Former Welsh Women’s Aid CEO shares learning from Sabbatical

Former CEO of Welsh Women’s Aid, Eleri Butler, left Wales in February 2020 to lead the Government of Victoria’s response to family violence and deliver on the State Government’s Royal Commission recommendations to transform systems and services for survivors of abuse.

As Deputy Secretary and CEO at the Department for Families Fairness and Housing, including Family Safety Victoria, Eleri led the Australian-first Government Agency that provided stewardship for the whole-of-Government reform. She also managed significant investment into nation-leading programs and services to deliver better outcomes for survivors, children and families. By January 2023, the Victorian Government had invested over $3.7 billion to prevent and respond to family violence, and had successfully delivered all recommendations committed to before the pandemic.

In conversation with Eleri, she said the life-changing opportunities and challenges this experience offered her, surpassed all her expectations, and could benefit those working to end violence against women in Wales and Europe.

“There’s much good practice, policy, research and community activism in Victoria, and a strong commitment to Aboriginal self-determination. Even though there are legislative, policy and cultural contexts that inform the national and local response, policy makers, services and communities elsewhere could learn a lot from Australia, to inform global work to end violence against women.

“I was inspired by, and privileged to learn from, the Dhelk Dja partnership. Preventing violence against Aboriginal people works best when led by Aboriginal communities and the ten-year agreement between government and Aboriginal communities prioritised self-determination and accountability for ensuring Aboriginal people and communities are stronger, thriving and free from violence. This work now sits alongside Victoria’s commitments to voice, truth-telling and justice for past and ongoing harms, decolonisation, and Treaty for Aboriginal people.

“Centring lived experience was a firm commitment within Family Safety Victoria, and the leadership and challenge provided by former and current members of the Minister’s Victims Survivors Advisory Council was remarkably powerful. This Council built on the local victim survivor activism and movement for change and produced whole-of Government strategy to place lived experience at the heart of all Departments’ work.

“Government also developed a 10-Year Family Violence Industry Plan, that aimed to build workforce capacity, strength, support and capability. Investment into a network of prevention services was also significantly more than I’ve seen elsewhere, accompanied by a whole system approach for preventing domestic and sexual violence, supported by Respect Victoria’s primary prevention strategy to end violence against women.

“A well-established flexible support packages program provided victim survivors with direct access to funding to help rebuild their lives. To provide more safe spaces, a trauma-informed refuge development program was underway, which included refuges co-designed by women. New Support and Safety Hubs also brought together specialist services for women, children and families to provide an integrated response and no wrong door for those needing help.

“In contrast to the UK’s high-risk-focus that often hinders access to support for women, Victoria legislated for a system-wide focus on perpetrator risk reduction and accountability that provided support for prescribed agencies to improve early identification and response. This was accompanied by a central information point connecting data on perpetrators’ patterns of abuse from police, child protection and courts, to maximise survivors’ safety.

“This is just a snapshot of the range of work underway. Much more still needs to be done to build on the foundational changes and address the high levels of domestic and sexual violence that persist. Tragically, 64 women were killed by violence last year and, according to Counting Dead Women Australia, 10 women have been killed already in 2024. It’s vital that the many service innovations led by sexual and domestic abuse services, and their strong collaboration and advocacy for change, continues, as it’s needed now more than ever.

“I look forward to seeing how the work nationally progresses. This is being delivered through the ambitious National Plan and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan committed to ending gender-based violence in one generation, informed by the Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Commission, recently established.

“Leading the state-wide reforms during the pandemic was a challenging time, which was filled with new opportunities, places, and learning from remarkable people. I’ll always be grateful to colleagues and the many wonderful women I met who supported me along the way, as we worked together to deliver change in local communities.

“My experience inspired me to continue embarking on new opportunities. I’ve now decided to move into freelance work, to focus on what I’m most passionate about, to prevent violence against women and children, centre lived experience and promote social justice. I’m working on primary prevention; supporting community engagement and action research; doing capacity building and strategic planning; policy and service design and evaluation. I’m also chairing statutory domestic homicide reviews, because it’s vital we work together to create lasting change and prevent further violence.”

“In my new role, I look forward to working alongside Welsh Women’s Aid to achieve our shared goal of ending violence against women. And if anyone’s interested in hearing more about work in Australia, or in working with me in future, you can get in touch at [email protected]


Welsh Women’s Aid Board of Trustees Chair, Kirsty Palmer, has confirmed that Sara Kirkpatrick will be continuing as CEO on a permanent basis.

“Eleri left a lasting legacy which has driven forwards Welsh Women’s Aid and we look forward to seeing this work continue outside of the organisation.

“ We know that Eleri will continue to be a fantastic force for change and we wish her every success with her new work. I know she will continue to be a friend of not only Welsh Women’s Aid, but also the violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence sector more widely. Her expertise and contribution will be invaluable as we continue to work to our common goal.

“We feel very fortunate to have a great successor in place in Sara, and the Board of Trustees looks forward to working with her and our members in the coming years”.


Sara Kirkpatrick, CEO of Welsh Women’s Aid has been in post for four years having worked in the sector for over 30 years. Sara brings with her experience from a range of organisations like Respect, where she led on research and services development programmes across the UK.

“I was honoured to be given the opportunity to lead Welsh Women’s Aid in Eleri’s absence.

“I could never have anticipated such challenging times as we have faced such as a global pandemic, the consequences of Brexit and a cost-of-living crisis which shows no signs of abating. I look forward to continuing to work with partners in Wales and beyond. Our new, upcoming strategy offers up an opportunity to renew our commitments to ending violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence”.