, Mary visits Amar, who was assaulted by his flatmate Tao the night before.

(Flatmates are included in the definition of a domestic relationship in the 1995 Domestic Violence Act, so these cases are referred to Shine.  But more than 80% of our caseloads are female victims with male offenders who are the partner or ex-partner. ) 

Amar is badly shaken up by the assault, and fearful of Tao coming back to the house. He tells Mary that the other flatmates at the address (two young couples, one with a child) are also terrified of Tao, so she speaks to them as well.  A picture emerges of Tao: he often smokes P in his room, has threatened his flatmates with knives, and also threatened to burn down the house. The flatmates had told the landlord all of this, but they said she had minimised the situation and had not taken any action. 

Mary rings the Victim Advisers and tells them that the offender should not be bailed back to this address, and that he has family in south Auckland he can stay with. Next, Mary rings the landlord and points out her responsibility to evict the offender because of the danger he poses to the household, particularly with a small baby living in the house. The landlord eventually commits to evicting the offender.  Mary also arranges for the landlord’s cousin to pick up Tao after his bail hearing and take him to his family’s home, and then clear out Tao’s belongings from the house and deliver them to him, so that he will have no reason to return to the house.  Finally she explains to the flatmates how to get a Trespass Order if they feel it is necessary later on.  All of the flatmates are relieved and grateful to Mary for helping them to put in place a plan to remove their dangerous flatmate from the house.

Back on the phones…

With what remains of the day, Mary gets on the phone to check on her clients.  She has about 65 clients on her current caseload – 20 are on Shine’s high risk list, another 30 have recently come off the list but are still being monitored, and the remaining 15 are those Mary has yet to assess, mostly because she hasn’t been able to contact them.

One of Mary’s first phone calls is to a high risk client named Janet.  She broke up with her partner Louis about a year ago, and he has been stalking her and vandalising her property ever since. Janet has a 12-year-old daughter. The Police have still not been able to locate and arrest Louis.  It took Janet months to get a Protection Order after the Judge put the Order on notice and Louis’s lawyer managed to delay the hearing for 6 weeks because ‘his client was out of town’, during which time Louis continually harassed Janet. 

Mary persuaded Janet’s relatively inexperienced lawyer to treat her case with greater urgency, which helped get the hearing scheduled and the Protection Order finally granted. Shine safe@home did a security upgrade for Janet, who had already purchased and installed her own security cameras around the property to alert her when Louis was around.  Today, Janet tells Mary that the safe@home security upgrade may be working; Louis rang her a couple of times during the Christmas holidays, but there has been no more stalking.

Saving a life is all in a day’s work…

Another phone call is to a man named Hemi in his mid-50s who was assaulted and badly injured by his two adult nephews the previous week. Mary first rang him a week ago after he was referred to Shine by a hospital social worker. The assault had triggered traumatic childhood memories. He had lost his job around the same time, had been very depressed, and was anxious about his nephews turning up again.

Mary has talked to him every day for the last week. She first talked to him about going to see his doctor about his depression and anxiety and getting him referred to ACC as his injury meant he was unable to work, and she spoke to his doctor’s receptionist to get an urgent appointment scheduled the same day. She later spoke to him about opening up to his family about what had happened during his childhood, and finally about following through to press charges against his nephews to ensure consequences for their violent behaviour.  During the phone call today, Hemi says that he had been thinking about ending his life when Mary first rang, and that she had not only saved his life, but had helped him turn it around.