Julia McKenna Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Interview

Julia McKenna Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Interview

Painting A Picture Of Australia's Vulnerable And Voiceless Children

In Australia, more than 1 million children are affected by domestic and family violence.

Experts say that exposure can lead to short and long term negative mental, behavioural, and social effects- and those who witness physical, emotional or verbal domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse drugs, and six times more likely to die by suicide.

In a bold move to expose Australia's domestic violence problem, international lifestyle brand Jeunesse Australasia, and their charitable arm Jeunesse Kids, are bringing attention to the hidden struggles of children affected through a national purpose campaign.

In partnership with not-for-profit charity Friends with Dignity, the initiative launched through the grand reveal of a raw, emotionally moving interactive mural and animation film titled 'Sarah's Story' on York Street in Sydney's CBD on the 20th of November"marking the United Nations Universal Children's Day.

Jeunesse Australasia hopes to raise awareness around these sobering statistics through 'Sarah's Story'"a story based on the real-life events of a 6-year-old child affected by exposure to domestic violence in the home, and her remarkable recovery through the charity's scholarship program called Little Friends.

The powerful mural will reveal the striking image of a young girl named Sarah" with the artist using Jeunesse NV Foundation product alongside other eco-friendly paints to craft an expression that communicates experience beyond her years. The wall will also feature a QR Scan Code that will bring Sarah's story to life in a short animation film"revealing her tainted relationship with music, which stemmed from her parents' attempts to drown out and shield her from the domestic violence happening behind closed doors.

The violin acoustics that play in the animation film is an original recording that come from the young girl herself, who through the scholarship program learned to play the violin and in doing so recreated a positive relationship with music. General Manager of Jeunesse Global Australasia"Rachel McVinish believes that 'Sarah's Story' is a truly touching example of the Little Friends scholarship program and the Jeunesse Kids partnership"one which they hope will empower communities to give children a brighter future.

"We envision a world where all children have the opportunity to grow and flourish and look forward to a happy, successful future," says McVinish.

The Little Friends biannual scholarships help to cover a variety of areas"from helping kids attend camp and after-school activities with their peers, to providing uniforms & textbooks and extra-curricular activities including equipment for music classes.

"The Little Friends Scholarship program, with the support of Jeunesse Kids, ensures all children who are facing or have faced domestic violence have the ability to normalise and improve their lives,"

says Friends with Dignity Co-Director and Chief Financial Officer, Julia McKenna.

"The scholarships are designed to help young domestic violence survivors re-build their confidence by finding something they are good at, and ensuring their education continues. This campaign is giving this much needed cause a platform and will raise a much-needed voice for these children in need."

When commenting on the campaign and what they hope to achieve, McVinish has added that while addressing the issue of domestic violence is complex and will require generational change"this is a first and very important step in bringing the issue to the forefront of Australian minds.

McVinish adds, "We are hoping that this mural and initiative not only raises awareness about this social problem, but will also give much needed funds and hope to children across Australia through this honourable charity and cause."

To show your support, please donate to the Little Friends Scholarship Program supported by Jeunesse Kids here

Interview with Julia McKenna, Director of Friends with Dignity and Chairperson of the Little Friends Scholarship

Question: Are you surprised by the increasing statists surrounding domestic and family violence?

Julia McKenna: No, not really. I believe the continuing conversation throughout the community regarding Domestic and Family Violence, has assisted in reducing the stigma previously attached to admitting you may have been affected by it and has also allowed survivors to seek help. There is more assistance available to now, compared with previously, when DFV was "just a domestic" and you just didn't get involved in peoples personal issues.

Question: What is 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence?

Julia McKenna: The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an international movement, to highlight and hopefully prevent violence against women and girls globally. Domestic and Family Violence is not just an issue within Australia. The UN has reported that more than 137 women were killed around the world every day by a current or former partner.

Question: Are you doing any activity throughout the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence to raise awareness?

