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Emerging from the darkness

21 May 2021

Emerging from the darkness

Rose builds a new life after the trauma of domestic violence

Words Melanie

Rose* came to Australia in 2015 and married her Australian husband in 2018. Despite the emotional and physical abuse she suffered, she was afraid of leaving him and being shamed, and shunned, by her family in her country of origin.

In September 2020, Rose went to her local doctor, who immediately noticed physical symptoms, and other signs, that strongly indicated that something was wrong in her home. The doctor suspected abuse, spoke to Rose about it, and was able to give her the confidence to immediately seek an exit plan and leave the abusive situation.

They contacted the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre – a 24-hour response centre. The staff contacted the local Salvos, who were able to offer Rose a place in their short-term refuge.


When Rose arrived, she was incredibly fearful. She was so scared that she slept with the covers over her face. The wardrobe next to the bed made her feel insecure, as she thought someone could hide in it. And this was all happening in the middle of COVID-19.

One of the things I do as a chaplain is take the ladies across our refuges out to a lunch program at a local Salvos church. During the lockdowns last year, the program continued with takeaway lunches only. Rose and I would get lunch, go for a walk in the park and then sit and eat together. She was timid and fearful, always wore a hoodie and had very closed body language.

She told the staff and ladies at the refuge that she had trained as a nail technician in Australia and that’s how she’d learned her basic English. She smiled when she said her first words were “square, round and cut”.

After the trauma she had experienced, she didn’t think she could ever do that work again. She couldn’t focus and was too scared to be a part of any community.

After the first few weeks at the refuge, Rose was still not eating much or looking after herself. One day the manager, who was so supportive of Rose, ordered some food from a local restaurant that was popular in Rose’s home country, sat with her, encouraged her to eat, and stayed with her until she’d had her meal. Rose said to me, “That made me feel warm. I will remember that care forever.”

Rose was too scared to go out much, initially. She said she didn’t know what would happen if her husband found her, that he had a terrible temper, could throw things in anger and clear the table with a sweep of his hand.

Rose’s husband was very patriarchal in his outlook. He was the boss and Rose was to submit to him – to be seen and not heard. She had no say in the running of her life and no independence. She didn’t realise that the control he had over her was family violence. This was never spoken about, or recognised, in her country of origin.

Rose then moved to a longer-term refuge. She had stayed longer in the short-term one, because it was so quiet during the pandemic.

It was terrible that it was so quiet, but the per-petrators were in the homes with the victims, who couldn’t escape, so we had more room.


Rose befriended the ladies at that refuge and started to gain more confidence and independence. She enrolled in and completed an ESL (English as a Second Language) class. When we had a farewell for one of the ladies, Rose painted all our nails. It was the first time she had done this since she arrived. It was like something tweaked and she realised that, just maybe, she could do something with her life.

Rose has now come out of her shell, organises the other ladies to exercise and get out and about, and is a real go-getter. She went back to her first refuge and painted the nails of the staff and residents. She wanted to invest something back and make the ladies feel special.

Rose is now looking for opportunities to use her skills in a community space, such as aged care homes, to build her confidence and earn some income. She is also hoping to get some funding to study to become a beautician, do eyebrow tattoos and start her own business. It’s challenging because she is not a permanent resident and doesn’t have an income. We are trying, though, to get the paperwork done and put her in a place where her future is secure. She will need to move out of her accommodation soon, so she will definitely need some financial security.

In the meantime, Rose has offered to go to one of the local Salvos churches and paint nails when they have their next art and craft night. She is also engaging in some of their local activities. The officers [pastors] at the local Salvos are so supportive and help our ladies in whatever way they can.

Rose’s family will not speak to her because she has left her husband, and consider her an outcast. Her mum, though, will try to talk to her if Rose’s father is not around. Despite this, Rose now understands family violence and wants to pass on her understanding, knowledge and experience, with people from her own culture.

Rose’s life has been transformed.

* Not her real name

Captain Melanie is a Salvation Army domestic violence chaplain.

As a chaplain, Melanie visits the women in the refuges and those the Salvos support in the local community. Some of the refuges run by the Salvos are for those who have literally just left domestic violence situations and are traumatised and in shock. Others are for longer term stays of 3-6 months, or up to two years for longer case management and support.


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