real life

'I left my abusive partner last year. My family is still in contact with him.'

At Mamamia, we have a year-round commitment to highlighting the epidemic of domestic violence in Australia. During May, Domestic Violence Prevention Month, we will not only raise awareness of the personal impact of violence, but do our best to ensure victims have access to help, and encourage those who abuse to take responsibility and seek help for their behaviour.

This post deals with domestic violence and might be triggering for some readers.

*Chelsey is a mum of three girls from NSW. And recently, she made the decision to leave her abusive husband. 

Like all domestic violence survivors, it has taken time, energy and money to build herself a new life. Chelsey has had the financial support of her family during this challenging time. But as for emotional support - it's been rocky. 

"I did the maths recently and realised what a massive toll it all was. I had to loan almost $15,000 straight off my parents. I've had to do trauma counselling, all while trying to support myself and my kids," Chelsey said to Mamamia.

In the early days, Chelsey knew she would have to move back in with her parents in order to look after herself and the kids. It was an option she was thankful to have, knowing some women have nowhere else to go. But that doesn't mean it wasn't an emotionally taxing experience. 

"I was back living with my parents, which is just a nightmare. It's really degrading. And I guess I'm lucky that I have family, but on the same token, you don't want to be a 40-something-year-old living back at home."

Watch: Women and violence, the hidden numbers. Post continues below.


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Before Chelsey left, things looked relatively good from the outside.

Her husband had a successful job and her kids were doing great at school. But behind closed doors, Chelsey was experiencing horrific emotional and financial abuse. 

"There's so much taboo surrounding family violence and domestic abuse. It's not just about black eyes and broken bones. Financial control and emotional abuse happened throughout my entire relationship. When I became depressed, he told me I was 'a bad mum, a sloth, lazy'. When I tried to clean the house, he'd come home and yell at me for doing it wrong too," Chelsey said.

When it came to the financial abuse, Chelsey didn't have access to bank accounts or credit cards. And as her husband's occupation became more successful, he asked her to stop working so she could manage things at home and support him. Suddenly, she was solely reliant on her husband.

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After speaking to a psychologist and calling an abuse hotline, Chelsey realised she was in a domestic violence relationship. Abuse had snuck up on her. 

"It's honestly the most hopeless situation that you can ever be in," she said to Mamamia.

When Chelsey left, she knew it didn't just affect her. It impacted her kids too, who are under the age of 13.

"My kids, who are young, took it out on me a lot. They're upset that things are different and they don't know the intricacies of the situation - I chose not to involve them as I thought it would be too messy and upsetting for them to know everything. It's my job to protect them," Chelsey explained.

"The girls don't realise why I left their dad, and so they blame me."

As for whether Chelsey will tell her daughters what happened in the future, right now she's unsure.

"To tell my kids, what would it benefit them? To know what their dad did? I'm protective of them. Of course I could go down the path and say to them 'well I would have nicer things and be able to give you more if your dad didn't isolate me and leave me with little money'. Building a new life from scratch is hard. But it's worth it."

She continued - "At the end of the day, it's still their dad. And because I love my kids more than anything, I won't be making what happened public. No one wins."

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With the frustrations of her young daughters weighing on her, Chelsey also found firsthand that not everyone acknowledges the abuse she endured.

And that has been one of the hardest experiences of them all.

"The other thing is that sometimes, no one believes you. It's ingrained. Even my sibling was like 'you're from an affluent background, why do you need food stamps?' And I said, 'are you gonna drop food to me every week?'"

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Perhaps for Chelsey's family, some failed to realise that domestic violence isn't just overt or physical. We now have a greater understanding of what domestic violence can entail - emotional and financial abuse, gaslighting, coercive control, the list goes on. Not to mention the long-lasting psychological impact abuse can have. 

"It's been an eye-opener because my family struggles to comprehend what he's done to me - they find it hard to see that he has been a bad person," Chelsey said to Mamamia.

"The other day my mum liked a post of his on Facebook and left a comment wishing him well. In their minds, they've been supportive, but when they keep in contact with him, it feels like I'm constantly trying to seek validation that I was abused."

Although it's been an emotionally draining experience, Chelsey knows she is better off. And she has had people in her life who have shown her kindness and empathy - something she wishes for every woman leaving a violent relationship. 

"I have been lucky in some circumstances. I think many of the women around me have actually been my lifesaver," she said.

"My realtor was an angel because when she saw me in the state I was in, desperate to find a place - I think she knew. My psychologist is also incredible and helped me leave the marriage. It's really hard to try and take back your own narrative or become your own person again. But I'm working on it."

*Chelsey's name has been changed for privacy reasons. Her real identity is known to Mamamia.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The Men’s Referral Service is also available on 1300 766 491 or via online chat at www.ntv.org.au.

Feature Image: Mamamia.

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