Before the 1970’s women in violent relationships were often trapped, with no safe alternative to turn to. There were no refuges to provide safety, no supporting parent’s benefits to allow a small amount of financial independence and certainly no legislation claiming to offer police protection. Those who sought help usually did so through charitable organisations or doctors, however this often lead to a cycle of victim blaming and silencing women. Women were often told not to antagonise their partners, to pay more attention to their role as the dutiful wife and were frequently prescribed valium and serapax to ease the commonly developed conditions of depression, fear, pain and isolation.
By the second wave of feminism, women began to speak out about their position within society and their experiences of violence, whether it be domestic violence, incest, rape, child sexual assault or sexual harassment. While at this time there were no recognised services for these women, by the early 1970’s, refuges for women and their children were in the early stages of development.
The mid 1970’s saw some very small changes in attitude towards women’s rights to a life free from physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse, while many women started to share their experiences and were questioning the system.
By 1975 in Townsville, a group of women had already established a refuge and in 1978 a Rape Crisis Service was being offered from the Townsville General Hospital. However, these changes did not yet include financial assistance. As a result, these services existed only through voluntary efforts of committed women and relied solely on fundraising ventures.
By the early 1980’s some money had started filtering down from Government departments, however this resulted in a one step forward, two steps back effect, as this supplied money was not ample enough to provide the appropriate and sufficient services for women in crisis.
NQCWS began functioning in August of 1984 as the Townsville Women’s Information Centre. This service was unfunded at this early stage and existed solely through voluntary efforts. Women offered their time to facilitate support groups, provide counselling and organise social gatherings. These women also generously contributed financially towards the many costs of operating such a service.
By this time Townsville General Hospital had withdrawn from offering their Rape Crisis Service and as a result, this service was relocated to the same building as the Information Centre. Although its aim was to provide a service which would be available to all women whenever they require it, the Women’s Information Centre was totally dependent on volunteers who had other work commitments and as such, could only be open for limited periods during the week. However, despite these limitations, the women were able to organise educational programs designed to target community awareness around the extent of sexual abuse and domestic violence. In effect, as community awareness increased, so did the influx of women requiring support, information and shelter referral.
Around the same time, the Federal Government was no longer able to ignore the inequality of welfare between individual States. Therefore, it set up a Special Purpose Program and put pressure on the States to provide some assistance to homeless through a Supported Assistance Accommodation Program (SAAP).
With funding under this new program, the States were now encouraged to match dollar for dollar, what the Federal Government provided, or were to forfeit their share of the money. More importantly the Commonwealth retained control over these allocations by designating where the money was to be spent, thus holding the States accountable.
Towards the end of 1985 the Townsville Women’s Information Centre, Townsville Rape Crisis Service Inc. and the Townsville Women’s Shelter Inc., combined to put forward a submission for funding under SAAP to operate a 24 hour crisis counselling, information and referral service for the women of North Queensland.
January 1986 brought success with this submission and the North Queensland Combined Women’s Services began officially operating in February. In February 1990 NQCWS had cause to celebrate incorporation, as it became a legal entity responsible for its own finances and administration. As a result, NQCWS has developed and grown to become a service in its own right, and is a tribute to the dedication and energy of the many women who continued to believe in and support the philosophy of the organisation.
Additional funding was received under the Women’s Health Sexual Assault Program, in 1992 and again in 2000 for a Women’s Health Centre. The Townsville Sexual Assault Support Service (SASS) operates as a part the North Queensland Combined Women’s Services Inc. With this, SASS aims to provide a feminist counselling and support service for women survivors of sexual assault. This service also aims at raising public awareness of rape and incest in order to encourage human service organisations to be more responsive to the needs of adult and child survivors of sexual assault.
The Women’s Centre continues to play a leading role in providing essential services to women of Townsville and the hinterland. The Centre is commonly faced with the challenge of appropriate funding and resources being far stretched. In a political climate that puts funding to welfare services, especially women’s services under threat, the Women’s Centre continues to successfully provide crisis services, counselling, community education, training, and support groups for women in the community.
The Women’s Centre holds central its responsibility towards changing the injustices in society, uprooting patriarchy and the resulting inequalities and violence towards women. The Centre also looks at raising community awareness of issues that affect all women and the violence and abuse they are currently facing from loved ones, social institutions and organisations.
The centre moved from a collective structure to a management structure in the early 2000’s.
