From advertising to advocating
A one-hour online training session was the catalyst for a life changing decision that saw Youna Kim transition from corporate highflyer to an advocate to prevent family violence.
“I have been very fortunate to have lived, studied and worked in five different countries: Panama, the USA, South Korea, Spain and Australia. One thing I found so hurtful and painful was the fact domestic and family violence was so prevalent regardless of culture, level of education, race, religion or social class,” said Youna.
“I became so curious to what caused it, why it kept happening and whether we could even stop it. I just could not understand that people were being hurt and even murdered by their family members, their supposed loved ones. I was so shocked to learn home could be the scariest and the most fearful place for some people. I kept thinking about this and asking others about it, but it just seemed like a social norm back then.
“Then I came across an online training video that clearly explained using violence was a choice, therefore, family violence was preventable by cultivating respectful relationships and achieving gender equality.”
This was a life-changing experience for Youna: it changed her way of thinking and set her on a whole new path.
“I felt like I found the meaningful and valuable cause I wanted to contribute my energy, passion, skills and effort to. I decided to quit after eight years in the corporate sector so I could dedicate my future to social work. I wanted to learn more and commit myself to reducing all forms of violence against victim survivors, particularly women and children in family violence cases.”
After working around the globe in international trade, advertising, marketing and public relations, Youna began her social work training at TAFE in Melbourne before winning an academic scholarship to undertake a Master of Social Work at ACU.
“I was working at the Australia Trade Commission when I watched the online training on family violence,” said Youna. “I oversaw supporting Australian tertiary educational providers to export to the Korean market. Through this work, I learned how great social work courses in Australia were and I decided to move to Australia and study social work.”
“At ACU I found practical and insightful teaching and really appreciated the experience of the lecturers and professors who were also working in the sector.
“The supportive teaching staff were genuinely passionate about the work they were doing and contributing to. They opened opportunities to wider sectors in social work that made me see how my diverse skills from different areas could be transferable and relatable.
“Learning more about family violence, I wanted to address this intersectional problem. It’s driven by the complex hierarchies of power, privilege and oppression with far-reaching impacts that reinforce structural disadvantage and systemic marginalisation.”
Making a difference
As the General Manager in Innovation and Development at Eastern Domestic Violence Service (EDVOS), Youna makes a real difference to those facing disadvantage and marginalisation.
“When it comes to social and health issues, we must focus our energy on the people who are experiencing the highest and most imminent risk. In family violence, it is sadly and overwhelmingly women and children who make up the majority of the victim survivors,” she said.
“My role is to analyse community needs, connect with members of the local community, develop and deliver programs to raise awareness of the EDVOS service, as well as family violence and gender inequality.”
Making it count
Through Youna’s leadership, EDVOS prevention and response training has reached over 4,500 people in Victoria and the team has presented more than 120 forums and conferences reaching over 8,000 people. This training raises awareness of EDVOS and family violence, especially to those who are experiencing multiple disadvantages which limit their access to services and support.
“These initiatives drove a significant growth in self-referrals to our service of more than 200 per cent in 2018–2019. Self-referral is now the second highest referral pathway to EDVOS after police referrals,” she said.
Youna has led projects recommended by the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence to provide an inclusive and accessible service for people from all backgrounds and developed a tool to collect feedback on the EDVOS service outcomes. She also initiated national gender equality and family violence training for salon professionals, HaiR-3Rs.
“The program guides salon professionals through how to recognise, respond and refer someone who may be experiencing violence or controlling behaviour at home,” said Youna.
“Visiting a salon may be one of the only places a victim survivor is allowed to go to alone without their perpetrator, which puts them in a unique position. We encourage salon professionals to put posters in their bathrooms and give them resources on how to discreetly assist a victim survivor.
“This kind of program is a first for Australia and we have trained more than 700 salon professionals since 2018.”
Domestic and family violence is one of the leading causes of illness, disability and death for women aged 25–44, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Youna continues to work daily for the health and safety of women and children.
“I want people to know how prevalent and serious family violence is in our community. EDVOS supports eastern Melbourne, seven local council areas, and just from these areas, we get on average 600 to 1,000 family violence referrals every month.
“One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner. Women facing other forms of discrimination are at greater risk of violence. Violence against women is driven by gender inequality.
“It is important for everyone to know the attitudes and behaviours that drive violence against women. They are: condoning violence against women; men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence; rigid gender roles and stereotypes; and male relationships that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.
“To change these attitudes and end violence against women for good, we need to stop it from happening in the first place. This is called primary prevention. The best way to prevent violence against women is to promote gender equality. We do this by addressing disrespect and inequality where people live, work, learn and play.
“Women should have access to equal power, resources and opportunities. They are to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness. We need to recognise that gender equality is essential to economic prosperity.
“Everyone has a role to play in stopping violence against women. We can call out sexist attitudes and poor behaviours when we see them. We can promote gender equality at home, at work, at school and everywhere. Everyone has the right to live in a safe and equal society.”
Making women safe
With seven years of experience working with victim survivors of family violence under her belt Youna has seen many highs and lows. But she takes inspiration from her colleagues, and the women and children they are keeping safe, to keep fighting the good fight.
“I learn from inspirational colleagues and team members who constantly remind me why we do what we do. Our clients and victim survivors, women and children, never cease to inspire and empower us with their strength, hope and resilience. Their courage and strong will makes me more committed and passionate to the cause,” she said.
“A real stand out moment for me was working with other local agencies to give information to the Victorian Police that led to the immediate arrest of a perpetrator who had life-threatening weapons in his van. He was heading to emergency accommodation where victim survivors were temporarily residing. He was made accountable for his actions.
“I can see myself in 10 years still working in this sector, applying new learnings, striving to learn about innovative-evidence based practices and being inspired by my colleagues and victim survivors. I follow a vision to create a society where everyone can thrive free from fear, violence and discrimination.”
Youna Kim was the winner of the International Contribution Alumni Award in ACU’s Alumni Awards 2020.