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11 May 2021
Emily is a long-term case manager at a Salvation Army crisis accommodation centre for women and children. She is also a victim-survivor of domestic and family violence. This is her story.
My partner and I were happily together for a number of years and had three beautiful children. After the birth of our third child, the relationship started to change.
We came from different backgrounds. My partner had arrived in Australia as a migrant, fleeing persecution in his home country. He had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but didn’t seem to be obviously affected by it when we met. He didn’t have steady employment but worked on and off as a labourer.
That’s when the financial abuse began. The first time I noticed it was when there was no money in one of my accounts when I went to use it. The money had been withdrawn from an ATM at a pub. My partner explained that he’d got the money out – a couple of thousand dollars – for gambling. He apologised and said it would not happen again.
But it did. He took my ATM card, withdrew my money and gambled. He would promise and promise to stop but this went on and off for months.
When the baby was five months old, he angrily went through boxes of my old photos, demanding that I throw out all the photos of me with former relationship partners. From there he started to get agitated about me going to meet certain friends and family members. I stayed at home more often, isolated. He started to criticise my parenting, cooking and appearance. This broke my heart.
The aggression progressed. One night he was angry about me wanting to see my friends. He grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me really hard. It was a wake-up call.
One night soon after, he came home really angry. He took my phone off me and told me that if I called the police, he would kill me. I felt he meant it. He threatened to take the kids overseas and never allow me to see them again. He beat me very badly this night. I knew I had to do something. It was terrifying.
He started shouting about getting money from my mum to invest in a business he wanted to start overseas. I told him I would call Mum to try to convince her, hoping a call at this hour would alert her that something was wrong.
Mum knew things weren’t right and called my sister, who came early the next morning. She quickly told my partner that Mum was really sick, and she and I needed to go to her. She distracted him and I quickly packed the valuables and things for the kids.
We went to my sister’s house and called the police. I went through everything with them and applied for a temporary apprehended violence order (AVO). All the time, weirdly, I was worried about him. The police found him and the order was granted.
When I told my partner our relationship was over, he pleaded with me, said it wouldn’t happen again. I knew now, though, what he was capable of and I couldn’t risk that happening again to me or the kids.
In my role as a case manager at the women’s crisis centre, where I have been for around 14 years, I support people who choose to leave violent situations and I advocate for their safety. I now had to do this for myself and separate myself from my emotions. I knew the system and what to do but still found it challenging to take those steps and get my family safe.
It was challenging to find a private rental being a single parent on maternity leave. Finally, one lady was prepared to give me a go. I was beginning to move forward.
One thing that still stands out to me now is the kindness of certain people during that time. The childcare staff were extra loving and supportive of the kids. They waived our term fees, which really helped. A friend insisted on coming to court with me for a breach of the AVO and assault charges. I said I was fine and didn’t need support, but she came and I was so glad she did.
The Salvos were great. My manager at the time was very supportive and offered flexibility about returning to work sooner, or later – whatever I needed. I wanted to stay in this environment.
Now, in my current role working with women and children using trauma-informed and strengths-based practice, I can use some of my experience and insights to improve my practice. It inspires the work I do. I know firsthand how important it is to see that support is available in that situation.
My ex-partner hasn’t seen the kids for 18 months now. They miss him and don’t understand, although I explain at their level what has happened. The impacts of family breakdown are still being felt.
If you are in an abusive situation, reach out and talk to someone. You may not be ready to leave, but listen to what you say out loud when you talk to someone – this can be really helpful. You and your children deserve to be safe. That is the priority. It’s hard, but support is out there, whatever you are deciding to do. And don’t feel scared about crisis accommodation. You can be well-supported and it’s a safe place to take your kids.
Always remember, you are not alone.
* Not her real name.