real life

'My mum knew about my DV relationship. But she didn't have the words to help me.'

We all have a role to play in recognizing and responding to family violence – at home, in the community, and the workplace. Tuesday 10 May is the first Are You Safe At Home? Day – a day for people across Australia to start a conversation to end family violence.

My name is Geraldine Bilston. I am a mother, a student, a consultant - and I am also a victim-survivor of intimate partner violence.

For five years, I lived with and loved a man who I should have been able to trust. Instead, I was left physically bruised and psychologically destroyed. I pretended I was ok for a very long time – in fact, even though I knew things were wrong with the relationship, for years I did not see myself as a victim of family violence.

"She didn't have the words to help me." Image: Supplied.

Despite my best efforts to hide the truth and shame of what was happening, those closest to me grew increasingly concerned about my safety. On occasions, my family witnessed his verbal abuse. Over time, I publicly bore the psychological and physical injuries from his private abuse.

It had begun to leak into my everyday life and it was begging for a response.

Watch Women and Violence: The Hidden Numbers. Post continues after video. 


Video via Mamamia.
ADVERTISEMENT

"Are you safe at home?" was the question everyone wanted to ask, but never did - so it remained unanswered. I felt so alone. But I wasn’t the only one walking on eggshells. 

My mum was scared for me, and was struggling to balance her desire to help with her fear of further isolating me.  

Our role as bystanders is not about pushing for the end of the relationship, but to recognise we have an opportunity to partner with those we love and care for, to support and assist them, and remain ready and willing to help. Curiosity can be a sign of respect, a signal that you want to know more. 

However, our aspirations to help must be held in check. Collaborating and supporting those we love and care for is not about being their saviour, nor is it about telling them what you would do in that situation. It is about acknowledging that they are experts in their own life, and remaining ready to help and care for them through their own decision-making, in their own time.

My mum didn't have an understanding of family violence that would enable her to verbalise her concern for me, but she led with her intuition.

"She led with her intuition." Image: Supplied.

ADVERTISEMENT

She was determined and loyal in her love for me, and she was committed to staying connected to me - even though I was making decisions that neither of us completely understood. Throughout many failed attempts to leave the relationship, I always knew that I had someone to turn to when I was ready and the timing was right.

This is the core of the Are You Safe At Home? campaign. It’s a chance to raise awareness and learn how to recognise the signs of family violence. It’s an opportunity to start a conversation with a loved one you’re concerned about, by asking, ‘are you safe at home?’

Listen to No Filter. Post continues after podcast. 


It was a hospital-based social worker who would eventually ask me directly “Geraldine, are you safe at home?”

Although I did not disclose the details of the abuse I was suffering at that time, this interaction planted a seed of hope in my life. It felt validating to know someone could see what was happening, and that it was not okay.  

It was a physically violent attack that would act as a catalyst in me escaping this relationship.  The persistent, patient, and unconditional love of my mum was a gift. Her support had helped give me the confidence to leave, she played a crucial role in creating my safety, and she gave me all the space and support she could to help me recover.  

Perpetrators of family violence ask us to do nothing. They want family violence to remain a private problem and for us all to maintain the status quo. As a victim-survivor, I insist that we look, listen and act.  

We all have a role to play in responding to family violence. We are all uniquely placed to support those we love and care for. Asking someone you care about, "are you safe at home?" may be the first step to starting a conversation to end family violence.

To find out more about the Are You Safe At Home? campaign, including helpful tips, conversations starters and support services, visit www.areyousafeathome.org.au.