Government funding bodies were no longer willing to fund organisations without a clear hierarchical structure, so the NQCWS was forced to adopt these changes to the structure of the organisation. NQCWS now has a management committee which oversees a coordinator and staff.
2005 – 2012
The Women’s Centre continued to provide these services through most of the early years of the 21stcentury.
In early 2005, the reception position was restructured to be shared by 4 staff, on a rotating roster to cover the 24 hour service as well. The 24 Hour Sexual Assault Response Service continued until the end of 2007.
Client numbers grew but the funding amounts failed to match the increased demand for our services. The years 2005-2010 were years of enormous growth, client contacts growing from 13629 contacts in 2005-06 to 21200 in 2010-11 in which year 15000 people used the centre (11820 women and 3180 children).
This increase in the number of women accessing the centre saw the staff of the centre working to maximum capacity.
These were also years of increased strengthening of partnerships with other organisations as well as a consolidation of our position within state and national networks. Partnerships were forged with Queensland Police in the development of a Sexual Assault Faxback system, which then morphed into the Supportlink, the statewide police referral system.
The Funding received from the State Government failed to keep up with wages and the increased demand for our services.
In 2010, our funding for SAAP was changed to a Specialist Homelessness funding, and in 2011 the new service agreement was for a Specialist Homelessness Service, to offer case management support to women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, in both a centre based and mobile structure.
The changes to this funding agreement also wrought changes to other services the centre had offered. The 24 hour support line was no longer funded, and it ceased operations in October 2011.
This also created changes to the Centre Resource Worker positions, the work now being shared by two staff members, and then one support/reception worker was employed.
The Sexual Assault Support Services and the Women’s Health Services also underwent changes in late 2011 to reflect changes in Govermnent departments, both of these services moved under the Department of Communities, and no longer are funded by Queensland Health. New funding agreements with output contact hours being required, made the service take stock of how to best deliver our services. The drop in service received strong support from the community, and was retained, but with fewer hours being offered for the non-appointment (crisis) counselling service.
The other major hurdle confronting The Women’s Centre during this time was the unsuitability of the building. In the summer rainy season, the water poured down the inside walls, causing closures due to the unsafe nature of the premises. This propelled the management to begin a search for a more suitable building, leading to many false starts over a number of years, with a number of properties being considered and none found suitable. In the end, the State Government purchased land on which to build, but this did not come to pass with a change of government and its change in priorities.
The Sky Foundation was developed in 2014 and has worked tirelessly to raise funds to get a new premises for the Women’s Centre. Skye, Megan and Kierri-Lee have been an inspiration and the building fund in 2019 is over $600,000.
In 2016, The Women’s Centre faced significant demand and found it was no longer capable of providing drop-in-services that involved donations and food dissemination. Daily support for non-appointment counselling and casework continued to be provided and the service focus became specific to funded programmes.
The sexual assault support service was funded through Women and Change to develop a needs analysis which then led to a whole of Townsville strategic plan which committed organisations to the improvement of services to victims of sexual assault. The Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services contracted the Townsville Sexual Assault Support Service to provide A Report on the Townsville Sexual Assault Strategic Partnership We fall through the cracks in the system. Following these developments the Sexual Assault Response Team was established on 23 Junly 2016. A The Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) is a multidisciplinary, interagency group of professionals, established to work alongside victims of sexual violence to provide a response that is sensitive, holistic and timely. A 24hr support service began from The Women’s Centre. The sexual assault support service rapidly grew and one year later pilot funding was provided for two years by The Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women. An evaluation of the sexual assault support service’s role in this began and today we are awaing the outcome of this evaluation.
In 2015, the sexual assault support service was funded through Women and Change to develop a needs analysis which then led to a whole of Townsville strategic plan which committed organisations to the improvement of services to victims of sexual assault. The Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services contracted the Townsville Sexual Assault Support Service to provide a further report on the needs of sexual assault victims in Townsville.
In 2016 the report “A Report on the Townsville Sexual Assault Strategic Partnership We fall through the cracks in the system.“ Following these developments the Sexual Assault Response Team was established on 23 July 2016. A The Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) is a multidisciplinary, interagency group of professionals, established to work alongside victims of sexual violence to provide a response that is sensitive, holistic and timely. A 24hr support service began from The Women’s Centre. The sexual assault support service rapidly grew and The Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women provided one-year later, pilot funding for two years. An evaluation of the sexual assault support service’s role in the SART initiative was formalised with Central Queensland University and today we are awaiting the outcome of this evaluation.