Australian Rotarians speak out against family abuse

By Dorothy Gilmour, Rotary Club of Melbourne, Australia

As a grief therapist, I have assisted individuals impacted by suicide. My work as a therapist and as a lecturer in the areas of trauma, loss, and grief counseling included explaining to people how we cannot “save” a suicidal person ourselves, but need to refer them to trained professionals.

One day it struck me that the same model could be applied to family abuse. I have seen hundreds of my clients, both male and female, wrestle with the effects of psychological and physical harm from their partner’s abuse or violation, abuse that can ripple down through entire families to the children who witness it.

From left: Host Mal Walden, Dorothy Gilmour, and Sean Meltzer, who produced the films

As a member of the Rotary Club of Melbourne, I was asked to activate a program called “Bystanders.” And from that we created Stopping Abuse in Families Everywhere (SAFE) in 2019. The project seeks to educate people on how to identify family abuse and refer people to the appropriate support organization.

As people of action, I knew Rotary members would be ideal for SAFE Families. The 21 Rotary districts in Australia, 1,100 clubs, and 30,000 plus members create a dynamic potential to spread our prevention model of three Rs:

  • Recognize the abuse
  • Raise your concern
  • Refer people to trained support

The statistics are shocking. One woman a week on average, is murdered by her partner or former partner in Australia. Men can also be victims. Incidents of abuse are under-reported. Family and elder abuse are “taboo” subjects. Like with suicide, we remain quiet.

On average, one woman a week is murdered by her partner or former partner in Australia. Men, children, and the elderly are also victims of abuse.

Getting people to talk about the subject was an uphill battle and finding the right approach a learning curve. Mary Barry, past president of Rotary Melbourne, a health care CEO and chair of the Community Welfare Committee, joined me in writing a comprehensive manual, toolkit, and wallet cards about how to address abuse. We then created two powerful films and short promos, funded by a generous philanthropic organization. We were surprised when many people wanted to discuss elder abuse in our community, so we created a separate 20-minute film covering how elder abuse often is perpetrated by someone in your own family whom you trust.

I’ve made presentations either in person or virtually at more than 50 clubs in Australia, sharing our SAFE message. The Rotary Foundation Australia, District 9800, Rotary clubs The Salvation Army, Senior’s Rights Victoria, have endorsed our effort. In early 2021, we invited clubs to become part of a collective voice and join our ambassador program. Our website provides a place to list participating club events and projects and get resources such as our films, manual, and toolkit.

With 30,000 Rotarians across Australia, we can have a powerful and far-reaching impact on family abuse. Watch our promo or contact me at

Rotary in Australia and New Zealand is celebrating 100 years of service in 2021. Learn more.

1 thought on “Australian Rotarians speak out against family abuse

  1. Pingback: Australian Rotarians speak out against family abuse | Rotary Club - AIRC

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