St Kilda Gatehouse
Dandenong Young Womens Centre
Empowering young women at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.
We, at The ETREA Foundation, first became aware of St Kilda Gatehouse in 2015, when we came across a clip on YouTube, of Sally Tonkin (then CEO) talking about their drop-in centre and the support of working girls in the St Kilda area.
Sally highlighted, that by the time the girls come through their doors, they had already been working on the streets for decades, so the issues of poverty, drug addiction, violence and homelessness were often well entrenched. Most women had begun their journey into this way of life around age 13, when life took a significant turn for the worse, running away from home or being taken in to state care.
Our thinking was, let’s get out there, do some early intervention and then hope to stop that trajectory.
She also shared “We are working with young women as young as twelve who don’t have the insight that they are being exploited” as a result of targeting by organised gangs in the Dandenong area who take advantage of vulnerable children to exchange cigarettes, drugs and alcohol for sex. This was how they found a gap in the Dandenong area, a perfect opportunity to get in early and empower these young women to prevent a social decline.
Finding out more
Suzy Wood called in on the Greeves street, St Kilda drop-in centre, and met Andie Patchett, a case worker, to find out more about their work at Gatehouse and the Dandenong Young Womens Centre. Suzy was struck with how warm and inviting the centre was, with the smell of freshly cooked muffins being baked for the girls as they dropped in.
Suzy then raised this program as a potential collaborative venture to the (TEF) board members. The Board of Directors, met with Sally and Andie over coffee and were inspired by their care and vision for the young women as well as their dedication and desire to make a difference during a pivotal time in girls’ development and lives.
The concept and approach of the project runs parallel with our aims to provide a high level of care and support, education, encouragement, empowerment, and increasing their awareness and skill to make choices and changes for their own future. The About Me Project will assist women at a younger age with support via one-on-one counselling and group therapy to develop inner resilience allowing young women to make healthy choices, be aware of what constitutes violence and power imbalances, be able to identify and avoid risks and be empowered to make changes for their future. The aim: to break the spiral into emotional poverty, sexual exploitation and abuse at the grass roots.
Creating the Ripple
We were delighted to begin a collaboration with St Kilda Gatehouse and approved a grant of $10,000. This initial grant was used resourcefully and enabled St Kilda Gatehouse to employ a social worker for one day a week for 12 months at their Young Womens Centre Dandenong. The social worker was able to run specialised programs to support and implement their program.
The St Kilda Gate House – About Me Program, is a program for young women who have experienced sexual abuse and are living in marginalized situations, removing them from abusive situations, provide shelter and a home, and healing through specialized social work programs, which are endorsed by the government.
We envisage an ongoing relationship and collaboration with the St Kilda Gatehouse organisation to provide programs and services to support young women break the cycle of destructive behaviours and relief of trauma.