As I was walking along Fitzroy St, St Kilda, on Thursday morning, I observed a police vehicle turn on its flashing lights and siren as it drove onto the pavement just a few metres ahead of me. As I got closer, I saw it had stopped beside a young woman on the pavement. She was in a distressed state. I heard the police officer start to question her asking, “How old are you?” She held her head in her hands and said something about her birthday and the police officer, standing over her, asked her the same question again and again. I didn’t see or hear anything else, but my guess is she may have been (say) 15 years old.
When I walked back past the same spot about an hour or so later, the police vehicle was in the same spot on the pavement and there was an ambulance parked nearby on the street. The police officers seemed to be finishing a handover before the ambulance drove off, presumably with the young woman inside.
Those two scenes have played over in my head so many times since Thursday morning. I thought of my kids and their friends at a similar age and the multitude of memories I hold dear. It would have been soul destroying to see any one of them in such distress and it was devastating to see this young woman.
I thought of the police officers who had come to her aid, one male and one female. I would not fault them; they seemed caring and professional although maybe a little loud. Then my thoughts jumped to the federal budget proposals announced recently with 200 minutes to be allocated per person in aged care. And then it hit me – professional care is one thing, but kindness is something else. If you have ever experienced trauma or found yourself in a vulnerable position, you will know the power of kind words and actions and their ability to reach through and awaken some kind of hope.
As I reflected on that scene on the pavement playing over in my head again and again, the word ‘transactional’ came to mind – another statistic to be cared for and processed, but nonetheless a statistic. I wondered how many similar instances that small police team had been called to that day and that week. Sadly, I know this case is not an isolated incidence.
I take comfort and pride in our St Kilda Gatehouse team, and the way kindness is implicitly woven into our culture of care and support. We have been told that our team at the ‘Young Women’s Project’ have been able to connect with young women at risk of sexual exploitation and experiencing complex trauma, who did not engage with other agencies. Young women already ‘in the system’ are often referred to us by other agencies. Unhurried care and support is given to them by our YWP team, who sees them first and above all as a person, and never as a transaction.
We understand given the limited financing available, that there needs to be some aspect of transactional processing to manage cost. Yet for young women for whom complex trauma is their life experience, maybe unhurried kindness is the first step needed.
If your heart aches like mine, for the needs of some of the most vulnerable women and girls in our communities, please support our work.
Dianne Azoor Hughes
Chair – St Kilda Gatehouse
17 May 2021