HUNTER women who have experienced violence are being urged to strengthen their "shark cage", through an empowerment program that aims to increase understanding of their rights and awareness of abusive and respectful behaviours.
Got Your Back Sista (GYBS) caseworker Roz Smee will next week wrap up the organisation's first session of its Shark Cage program. The next session, which starts on November 1, is already full.
The program is based on psychologist Ursula Benstead's framework, which is built on the concept of universal human rights and a way to prevent, understand and heal from violence.
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"She often had a lot of women say to her 'Why me? Do I have a sign on my head that says 'Abuse me'? I keep finding these same kinds of men who abuse me, it must be my fault, there's something wrong with me'," Ms Smee said.
"She wrote this program around helping the women to understand it is never the victim's fault and while there is nothing wrong with you, there is something you can do to help prevent and minimise abuse in the future - and what she was talking about was building a really strong shark cage around people."
Ms Smee said each bar of the cage represents a human rights boundary.
She said people brought up in healthy environments had strong cages and had learned they should be treated respectfully.
"If we were taught through words and actions it's not okay for people to hit us, then that's another bar in our shark cage, so 'I have the right to live free from physical abuse'."
While some people's cages are "broken or rusty", they can be rebuilt.
The program teaches participants about their rights and how to assert and defend these safely.
They also learn how to identify dolphins - or people they have healthy relationships with and who respect their rights - and sharks, who don't.
"We talk about how the shark cage is their alarm system and how to tune back into their body. We often talk about listening to your gut feeling, your gut is always right."
Ms Smee said several services ran the program when they could, but the level of need was enough for it to be offered more broadly, every term and at night too.
"This stuff also needs to be taught in schools, because it's basically a bullying program and perpetrators are the ultimate bullies."
GYBS' eventI Run For Her is October 24.
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