Finding Peace: An Inner West Mum’s Story of Domestic Violence

Sometimes I could sit,
deep within the hollow,
counting only minutes,
while hours pass me by.
Thinking through this journey,
criticising every choice,
all the commitments to myself,
still waiting to be fulfilled.
Forced into test after test,
the tension leaves me spent,
How can I feel everything,
But still be left so numb.
Even times of happiness,
have a haze of grey,
One tiny silver lining,
In a blackened stormy sky.
The dust may have settled,
But it still stings my eyes,
The flames have all died out,
The coals remain alight.
Holding glimpses of a future,
Just surviving through each moment,
Always simply asking,
When will I find peace.
Lee*, 2016
Heartbreakingly all too often in this group, there are posts from women who are experiencing domestic violence.
Domestic violence may come in many forms. It may include physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, spiritual abuse, using children, cultural abuse, intellectual abuse, social abuse (preventing a person from seeing family or friends or isolating them geographically), damaging property or financial abuse.
According to the 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey, 15 per cent of Australian women have experienced violence from a former partner – the most common type of known perpetrator for female victims – with most incidents of physical or sexual assault occurring in the home.
Here are some sobering statistics from this same survey (provided by ANROWS – the Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety). Of those women who experienced violence by a male ex-partner:

  • 71 per cent had experienced more than one violent incident.
  • 61 per cent had children in their care at the time the violence took place.
  • 48 per cent of the respondents said their children had seen and heard the violence.
  • 58 per cent had never contacted the police.
  • 24 per cent had never sought advice or support.