Julia McKenna: Our Friends in the community, who support our programs are undertaking many different activities/events throughout the 16 Days of Activism.

Question: Can you share the story around the Sarah's Story- Mural & Animation Film?

Julia McKenna: Sarah's Story is close to my heart. As the Chairperson of the Little Friends Scholarship, I speak publicly spreading the word and benefits of the scholarship and I always seem to come back to Sarah's application. Sarah from a young age, associated music as a trigger for violence. She knew that when the music was turned up loud within the family home, that was her queue to hide, as the violence, verbal and ultimately physical would start. When Sarah and her mum fled the family home, no music could be played. Sarah's mum applied to Friends With Dignity through our Little Friends Scholarship supported by Jeunesse Kids, for funds to assist in the purchase of a violin and music lessons, to teach Sarah, that music was a beautiful and calming thing. After many lessons, Sarah has learnt to love music once again and has gained enough confidence to join the school orchestra. Her mum has reapplied for another scholarship to continue the music lessons, hoping once day, Sarah will gain enough confidence to move from the back row of the orchestra, to one day hopefully sit in the front row.

Question: Can you tell us about Friends with Dignity & The Little Friends Scholarship?

Julia McKenna: Friends With Dignity is a national volunteer based Not-For-Profit assisting men, women and children whom have been affected by domestic violence, to restart their lives through our practical programs. We have several programs, however apart from the Scholarship, our Sanctuary Program is the most well-known. Whereby we set up homes for survivors with donated pre-loved (in clean, good working order) household items, in 7 days. All of these items are sourced from donations from the community and our programs are gifted unconditionally to the families. We were extremely fortunate to be awarded the 2018 Australian Charity of the Year and the 2019 Outstanding Achievement Award.

The Little Friends Scholarship provides either educational or extra-curricular bi-annual scholarships to children who are, or have faced domestic violence. We established the Scholarship, with the assistance of our founding sponsor, Jeunesse Kids, to ensure all children can continue their education and participate in activities, that they may not be otherwise able to undertake, due the financial pressures experienced by their families, due to domestic and family violence. We have awarded over 186 scholarships in two and a half years, covering everything from School Resource Fees, School Uniforms, School Camp, music lessons, registration fees for all types of sport, allowing kids to represent their States in sport, etc. The list goes on! These children and their families, now know there is a community that cares and is supporting them 100% in anything they want to achieve.

Question: What do you hope to achieve with the partnership with Jeunesse Kids?

Julia McKenna: Jeunesse Kids has been and continues to be one of our major sponsors of the Little Friends Scholarship. Together, and with the help of other corporates and the community, we hope to one day raise enough funds to award a scholarship to any child that applies. The need is great and the effects of domestic and family violence does not stop once the violence does. We are seeing children still struggling with the effects some years later.

Question: What trends in domestic violence has Friends with Dignity recently identified?

Julia McKenna: Domestic Violence seems to spike around the holiday season and also around the weekends of Grand Finals. However, in saying that Police are receiving on average one call every two minutes, around the country. And these are only the ones that make the call. Sadly, many still do not.

Question: How can a different approach help children heal from domestic violence and reduce the long-term effects?

Julia McKenna: I believe, we now need to start considering, not only the effects of domestic and family violence on the immediate victim, but also the children. Statistics show that children who have been affected by DV, are more likely to have behavioural and learning difficulties, more likely to have drug, alcohol and mental health issues, more likely to commit suicide. We, as a society need to address this as a matter of urgency. We, at Friends With Dignity, hope through the Little Friends Scholarship these families know they are not alone. There is a whole community behind them, as they start new lives free from violence.

To show your support, please donate to the Little Friends Scholarship Program supported by Jeunesse Kids here.

If you, a child or another person is in immediate danger, call 000.
For sexual assault domestic and family violence counselling service call 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732. 24/7 phone and online service.

Interview by Brooke Hunter