$18,000 and 141 hours: The true cost of leaving a violent relationship.

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.

The post deals with domestic violence and may be triggering for some readers.

$18,000 and 141 hours.

That's how much on average it costs an Australian woman to leave a violent relationship. Not to mention the emotional and mental toll as well. 

For some women, it costs them less. Others it can even cost them more. Not to mention the fact, that for some women, their act of courage can cost them their lives

It's for these reasons that more support - from a federal level - is needed to address the sheer scale of this national crisis of violence against women.

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

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The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has found it takes the average victim-survivor $18,000 and 141 hours to extricate themselves from an abusive relationship. This can include costs of legal fees, hiring solicitors, court appearances, rent and bond, accessing mental health services, hiring removalist trucks - if even possible - and in some cases, looking after shared children.


In a statement, ACTU's National Campaign Coordinator Kara Keys said that without paid leave for these women, their options are limited.

"All of the speeches and ribbon wearing don't make up for the government's lack of action. It's completely unacceptable that women have been left to wait for so long in dangerous situations without the support they need to escape. To fund 10 days paid leave it would cost five cents per worker per day, and it will help save lives."

Dr Renee Hamilton, the CEO of National Women's Safety Alliance, told Mamamia that the government's investment in women's safety as outlined in the Federal Budget is welcomed - but more is needed. 

"Leaving an abusive relationship takes a huge toll and affects every area of a person's life - from emotional and psychological to financial. That's why we need to double the Escaping Violence Payment and increase domestic and family violence leave to 10 paid days, instead of the current five days of unpaid leave," she said.

"We also need more investment in prevention, early intervention, response and recovery to properly address the underlying drivers of gender-based violence, better protect and support those most at risk and hold those who use violence to account."

Steph* is someone who knows firsthand how emotionally and financially taxing it can be when leaving a violent relationship.


After being in a relationship with her husband for over 10 years, Steph found the courage and opportunity to leave her abusive marriage last year.

In the months since, Steph has come to realise exactly what women leaving abusive partners are up against. Seeking loans from loved ones and banks, securing a rental property, furnishing a place and paying for groceries - not to mention trying to financially co-support two kids under 10.

"I took an $8,000 loan from my parents, I managed to access $10,000 from my ex-husband and my joint savings account, and around $20,000 from my Super in order to support myself over the last 11 months since leaving," Steph said.

Image: Getty.


Of course, Steph is entitled to more money from her ex-husband - they sold their joint house before splitting, which Steph has received no money from, nor does she receive child support.

The fear of getting lawyers and the courts involved is that Steph doesn't want her kids being swept up in the system. 

"It will drag on forever unless I take him to court, but I don't want to go down that path - I want to protect my kids from knowing everything. I am lucky to have my family's support financially, and I am educated and have been able to find permanent work since leaving. But for the many women who don't have these options - what are they to do?"

Steph is completely right. 

And as she shared with Mamamia, being on Centrelink and trying to access government support - which is wrapped in red tape - barely covers Steph's rent for the week, let alone the cost of living. 

"People go, 'Why don't you just leave?' But it's more complicated. What was I going to do, looking after two young kids, supporting myself, paying rent, childcare and trying to find a full-time position - the whole experience left me wrecked," Steph said.

"It is honestly the most hopeless situation you can ever be in."

One of the biggest financial struggles women leaving violent relationships also face is the cost of housing - and finding adequate housing too. 


"Women escaping a violent situation are struggling to find a suitable place to live," said National Women's Safety Alliance's Renee Hamilton.

"In Australia, 7,000 women a year return to violent situations because there is nowhere for them to go. This housing crisis seemed largely forgotten in the latest Federal Budget but the situation is urgent. We need to provide at least 17,000 social housing units for women escaping domestic and family violence as soon as possible. "

On this episode of Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, frontline domestic violence workers tell us what’s really happening. Post continues after podcast.

Fortunately, there are places like Safe Steps, which are able to help some women in need. As Victoria's 24/7 family violence crisis response centre, thousands of women get in touch with Safe Steps every year.  

Rita Butera, the CEO of Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre, told Mamamia that 50 per cent of the women who come into Safe Steps' crisis accommodation have zero income. 

"Our frontline team understand that a woman who calls our crisis line is often traumatised. We know that financial insecurity is a barrier to women leaving violence and is a key reason they return."

And as Rita noted, the reality is that about one-third of the women in crisis accommodation have nowhere else to go and are referred to homelessness services when they leave.

With this in mind, it's crucial that federal assistance continues to grow. 


"There were some positive elements to the most recent Federal Budget on domestic and family violence, but overall, much more is needed from the federal level. More long-term funding is needed to deliver services as well as a significant investment in social and affordable housing," she said.

"There is an inadequate number of refuges available which offer more than emergency accommodation as they are purpose-built with staff support and provide safety and support to women and children often recovering from trauma."

Likewise, Steph said she hopes that people in positions of power will put themselves in the shoes of a woman leaving a violent relationship.

"We see these press conferences where journalists ask politicians, 'What is the price of bread or milk?' The question I want to ask is, 'Do you know how much it costs a woman to leave an abusive relationship and survive?' Because I do."

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: Getty.