Domestic violence: Myer and Salvation Army launch registry to help women rebuild

A toaster can't save a life but it can help rebuild one. Myer's Give Registry will donate essential items to victims of ...

A toaster can't save a life but it can help rebuild one. Myer's Give Registry will donate essential items to victims of domestic violence. Photo: supplied

How will a toaster help tackle domestic violence? It's all about assisting a woman escaping violence rebuild her life.

When Renee* left her abusive partner with five children under 13, she didn't even have shoes. "When you leave, 90 per cent is the practical side of it," she said. "Where are you going to live, how are you going to get the kids to school, what are you going to feed them, where am I going to sleep tonight?"

She said family and friends could provide "one-night fixes" but, in the long-term, women and their children needed practical help to physically rebuild.

Myer CEO Richard Umbers.

Myer CEO Richard Umbers. Photo: Wayne Taylor

"When you're in a situation where your self-esteem is at zero, your bank account is at zero and your strength is at zero, trying to see that far into the future that you can become self-sufficient when you're standing there with nothing and a few children – it's ridiculous ... right then and there you don't think you will ever get back to that place again," she said.

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"It's about the second or third day [after you leave] when you realise you have no underwear, nothing's dry, you literally have nothing." 

It's because of women like Renee and the one in four Australian women who suffer violence at the hand of their intimate partner that Myer and the Salvation Army are launching a program to help refurnish women who are forced to leave with only the clothes on their backs or, as in Renee's case, even less.

Myer customers can purchase items that domestic violence survivors need to get back on their feet after leaving home.

Myer customers can purchase items that domestic violence survivors need to get back on their feet after leaving home. Photo: supplied

The Give Registry is a list of 30 items, ranging from $11 baby socks to a $380 microwave, the Salvation Army has identified as most crucial for women in crisis accommodation.

Myer will match, item for item, each donation made by its customers. In one year, the Salvos need about 10,000 of these items, which roughly equals $500,000 in customer contributions.

Myer chief executive Richard Umbers said the program followed a review of the company's philanthropic programs.

"We used to support everything but if you're not careful you don't make a meaningful difference anywhere," he said.

The company now centres its charitable efforts, which total more than $2 million a year, on "supporting and empowering women and strengthening families".

"The safe way to do [charity] is just give some money ... In some ways large corporations get off the hook easily by just quoting a dollar number. What's much more powerful is saying how much difference did you make," he said.

Myer and the Salvation Army have a longstanding partnership that has raised millions for the latter over several decades.

Mr Umbers said the Give Registry was adding a layer he hoped will add some emotion back to charitable giving.

"We're not trying to solve domestic violence by giving a set of plates. We are trying to solve it by raising a level of awareness that we could never have achieved through a conventional corporate relationship."

He acknowledges that "some people will throw rocks" about the value of Myer's contribution.

"We are better placed to make a difference in this area than any other. We can make a difference to cancer research but it's just dollars, and you don't get a chance to take the customer with you. This is something that has an edge to it. It's complex, it's uncomfortable ... and in many ways, that's what makes it right."

Myer has also partnered with White Ribbon – Mr Umbers is an ambassador for the organisation – and Global Sisters, which helps domestic violence survivors re-establish their financial independence.

He said society was slowly edging towards a place where domestic violence was unacceptable but incidents such as the Eddie McGuire slur against journalist Caroline Wilson last month was proof that casual references to violence against women were still "part of the banter of life".

Last year, Myer introduced domestic violence leave for its 12,000-person workforce, which is about 80 per cent women. 

Renee, who has just moved into her own home after 16 months in a refuge, is one of five women who feature in the Give Registry campaign ads, all of which were unscripted. 

She hopes the program will make shoppers feel empathy for domestic violence survivors while helping them in a practical way.

"So many times you hear 'just leave, just leave'. That line frustrates me so much because it's not that simple," she said. 

In an emergency call 000. For family violence help call Safe Steps 1800 015 188 or 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Learn more at Give Registry.

* Surname has been withheld for safety reasons.