This story was contributed to Tenant News issue 112. The author wishes to remain anonymous.
I want to share my story in the hope it helps others but it is still very current and I am still having to hide (I wish there was a better word but that is what it is). Fleeing an abusive relationship was the most frightening experience of my life. By the time we fled, it was already a game of life or death. Leaving often angers the abuser even more and my case was no exception. My husband needed absolute control and by the time we fled he was watching everything I did, every item I purchased, every train I took and every toll I drove through. He logged my phone location, read my emails, messages and files, and monitored my social media. How can you flee when the “modern day aids” of our digital lives are key weapons for control?
There was no preparation time. On my way from work to collecting the kids from school I considered if it was safe enough for the children and me to return home. It wasn’t.
I had no chance to pack or withdraw money. I could not use my cards. Even my phone and car put us at grave risk of being located. I could not contact mutual friends and feared involving others as he would spin stories and seek vengeance on anyone who would not listen. In his eyes anyone helping us was against him and should be punished.
The first night we stayed in a hotel out of the kindness of family. The following day I was advised it was not safe to take the kids to school or conduct my usual activities. We went to the psychological service at my work. In a time when crisis accommodation is very hard to come by, particularly with children in tow, I was extremely fortunate they connected us with refuge accommodation for a few weeks.
With no safe access to my cards, accounts, normal communication methods or friendship groups I felt stuck. It was a relief to have a safe space but there was no food, no bedding, and definitely no comfort. That same night a volunteer community group, Helping Hands, organised and delivered food, bedding, clothes, toys for the kids, and vouchers to help keep us going. They have been truly incredible.
This help, plus a very understanding workplace gave us two important things: a safe space and time to plan. The next weeks were spent running between Centrelink, Housing NSW, legal appointments, psychologist appointments, property inspections, schools and banks to name a few. Fortunately, the Department of Housing referred me to Moving On Moving Out (MOMO) who support women and their children leaving domestic violence and help them re-establish and find accommodation. They link women up with services and funding, and offer regular contact and guidance via a case manager. I would have been lost without mine. She was there every step
and could predict my own husband’s behaviours better than me. She also came to court and supported me through the AVO process.
Finances were complicated. I earned too little to function alone but too much to qualify for most assistance. As my husband and I owned assets, I was ineligible for financial support even though he refused to free them up and had taken our savings. A fantastic program called Start Safely subsidises rent for people in my situation, but due to my need to live near work while caring for the children, the ratio of rent to salary again made me ineligible. My case manager suggested a shelter but it was important to me that I gave my children a home and stability they had been lacking due to the abuse. I borrowed money for a rental deposit and continue to borrow to cover daily expenses. I know many others without access to such loans and that certainly upsets me.
The thing that upsets me most about it is that changing my work was the first independent step I made. Given my husband’s need for control, this decision infuriated him and he did everything he could to block and sabotage it. The system made it near impossible to keep my job, find and establish a new home and fight the ongoing abuse through the legal system, child support and other sources.
I feel very fortunate to be out. My future and that of my children will be much brighter. I am very grateful for the services I received, but a lot needs to change to help women like myself get out and stay out of abusive relationships. Finding suitable housing is the foundation of this. There were many times when I felt I had to give in to my husband’s financial power, control and ongoing abuse. Being locked out of services due to assets and income he held and I may never see, contributed to these feelings.
Like many women I have since met, if it wasn’t for Helping Hands and guidance from my case manager at MOMO, I would have been forced to leave my work – the one key piece of independence I claimed in a relationship where my husband tried to take everything. That independence gave me strength to keep defending the rights of my children and myself, rights my husband told us we did not have.
If I was to change one thing about the services offered, it would be to ensure that it is not necessary to sacrifice independence to receive help. For me, this independence was work. For others it could be their family home, even their children’s schools. Many have fled relationships where giving up such independence to keep the peace and minimise abuse is all they can do. These pieces of independence should be encouraged and nurtured as they are key to women like myself finding themselves again and being able to give back to an area in dire need of support. Choosing to leave was one thing, but without it being sustainable it meant nothing. Being able to hold on to my small piece of independence not only made my choice sustainable, it made me stronger.