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Jenny’s Place marks 45 years of supporting women and children fleeing violence

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ALICIA Floyer juggles many roles. At just 29 she is a solicitor, business owner and expectant mother. She is also a brave abuse survivor.

“In my experience, people often think that successful people have had everything magically fall into place for them,” she said.

“This is far from the case for me. When you come from a background of childhood trauma, every day is a struggle… I search for inner peace and harmony every single day and I won’t stop fighting for it.”

Ms Floyer, the director and principal solicitor of Next Legal and Conveyancing shared her story on Wednesday at anti- domestic violence charity Jenny’s Place’s 45th Anniversary Celebration Breakfast.

The audience also heard from Cathy Tate and Wendy Couper, who were on the committee that founded Jenny’s Place Women and Children’s Refuge.

It opened on September 14, 1977 in a three-bedroom cottage in Islington that Lord Mayor Joy Cummings provided for $1 a year. It was full by the third day.

Ms Couper said they were seen as “radical women’s libbers” and faced challenges including an absence of financial assistance for women fleeing abuse, restraining orders not “worth the paper it was written on”, a lack of police training about and willingness to respond to domestic violence and women not being able to sign a lease on their own.

Ms Tate said a few times men arrived looking for their partners and women had to be helped “over the back fence” and piled into a Kombi van.

They said it was sad that domestic violence still existed, but Jenny’s Place staff were making a significant impact supporting women.

“It is perhaps time the woman should be able to stay in the house and the perpetrator leave,” Ms Tate said.

“There was no person called Jenny…Jenny was every woman and still is.”

Executive manager Marcia Chapman and team leader Rosemary Pillay spoke about the charity’s expansion and accomplishments, which included in 2014 winning the tender under the government’s Going Home Staying Home reforms to provide two crisis refuges, 15 transitional accommodation properties and an outreach support program.

It also runs the Newcastle Domestic Violence Resource Centre. It was invited on Tuesday to submit a tender in the government’s new Core and Cluster model of crisis accommodation.

“Supporting a woman through her journey of sheer helplessness to becoming a strong empowered woman who takes back control of her life and remain a great role model to her children – there is no comparison,” Ms Pillay said.

For guest speaker Ms Floyer, it was the first time she had spoken publicly about her experiences.

“I hope it will save someone – that’s my purpose, to try and save someone from a similar situation or to inspire someone that’s gone through a difficult situation to know it does get better,” she said.

Ms Floyer said her parents separated when she was seven and she lived mostly with her mother and her partners.

One of the men was later charged and spent time in jail.

“Our home life was violent, dysfunctional and highly emotional,” she said.

“School life was extremely difficult. While I was an incredibly high achiever academically, it took me much longer than other students to learn and retain information. I still struggle with this.

“Children faced with a violent disrupted home life react in different ways. I chose to invest all of my energy into my education.”

Ms Floyer and her sister also started a jewellery business and used the proceeds to travel overseas with their grandparents.

Inspired by her childhood, Ms Floyer studied a Bachelor of Law and Criminology, which she completed in three years instead of the usual five, and a Diploma in Legal Practice.

She established her business, which now employs seven staff members, in 2018.

She said at times it was difficult not to dwell on the past but that taking care of her mental health and wellbeing had been helpful in her recovery.

Rebuilding self-confidence was vital to overcoming challenges, she said.

“I am always questioning and doubting myself, constantly asking if I am smart enough, if I am cut out for this… turning that mindset around is hard. But if I hadn’t believed in myself, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have to date.”

Ms Floyer said more needed to be done to ensure children felt comfortable disclosing family violence – and that adults helped them.

“I always wonder how different my life would have been if I would have spoken up about it at that point in time, but being kids the other thing is you’re worried if they’re going to believe you,” she said.

“I would definitely encourage people coming forward… it’s about educating children and saying ‘If you are experiencing this, come forward, it’s not right’ and talking about it in schools, away from the family structure.

“Early intervention is critical.”

IMAGE | Hunter Business Awards finalist Alicia Floyer said she supported Jenny’s Place because it helped children in difficult situations and empowered women “to help them find their courage and their voice”. She said she one day wants to litigate and help families. Picture by Simone De Peak.

This story was written by Helen Gregory on 28 September 2022 and published in the Newcastle Herald.

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