Think this is a problem that doesn’t affect the Inner West? Think again. In the past year, the Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre has provided counselling and health care to women experiencing violence on more than 2200 occasions.
In order to raise awareness of domestic violence, I speak to two members of the Inner West Mums community who understand this issue all too well: Lee*, who has been in an abusive relationship for several years and currently lives with her partner and child, and Adriana Zuñiga, a domestic violence advocate and support worker.
Quietly, articulately, Lee tells me: ‘The controlling behaviours were there right from the start. During our relationship there have been elements of every kind of domestic violence.’
It reached breaking point for Lee, and she found the courage to talk to her partner about his behaviour. In the following months they went to counselling, and he made a big effort to change things. She considered leaving but ‘when the time came,’ says Lee, ‘I just couldn’t go through with it. It was such an overwhelming situation.’
For the past few months, Lee has been trying to work out what she wants. She knows she is no longer in love with her partner, and doesn’t want to be in the situation she is in. ‘The next step – making that move – is difficult. It’s not something I’m comfortable with at the moment.’
Just a handful of family members and close friends are aware of Lee’s circumstances. ‘Finding people who will support you through your journey isn’t easy. A lot of people just want you to leave and get upset when you don’t. It’s not as simple as grabbing your stuff and going. You need to plan for a long time.’
Lee has also found support in several online communities, such as Inner West Mums, where she posts anonymously. She draws strength from the fact that the members of the groups want to share their experiences and provide advice and practical assistance.
I ask Lee how she would want her life to look in the future – say, three years down the track. Immediately, she says, ‘I just want to be happy. I haven’t felt that way in so long. Part of me knows the only way to completely heal from this is to take steps away.’
Domestic violence advocate and support worker Adriana Zuñiga set up Single Mums Pay It Forward Domestic Violence Support to help mother and child survivors of domestic and family violence. The group works with registered referral agencies to assist those in domestic violence situations to start again in a safe and secure home.
‘I have supported many families who have fled domestic violence situations,’ says Adriana. ‘It is frightening, tough, uncertain, lonely and complex for the survivors to build a new life. Anyone in this situation needs every bit of help they can receive. They often leave with just the shirt on their backs.’
Single Mums Pay It Forward Domestic Violence Support, which is managed by Adriana and a group of volunteers, assists domestic violence survivors in many different ways, including placing families in safe temporary accommodation; arranging taxi transfers to a safe house; sourcing permanent housing; organising removalists, carpet cleaning and pest control; stocking the pantry; sourcing clothing, furnishings and household items; providing referrals to counselling and legal services and enrolling children in school. Where possible, the group receives donations and community assistance to offer these services.
Adriana emphasises the significance of the group’s work. ‘The families that have been helped by our group can focus on self-care and resettling their children into their new home and routine as opposed to worrying about everyday incidentals.’
‘I am passionate about helping as many women and children who need our help,’ she says. ‘This is why I volunteer. When I see a smile on the face of a child who has seen and felt things they should never be exposed to – I know that what I do is important.’
*Name has been changed to protect the member’s identity.
Sydney Support Services
(List compiled by Single Mums – Pay It Forward)
Women’s Legal Services NSW Sydney (02) 9749 5533; Outer Sydney 1800 801 501
LawAccess NSW 1300 888 529
WAGEC Women and Girls Emergency Centre (02) 9319 4088
WEAVE Weave Youth & Community Services (02) 9318 0539
Crisis Line 1300 544 357
Lifeline 131 114
Parent Help Line 1300 301 300
Family Referral Service 1800 066 757
FACS Child Protection Line 132 111
KIDS Helpline 1800 551 800
Link2Home 1800 152 152
Financial Assistance Centrelink 136 150
Child Support Australia 131 107
Relationships Australia 1300 364 277
Anglicare Bondi Junction (02) 9798 1400; Campbelltown (02) 4621 6666; Glebe (02) 9552 4164; Glenfield (02) 9829 8898; Liverpool (02) 9821 1014; Moss Vale (02) 4868 1780; Mt Druitt (02) 8805 0900; Parramatta (02) 8805 0900; Penrith (02) 8805 0900; Summer Hill (02) 9798 1400; Wollongong (02) 4229 7911
CatholicCare (02) 9509 1111
Exodus Foundation (02) 8752 4600
Jewish House (02) 9386 0770
Salvation Army 1300 371 288
St Vincent de Paul Burwood (02) 9745 3744; Lewisham (02) 9568 0262; Redfern (02) 9690 5600; Rozelle (02) 9818 4365
Vincentian House (02) 8093 6798
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Headspace 1800 650 890
SANE Australia 1800 187 263
The Black Dog Institute
PANDA Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia 1300 726 306
Domestic Violence Advocacy Service Sydney (02) 8745 6999; Outer Sydney 1800 810 784
ReachOut 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732
Domestic Violence NSW (02) 9698 9777
NSW Domestic Violence Line 1800 656 463 1800 424 017 (02) 9819 6565
Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association (02) 9635 8022
Wirringa Baiya Indigenous Women’s Service (02) 9569 3847
Fresh Start DV Support Group for Women All Souls Mondays, 10 am–12 pm Tel: 0402 370 622
Queen of Hearts Community Foundation 1300 856 737
Friends with Dignity
NSW Rape Crisis Line 1800 424 017
Rosie’s Place Inc. (02) 9625 2599
Dress for Success 1800 773 456
NILS No Interest Loan Scheme Anglicare (02) 9798 1400
Foodbank (02) 9756 3099
Food Harvest 1800 108 006
OzHarvest 1800 108 006
SecondBite 1800 263 283
The Station (02) 9299 2252
The Staples Bag Auburn (02) 9784 2400; Campsie (02) 9787 6832; Wynyard Station
Heaven Sent Helpers Marrickville
Bridge Housing Ltd Redfern (02) 8324 0800
EVOLVE Housing Parramatta (02) 8862 1500
Hume Community Housing Association Fairfield (02) 9724 0554
Link Housing Chatswood (02) 9412 5111
METRO Housing Newtown (02) 9565 4599
SGCH St George Community Housing Hurstville (02) 9585 1499
Wentworth Community Housing Ltd Penrith (02) 4777 8000
Women’s Housing Co Surry Hills (02) 9281 1764
Friends of Sole Parents
Single Mums Pay It Forward
Single Mums Pay It Forward Domestic Violence Support

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