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Handbags for violence survivors

Narina Sewell, Barb Lewis, Sarah O’Connor, and Fiona Samuel hold the 111 bags donated by the people of Wairarapa for the Love Grace campaign, which collected more than 4000 handbags nationally. PHOTO/ALEYNA MARTINEZ

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More than 100 handbags were presented to Wairarapa Women’s Refuge last week as part of the Wairarapa response to the Love Grace campaign to support women and to highlight domestic violence in New Zealand.

This is in addition to the more than 4000 handbags donated nationwide.

Last year, police attended a family violence incident in New Zealand once every four minutes – although they believe more than three-quarters of family violence incidents are not reported.

The Love Grace campaign was encouraged by a volunteer-led social media campaign and the handbags were filled with essential items such as toiletries, and some luxury items as well.

Wairarapa Women’s Refuge co-ordinator Barb Lewis said the Love Grace handbag appeal was about raising awareness and supporting women who leave their homes with nothing, quickly.

For some women, their immediate need to leave their home means the only thing they can take with them are their children and their car keys.

Others walk out the door with nothing at all.

For those women, the gift of a handbag full of thoughtful supplies has not just met a need – it can be the first step to restoring self-worth.

Lewis said the bulk of the refuge’s work was about promoting safety and reinstating personal confidence in women who seek refuge, and the handbags played an important role in their process.

“It’s about raising awareness of how people can feel trapped,” Lewis said.

“They feel like they can’t leave, or that if they do, they’ll be left with nothing.

“The handbags are a little something that we can provide, a small comfort maybe – but it’s something.”

Just over two weeks after the killer of British backpacker Grace Millane was jailed for life with a minimum of 17 years to serve, her family have thanked those in New Zealand who gave towards the handbag appeal.

“Our Grace loved a handbag,” they wrote.

Making it even more powerful is the card that accompanies every Love Grace handbag, which includes a picture of a flower drawn and signed by Grace.

The Millane family has passed on a message to the Wairarapa Love Grace co-ordinators Fiona Samuel and Sarah O’Connor, thanking the volunteers for their extraordinary efforts.

“The people of New Zealand have shown our family such kindness and compassion, and it is wonderful that we can now give something back to those who are most vulnerable.”

Samuel, previously a violence intervention programme co-ordinator who drove the Wairarapa collection alongside O’Connor, said domestic violence did not discriminate and affected “all walks of life”.

“Unfortunately, that’s something many people don’t realise.

“Anything we can do to change behaviours and empower people to speak up is worth doing.”

Family violence occurs in families of all backgrounds, social classes, religions, cultures, and lifestyles.

The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional and psychological, financial, or spiritual.

Narina Sewell, Wairarapa District Health Board’s violence intervention programme co-ordinator said, “an important message is, if you have a friend or family member you are worried about, the best you can do is ask if they are okay.

“Show love and support, keep in contact, and tell them your door is always open.”

If you are in need of information or need help contact:

For emergencies call: NZ Police 111

ChangeAbility: 06 377 3716

Te Hauora Runanga O Wairarapa: 06 378 0140, 0800 666 744

Women’s Refuge crisis line: 0800 733 843 – 24 hours

Family violence information line: 0800 456 450

Shine National Helpline: 0508 744 633 – 9am to 11pm

Wairarapa Rape Crisis: 0800 614 614 regional free number, 0800 883 300 National free number

National network of stopping violence: 03 391 0048

Elder Abuse Helpline: 0800 32 668 65 – 24 hours

Shakti: For women from migrant and refugee communities, 0800 742 584 – 24 hours


  1. How wonderful. What an awesome idea, and such a great turn out for the town! Proud of masterton for this. I’m sure Grace would be pleased ❤️

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