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Domestic violence survivor helps others escape

Meet Di Gipey, a frontline servant in Alice Springs

The Alice Springs Women’s Shelter provides accommodation to more than one thousand women and children each year, as well as caring for thousands more through an outreach programme. It’s all overseen by Dianne Gipey, a Christian and a survivor of domestic abuse.

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“I was 16 when I fell pregnant, and I had three babies by the time I was 18. I got married and I married a very violent man. I was in that relationship 17 years and I became a Christian throughout that time,” Di tells Eternity.

I was told when I went for help to submit to my husband.” – Dianne Gipey

“My experience was that the church didn’t know what to do, and because they didn’t know what to do, it seemed quite a normal thing to go through. I think things have changed very much in our church. I doubt that the pastor of the church I go to now would find it acceptable on any level that a man would be abusing his wife in any form. Back then – and this is going back quite some time ago – I was told when I went for help to submit to my husband.

“For me, when it was time for me to leave, I felt the grace of God like I had never felt it before. When I was isolated and living in a shelter myself, I had a lot of people come and talk about the consequences I would now face, but I just knew that God was holding my hand the whole way and carrying me through it. And he has, the whole way through.”

I just knew that God was holding my hand the whole way and carrying me through.” – Dianne Gipey

Now CEO of the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter, Di says she feels called to the work of helping women who are victims of domestic and family violence.

The majority of clients at the shelter are Aboriginal women, and Di tells Eternity that indigenous women are 35 times more likely than non-indigenous Australians to experience domestic and family violence, and to end up in hospital because of an attack. Since those figures reflect the cases of documented abuse, she believes the numbers are probably much higher. And sadly, she says there are a lot of Christian women among them.

“I find the rates of Christian women who come here very challenging, but I am a Christian and was a Christian in a domestic and family violence situation for 17 years. So I understand it totally. I’ve lived it, I’ve breathed it, I’ve lived in a shelter myself. I get it.

“I prayed and asked the Lord to open the doors for a job in this workplace because this is where I wanted to work and realised I actually had something to give.”

“I find the rates of Christian women who come here very challenging.” – Dianne Gipey

Di draws on her own experience to give back to those who are in similar situations to hers. “I feel that this is what I can do now. It’s an absolute calling. God gives me everything I need to do this job.”

Having led the women’s shelter for three years, and lived through a violent marriage, Di has some suggestions for how the church can better respond to abuse within its own walls.

“I think the church can offer support and can believe a woman’s story and not offer, in the first place, questions about clothing or behaviour. There’s nothing a woman does that asks to be abused or controlled. Gather around the woman and support the woman,” she says.

“And have consequences for the man – whether that’s counselling or support – but when [church] leadership knows a man has been abusing his wife and children, I don’t see how the church can sit back and say it’s OK to keep coming to church and that there’s going to be no consequences.

“I think the church has to follow through with supporting him into counselling or other programmes for his behaviour and calling his behaviour for what it is. That’s when we’re going to see real change in the church, because we need to see change.”

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