A discreet safe room has been established at Stockland Shellharbour for women attempting to escape domestic violence.
The room is modelled on the Lisa Harnum Foundation safe rooms, which were set up in shopping centres in Sydney's Hills district three years ago.
In 2013, Lisa Harnum's fiance Simon Gittany was found guilty of throwing the 30-year-old to her death off their 15th floor balcony of their Sydney apartment in July 2011.
The foundation established in her name supports and empowers families affected by domestic violence, offering training, counselling and the safe rooms.
Illawarra Women's Health Centre general manager Sally Stevenson said the foundation, and local police, were supporting the establishment of the new room at the Shellharbour shopping centre.
She said shopping was one of the few activities many women with controlling partners were able to do, which is why a safe place in a shopping centre was vital.
"It makes it easier for women to access our support and services, especially if they feel they're being stalked or watched," she said.
"For these women it's easier to go to a shopping centre than it is to go to the women's centre."
Ms Stevenson said she was grateful to Stockland Shellharbour general manager Daniel Buchanan, whose idea it was to set up the safe room.
The centre paid for the room to be refurbished, providing furniture, tea and coffee facilities and a television and play area for children.
"We know that there's been a rise in domestic violence across NSW during the COVID pandemic," Ms Stevenson said.
"In the Shellharbour area alone, domestic violence incidents have increased by 27 per cent - and that's just the reported cases. And we know that only 10 per cent of incidents are reported.
"We don't expect this to get better any time soon - especially as economic and financial pressures come to bear on the community, and in relationships.
"During lockdown supermarkets were one of the few areas of respite women could go to to get time away from their partner.
"Should there be a second wave of coronavirus, we want to be prepared and have a space women isolated with controlling partners can access."
Mr Buchanan said the centre had long supported the women's health centre, including distributing flyers to publicise the service in the centre's ladies toilets as part of The Little Bird campaign.
"Earlier this year we became aware there were retail centres which had safe facilities where confidential consultations could happen," he said.
"We had the space and ability to put together a safe room, and so we reached out to the women's centre to form a partnership.
"We believe our role in the community is broader than just servicing retail needs; that it extends to helping those who are vulnerable and need support."
Women can call the women's health centre on 4255 6800 to make a booking for the safe room.
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