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Domestic Violence: Complex, Incomprehensible

Did Sadif Karimi Die In Vain?

Dianne Helen Edwards

You probably know the story already as related in The Saturday Paper¹ a week ago. Immolated by her husband at their Cranbourne home using a flaming jerry can of petrol, Sadif Karimi died three days later in the Alfred Hospital. A 22-year-old Hazara woman, she migrated to Melbourne in 2015. Through an arranged marriage, Sadif was culturally bound – and dependent – upon her in-laws. She spoke no English.

In the months before her death, she repeatedly engaged the Victorian domestic violence service Safe Steps. In November she was placed in emergency accommodation. Karimi was referred to Safe Steps by WAYSS, a homeless service for women.

Sadif was at a local police station when the call was made. For hours before she had been wandering the streets cradling her child. Sadif was assessed by Safe Steps as a high priority. For approximately a week, she and her young child lived alone in emergency accommodation. During that week a family violence safety notice hearing was scheduled. Unable to provide a translator the court postponed the matter. Having come into Safe Steps’ service, the usual protocol obliges a daily call. Sources told The Saturday Paper that this didn’t occur.

On December 4, Sadif decided to return to her Cranbourne home. “That’s all she knew,” a source said. This return home meant her official disengagement with Safe Steps. Her death continues to haunt staff who allege that it wasn’t properly handled, that there was inadequate attention paid to its effect on staff, and that the sorrowful case highlights the troubled culture in the sector.

Sadif’s death was likely the outcome of an exceptional and tragic confluence of factors.

However, one source said that procedural points were missed, that there was a lack of receptiveness to Sadif’s particular circumstance. “The case manager is meant to call the woman every day she’s in our service and help her work towards having a place to go after she leaves their accommodation. And that’s just, very rarely happens. What normally happened – and what is often encouraged by managers – is to exit a woman into a homelessness service, no matter her circumstance. They want to push her out and line her up at a homeless service. She was put into emergency accommodation with her baby and left to rot.”

After Sadif returned home, she made repeated calls to Safe Steps. She was told that she no longer had a case manager. The organization couldn’t provide her with legal advice, she was told.

Sadif’s final calls to Safe Steps were in late January, less than a fortnight before her death. She was referred to a homelessness service. She was not deemed to be at immediate risk.

Critical sources express sympathy for the pressure under which the Safe Steps staff who answer the emergency hotline number – the so-called Rapid team-operate, Safe Steps is one of three Australian services that field calls to 1800 Respect, the national domestic violence counseling hotline. The organization was given the contract last year after the group that previously handled the calls refused to renew its subcontract with the government. The previous provider was concerned about the quality of care possible under the new contract.

A KPMG report that looked at the service for the 2014-15 financial year found that of more than 50,000 calls, only 28% were answered. The model needed to change. In the new model, however, there is a serious question about whether the quantity is preferred to quality, or if a balance is even possible.

Sources say that the mental consequences of Sadif’s death for Safe Steps staff were not adequately considered. Sources said that weakness would not be tolerated, and there were inadequate supervision and a near absence of empathy. There is a high turnover of staff.

One source complained about her treatment when she asked for support after Sadif’s death. “It was straight up gaslighting what happened – being told that I hadn’t worked with the woman. It just wasn’t true.”

Professional services company EY, on behalf of the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, is currently examining the organization.

Sources for this story gravely considered whether sharing their concerns would discourage women from calling the service. They argued public attention may also have the consequence of improving their service – and the welfare of its employees. “What is happening there is not normal,” says one source. “Change needs to come.”

One’s immediate response to the case of Sadif Karimi is that Safe Steps has neither adequate government funding nor organizational leaders with the intellect, empathy, and capability to be managing teams of staff.

Again it is the issue of economics: value for money.

Philosophically it is incorrigible that a woman’s life is put on the line in order to save money. Domestic Violence Organisations are not akin to managing million dollar enterprises where every cent must be accounted for. Those who demand such accountability are at worst immoral and of incredibly limited intelligence.

What we need is radical social and political change which is highly unlikely to occur because we operate under capitalism and each and every one of us is a commodity. Expendable.

The state government recently allotted $1.9 billion for domestic violence. What are they doing with the money? Being a bureaucracy, you can imagine the endless meetings, consultancies, research etc that will be carried out before we see any of that money spent!

Message for the government – women are dying while you create and fill your spreadsheets. Do something concrete at once!

Did Sadif Karimi die in vain? Let’s hope not. Put pressure on the government to do something. Be creative in your activism.


¹The source for the majority of this article came from Martin McKenzie-Murray at The Saturday Paper. Issue June 30-July 6, 2018. We acknowledge his thorough research and expertise.

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