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Tragic death a reminder to watch over the vulnerable

Opinion

The violent death on the weekend of homeless Melbourne woman Courtney Herron is a potent reminder of the need to look out for and be ready to help the vulnerable, argues Maria Palumbo.

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Courtney Herron deserved so much better – and she is not alone.

As we try to come to terms with the senseless death of another young Australian woman on our streets, this is what we need to remember above all else.

With more details emerging about Courtney’s death and her circumstances leading up to her body being found on Saturday morning, fingers are being pointed.

Tight policy, legislation and service provision are imperative, but it goes beyond that.

We all need to take responsibility: to stand up, not stand back.

Men, women, businesses, governments, groups: every single one of us is in a position to make our streets, suburbs and the future safer.

Most of us, however, have grown up being told not to get involved in people’s private situations. To turn a blind eye.

Unfortunately, these attitudes condone the behaviour and the outcomes that shake us to the core.

Junction supports hundreds of women each year who are dealing with family and relationship breakdowns, those fleeing violent relationships and facing homelessness – if they are not already sleeping rough. We are the largest non-government provider of housing for women escaping domestic violence in SA.

Most of the 2200 social housing properties we manage are women-led.

We understand the issues and. along with the Office for Women and Women’s Safety Services SA,  we are stepping up to provide solutions, and not just through our services.

Last September, we hosted a business and community education event featuring presentations by the Mate Bystander program.

The initiative is delivered by Griffith University and the Allison Baden-Clay Foundation.

Using Allison’s story – the events leading up to her murder at the hands of her husband – the event broke down stereotypes about violence against women and challenged behaviours we have come to accept.

It also had many of the 220-plus attendees breaking down in tears, as we became more aware and educated about recognising what violence and vulnerability really looks like, and learned how we could contribute to stopping it.

Our offices, workplaces and neighbourhoods are where we spend most of our time, where we see and speak with each other regularly, where we can make a difference.

Every day we see people in need: people who are homeless, outbursts of violence and aggression, men and women who are visibly distressed or workmates who seem unusually reclusive or retreating.

How often do we genuinely reach out and make it our business?

What we learnt from the Mate program is that being an active bystander doesn’t necessarily mean being confrontational: just letting someone know you are noticing something is not right, that you are noticing them, can literally be the difference between life and death.

While we can’t change what happened to Courtney Herron, we can draw a line in the sand.

We can truly stand up, speak out and, importantly, reach out to change the story before the next headline.

Maria Palumbo is CEO of Junction, a leading, local social enterprise supporting more than 8500 South Australians each year.

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