explainer

'I knew I needed an escape plan.' The reality of leaving an abusive relationship in 2020.

Proud partner, Commonwealth Bank. Always consider your personal circumstances before acting on financial advice.

Mamamia has partnered with Commonwealth Bank on a new campaign - Lighting the Way to the Next Chapter -  which aims to empower the community to listen and believe victims of domestic and family violence, and be a part of paving a hopeful future. 

This article contains references to domestic abuse and may be triggering for some readers. If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

She knew he wouldn’t leave easily. She was living in a haze of harrowing anticipation and fear. 

It had been one week since Daisy* had escaped her abusive partner, the man she had been with for the past five years and with whom she shared a four-year-old son. 

At first, he had accepted her decision to call it quits. He was even apologetic. But she was convinced he would come back to attack.

On a warm afternoon, in August 2020, Daisy walked out of her Brisbane home and headed to her car, putting her young son in the back seat. They were on their way to a medical appointment.

Before she could drive away though, her former partner suddenly appeared at the driver-side car door, just inches from her. 

“He pulled the car keys out of the ignition and attacked me while my son was in the car seat,” the 34-year-old tells Mamamia

It was broad daylight, and he had left work early. 

Daisy’s neighbours could see and hear what was happening from their windows, prompting them to call triple zero. 

Before help arrived, he had fled the scene - vanishing as quickly as he had arrived.

Daisy is one of millions of women around the world whose stories tell of shocking domestic violence experienced in 2020. While Daisy says she is unsure whether her individual circumstances were exacerbated by the pandemic - given their separate living arrangements - experts say they’ve seen higher rates of family violence and more complex cases as the months have unfolded.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, research from the United Nations (UN) declared the “most dangerous place for women” worldwide was their ‘home’. Now, research conducted in June 2020 by Commonwealth Bank and YouGov showed that almost 40 per cent of Australians have either experienced or know someone who has experienced financial abuse. 

For women already experiencing challenging relationships, the ‘stay-at-home’ orders were exceptionally alarming.

The instructions were simple: return home, work remotely and refuse visitors. It was critical, we were told, to prevent the contagion of COVID-19.

But amid a public health crisis, other deadly dangers emerged.

In April 2020, the Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called violence against women a “shadow pandemic”, as economic pressures including sudden unemployment and inability to pay bills suddenly fell on households, often coupled with an increase in alcohol consumption.

Now, recently released research from the UN Population Fund says that for every three months the lockdowns continue, an additional 15 million cases of domestic violence will occur worldwide.

In Victoria, where the state has weathered what many describe as an “agonising” eight weeks of stage four lockdown, concern for the rates of domestic violence is particularly high. In fact, the Crime Statistics Agency found family related incidents in Victoria have reached a record high in the past 12 months.

Tania Farha, the CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria, tells Mamamia: “The pandemic restrictions are providing perpetrators with more opportunities for victim-survivors to isolate from their family, friends, other community support networks, as well as support they might otherwise find in their workplaces.”

During this pandemic there has also been an increase in first-time reporters of family violence, Farha says.

She adds that with the economic fallout of coronavirus, perpetrators are “tightening controls over finances and we’re seeing increases in financial abuse”.

Daisy has long been a victim of financial abuse.

In her five year relationship with her perpetrator, the couple never shared a joint bank account. Why? It’s simple, she explains.

“He wanted his money to be all his, and my money to be ours. I was financially providing everything for our son and the household.

“If I didn’t give him money, I would have to listen to him say that he's going to [hurt himself].”

Meantime, when it came to his own money, Daisy says her partner was careless and reckless.  

“Every pay, every fortnight, he was straight to the pokies where he would spend the whole lot. Then he would beg and manipulate me into paying his car registration.

“If I ever asked for money he would hold it over me.”

Donna Letchford from Financial Counselling Victoria has worked with women who are dealing with family violence and financial abuse for the past three years.

“Financial abuse is all about power and control,” she explains. “But some people don't even realise it's a form of violence.


“The problem with financial abuse is even after you leave a relationship, it can affect you for the rest of your life. It's already hard enough for women in regards to retiring and the lack of money they have as they get older. Financial abuse makes it so much worse.”

Speaking of how to escape a financially abusive relationship, Letchford says: "When you feel safe to do so, get as much knowledge as you can and try to speak to somebody about what your rights are. I've seen a lot of women who say, 'We've got nothing. We don't own a house or anything like that'. But does the other party have superannuation? People never think that this is an asset."

Leaving her abusive relationship in August finally drew to a close what Daisy describes as a very difficult five years. 

It also wasn’t the first time Daisy had tried to escape the abuse. 

Her relationship with her former partner began in 2015. She thought he was everything she had long searched for. 

“My first impression was that he was the ‘nice guy’, which was the complete opposite to my usual type,” she reflects.

But within months, Daisy began to see another side: one of anger and aggression, temper and tantrums. 

“He just flipped out one night, not very long into the relationship, and… said that I was going to make him [hurt himself].” 

The neighbours heard her screams and called the police, resulting in him being put on a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) - an official document issued by the court to stop threats or acts of domestic violence. 

A few months later when the DVO had expired, he managed to convince Daisy to restart the relationship. 

It wasn’t long before the police were called out again.

“He told them that I scratched his arm during an argument,” Daisy recalls. The altercation resulted in a cross application, meaning they both had a DVO against each other.  

