My job: dealing with crisis

Wellington Rape Crisis recently celebrated its 35th birthday. We spoke to manager and PSA member Natalie Gousmett about the highs and lows of her job.

Natalie Gousmett“It’s a big job but what I love about it is the variety – looking after the finances, staff supervision and support, strategic planning, collaborating with other agencies and from managing the property to changing the light bulbs,” says Natalie.

With degrees in both psychology and management – and she’s now studying part-time for a graduate diploma in not-for-profit management – as well as lots of experience in women’s voluntary organisations, Natalie seems a perfect fit for running the centre. 

“It was my ideal job. I was stoked when I got it,” she says, adding that being part of a passionate and compassionate team is the best part of the job.

“The women I work with are all highly professional and good at their jobs. They really care about what they do. We’re lucky to be able to do something where we see real change. It’s an inspiration to see the strength of clients who have had horrific things happen to them.”

Wellington Rape Crisis provides free counselling and support for survivors of rape or sexual abuse and their families. Demands for their services continue to rise. Last year, the number of clients almost doubled.

But while demand and costs have risen, the funding hasn’t. The only guaranteed funding they get is $77,000 from the government; the least they can get by on is $130,000. So fundraising is another big part of Natalie’s job – organising events and street appeals, seeking corporate donations and applying for contestable funds.

But it’s getting more difficult. There’s less money around and lots of other demands on social service funding. “We fight so hard to have enough money to do the work and pay salaries. So much energy goes into it and there’s so much uncertainty,” she says.

There were fears the centre would have to reduce its services and close its doors for one day a week but the publicity helped to raise funds and avert the threat, at least for a while.

Yet an even harder thing to deal with is the fact of being around rape and sexual abuse every working day.  And she gets angry that women who have been raped can be made to feel it’s their fault because of where they were or how they were dressed. “Blaming the victim is saying to the perpetrator: it’s not your fault. That’s sanctioning rape.”

Given such a challenging work environment, Natalie says she wanted to be sure the board and she, as manager, were being good and supportive employers.

“So I asked the staff about joining a union and they were keen. We chose the PSA because it has a special sector for community organisations.”

They worked with organiser Melissa Woolley to settle their first collective agreement. “It’s been really positive and helpful to have advice and we’ve made some real improvements around redundancy and parental leave."

They also agreed on a provision for special leave for staff facing violence at home so they can attend legal or medical appointments. Such provisions are not unusual in Australia but this was a first for New Zealand.

When she’s not at work, Natalie clears her head by getting outdoors whether it’s gardening – she and her partner have a large garden and grow vegetables – mountain biking or taking their dog for a walk.

“And I’m learning te reo. Sometimes it’s a hobby, sometimes it’s a chore but I love it.”


This article is from the December 2012 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.