real life

'When I was experiencing family violence, I hoped my neighbours would help me. But nobody did.'

This story discusses domestic abuse. 

As I watch the news with horror that more women — currently one woman every four days — are being allegedly murdered by men known to them, one thought continues to repeat in my mind: That could have been me.

I thought I was going to die after I told my husband our marriage was over. He left the house in a fury and returned to find I had locked him out. He broke through a deadlock, a bolt and a chain, shearing from its frame the heavy front door of our terrace house. He strode through the debris, threatening me as I ran to the telephone. 

My voice was eerily calm as I replied to the police officer, in a recording I have since heard. I was on autopilot: trapped in a long-running cycle of violence, where I was repeatedly wooed, isolated, punished, and ignored. The years of psychological, social, financial and religious abuse had exhausted my capacity to resist. The physical violence and weapon throwing was always worse when he was drunk, had lost at gambling or felt slighted; so telling him to go was like a red flag to this bull-shaped man. 

I no longer cared what he might do to me.

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My child and I survived this incident thanks to the police and my perpetrator's self-obsession. In the hours after police removed my husband from the house — and before I could find a court to apply for an Interim Intervention Order — he returned and took our two cars. As property meant more to him than people, our toddler remained forgotten and safe in the nearby childcare centre until the locksmith had changed the locks and I could safely collect him.

This certainly wasn't the first time my husband had been violent or abusive. Although predominantly reserved for me, sometimes his extreme anger issues erupted in public; like the time he had to be thrown off a flight, or the awful occasion when a hotel manager had to place himself in front of a trembling concierge.

But he always saved his worst for me and made sure he wore his charming mask in our local community.

Curiously, after the door incident, none of my neighbours came by to ask if I was okay. Some had seen emergency vehicles in our street, and some had even been interviewed by police. Surely the next-door neighbours who were home had heard the door frame breaking? 

These educated, wealthy professionals chatted easily about renovating heritage listed homes and the next game at the nearby Melbourne Cricket Ground. Did they think what had happened behind my closed doors was none of their business?

I will never know. I was deeply ashamed that our dirty little secret had become known. 


I fled that suburb — and several more — seeking safety. But moving houses was not enough to stop my ex-husband's coercive control. He spent the next 12 years weaponising systems and services — and our disabled child. He sabotaged the precious mother-child relationship with brainwashing, bribery, threats and intimidation. I now know these are common tactics perpetrators use to maintain control and continue their abuse, long after the victim has fled the relationship.

I look back on the 20 years of my ex-husband's domestic warfare and wonder: who was nearby and could have helped? Neighbours of the six residences where I lived during that time could have made a difference, simply by chatting. But none did. 

It sounds so simple, but human connection can keep women and children safe and alive.

Luckily for us, a young mum at the playgroup saw I was struggling and offered support. After I shared the police incident with her, she started delivering hot meals to my doorstep at dusk. My bell would ring and by the time I opened the repaired door, all I could see were her car lights in the distance. This woman's 'meals on wheels' were a lifeline to me that said, "I believe you and I am here to help". Her practical care and gentle humour wore down my wariness. I eventually found a way forward because of the simple care shown by this stranger who became a friend.

The murder and maiming of women is a national social emergency requiring immediate action by every Australian. We can end the preventable deaths and harm caused by family violence if we all share responsibility for implementing the solutions.


Tania Farha is the CEO of Safe and Equal. She says that if you're worried a neighbour might be experiencing family violence, the best way you can support them is to let them know you're a safe person to talk to or seek help from.

"If you don't know the person well, start by being friendly and saying hello, or stopping for a chat. Building those relationships can make someone more comfortable to approach you in the future," Farha says.

"If you feel comfortable, and when it is safe to do so, invite them over for a cuppa and gently share some of the things that are worrying you. Always listen without judgement, and believe what they tell you. Let them know you’re there for whatever they need."

This could include practical help with errands and childcare, agreeing on a code word or signal for when they need help, or support to reach out to a specialist family violence service. 

"Importantly, if someone is in immediate danger, always call Triple Zero (000) — do not attempt to intervene as you may put yourself at risk of harm. Always remember, you don't have to be an expert. Even with the smallest of actions, you can make a huge difference to someone experiencing abuse."

If someone you know is experiencing family violence, please don't think it's a "private matter" or none of your business. It is your business, and you have a really important role to play. You can do something to change lives and help end family violence, just by asking, listening, and believing. If you're worried about someone, you can ask her if she is safe at home. If she fears for her safety, believe her. Then, ask her how you can help.


It can be scary to approach the conversation, but the Are You Safe At Home? initiative has plenty of useful resources and guides, including a conversation tip sheet and links to support services in every state and territory.

Let us work to end this epidemic of domestic terrorism right where it begins: in our homes and in our communities. Being an ally and reaching out to a woman in your world could make all the difference. She could be the one in three who is experiencing family violence, and such a simple act could save her life.

Katie Alexander is a lived experience advocate and member of the Victorian Government's Victim Survivors' Advisory Council.

If this has raised 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.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here

Feature Image: Supplied.

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