The bigger problem though? “I wanted to end the relationship and he didn't.”

Also, Daisy was now pregnant with their first child. 

To discuss the future of their relationship and their new roles as parents, Daisy agreed to meet with him at a local pub. “He was trying to win me back,” she recalls. 

But when Daisy resisted his advances, “he just got very aggressive in public, was smashing things, pushing me into walls, hitting the pokie machines and throwing glasses.”

He found himself in a jail cell for five months as a result.

Upon his release, Daisy’s partner wanted to meet his child.

“He was sorry,” she recalls, “and I wanted to play happy family.”

Daisy says the two formed a relationship again, as they cared for their small baby, for about a year before the toxic cycle of abuse began once more, often after drinking and gambling.

It was during this period that the financial abuse worsened.

Then, in November of 2019, another physical altercation broke out, but this time, neighbours didn’t hear.

“He punched me in the head, and told me he wasn’t leaving.

“At that point, because of the prior history, I knew that if I wanted to break up with him, I would either need an escape plan or wait for the police to be called.”

Daisy didn’t necessarily start 2020 knowing she would finally break free from the relationship. She didn’t know if he would let her leave. But she certainly hoped she would find a safe time to execute her escape plan. 

When it came to leaving him, Daisy says he was accepting and apologetic. But she knew - thanks to all the Domestic Violence Facebook groups she had joined - that the period right after leaving an abuser could be the most dangerous.

She was right. He returned with heated anger and, as mentioned, was gone before police arrived on scene. Thankfully, they were able to catch him.

Listen

Daisy explains what happened after she left her abuser. The voice in this audio has been altered for privacy reasons.

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Audio: Mamamia

Going through the criminal justice system in 2016, Daisy recalls feeling like she was being blamed for the abuse - as though the police thought her actions had caused him to become abusive.

In 2020, even in the midst of a global crisis, Daisy says she finally found the support she had long hoped for. According to her, when it comes to feeling seen as a victim-survivor of domestic violence, there is a tangible difference. 

“It was different this time, because they actually believed me and they didn't try and tell me it was my fault, or that I had aggravated him.

“I feel like that's because of how many women are getting murdered and how serious it has been. I think that the police have probably been more educated since 2016 because the rates of domestic violence are so ridiculous.”

Whilst we remain in the depths of a global pandemic, it’s impossible to know the true cost in terms of social issues like domestic violence.

Research says more women are finding themselves in Daisy’s position because of the pandemic and its secondary impacts, like unemployment, social isolation, and increased stress. 

“Victim-survivors are facing increased barriers to access support, for example finding time and space when they're alone,” the CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria explains. “It can be hard to contact servers without their abusers knowing.”

“Hence it is really important to let people know that services are still open.

Today, Daisy is safe.

“He can't attempt to come within 100 metres of me or our child for five years,” she shares.  

It gives her a level of comfort she has been robbed of for the past five years.

Although entitled to it, she won’t ask her former partner to pay child support. She worries the mere request would inflame him.

Donna Letchford from Financial Counselling Victoria confirms: “In a lot of cases, after women leave, all they want is to break away from the whole relationship. So sometimes they won't even seek these financial matters, all they want to do is get away.”

At the moment, Daisy - who previously worked in early childhood education - is not employed. She’s decided to take time off to look after her son. 

This is common in the wake of family violence, Letchford explains. 

“Being able to work after you've left a family violence relationship isn't always that easy because of the amount of issues that have occurred. I see women whose focus has got to be on their kids, often who have also been affected. It's not as easy as saying, 'We'll go out and get a job, that will fix it all.' You've got all the other issues that have come as a result of that family violence.”

One month after leaving, Daisy feels proud of the courage she displayed in her decision to walk away. 

The reality of leaving an abusive relationship in 2020 can’t and won’t be exactly encapsulated in one woman’s story. That would ignore the nuances and the complexities that exist in every case of domestic violence.

Daisy’s story is one story. One victim-survivor among millions of victim-survivors. One successful escape story, amid dozens of women who weren’t able to escape this year. 

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons. 

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.

As part of the Next Chapter program, Commonwealth Bank has created a range of helpful guides and resources about domestic and financial abuse, including a guide about the impact of coronavirus for those experiencing domestic and family violence. 

Proud partner, Commonwealth Bank. Always consider your personal circumstances before acting on financial advice.

Top Comments

topcat066 8 days ago
Reading this article, it is great to see the description of DFV extended beyond the physical abuse.  However, there is even more to it than intimidation and gaslighting.  After leaving an abusive relationship 5 years ago, I discovered articles by Shahida Arabi (Self Care Haven).  It was enormously enlightening and valuable to my recovery understanding all of the behaviours that abusers may use to take control of their victim, and ultimately it is that which allows them to get away with the physical abuse.  Too many victims do not see themselves as in an abusive relationship in the absence of physical abuse.  Please share as her articles cover many different topics within this subject, including what friends and family should understand about what the victim experiences after leaving, and how to survive after abuse.  Here a just a couple of links...https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2016/06/20-diversion-tactics-highly-manipulative-narcissists-sociopaths-and-psychopaths-use-to-silence-you/    https://selfcarehaven.wpcomstaging.com/2016/03/19/5-powerful-self-care-tips-for-abuse-and-trauma-survivors/   Thank you, Theresa 
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