By LUCY FAHEY.
“I told him we were going to the library, I took Georgia’s bottle and the library books and we never came back.”
Claire retreats to the balcony of her room in a non-descript apartment complex in the outer suburbs of Brisbane. She rolls a cigarette and fidgets with her sleeve. The ashtray is already full.
Claire’s quiet apartment in the Chisolm refuge, a sanctuary for women escaping violent relationships, feels a world away from the chaotic household she describes.
“He’d pull me to the ground and strangle me, he’d get on top of me and strangle me. Olivia was standing there screaming, ‘stop daddy stop’…
“Before I met Jack, I thought ‘why do people stay, like just walk out’.”
“The first time where I went ‘something was wrong here’ was four or five months into the relationship,” she says.
“He just woke up, freaked out and smashed my phone, and then he put me on a phone plan under his name … but that was sort of another control. He put a bug on my phone, so he received every text message I got, every phone call he could listen in to.
“He’d know all my passwords, for Facebook, email, my bank account. He’d take my cards whenever I got paid so I’d have no access to money.”
Claire has an air of distraction as she recounts her story.
“Before I met Jack, I thought ‘why do people stay, like just walk out’,” she says. “But you can’t just walk out – he had me in such a controlled environment that there was no way of leaving with two babies.”
Claire’s daughter Georgia comes out onto the balcony, thirsty for her mother’s attention, pulling at her jeans and feigning injury.
“I’d left nine or 10 times and gone back and forward to him. When I left this time mum and dad said, ‘No, we can’t have you back, it’s just got to stop.’
“At the time I couldn’t believe it. Now I look at it and it’s the best thing that they could have ever done for me.
“It just changed everything, it broke the cycle… I probably would have just kept going back and forward, hoping for the best, hoping he would change.”
The apartment next door to Claire’s is almost exactly the same, down to the pictures hung on the wall, motivational words printed on canvas.
Bridget knows these rooms well: she used to work here, supporting the children of women escaping violence.
She’s seen hundreds of women pass through, from all walks of life, united by fear and a desperate desire to escape abusive relationships.
But now it is different for Bridget. This time she is one of the women escaping a violent partner, with her own child in tow.
“It’s a bit crazy thinking why am I back here at my workplace. I never, ever thought that I would be in this position. Why am I here, Why me?”