It’s an ongoing question, why doesn’t she just leave him?
Dig deeper and you’ll find for many victims a lack of financial support and resources are the reasons they can’t escape.
Annabelle Daniel OAM, CEO, Women's Community Shelters, says a woman living in an abusive or coercive control relationship will often experience financial abuse from a partner.
She is often prevented from working or, if she has a job, her partner may coerce her into debt or take money for their own purposes.
“These factors can really disable a woman’s ability to extract themselves from an abusive relationship,” Daniel said.
On average, it takes seven attempts to leave a domestic violence situation.
“In our experience, when a woman has access to financial resources, it may only take three attempts to leave,” Daniel said.
“Those who lack financial resources or social networks can actually take up to 30 attempts to leave.”
Netflix series 'Maid' highlights challenges
The lack of money is continually highlighted throughout the hit Neflix series, Maid.
The story revolves around young mother Alex and her child, Maddy, as Alex tries to leave a domestic violence situation.
With only $18 to her name, she escapes. It’s barely enough money for petrol to get her to a women’s shelter. To survive, she struggles to find work and care for her daughter.
Maria Smith*, 49, has a story too. After years of being financially trapped, she planned her escape from her abuser in 2013, with three kids in tow.
“It took years to build up the courage to finally leave. I was so fearful of not surviving financially and also worried about my children,” Smith said.
She had tried numerous times previously to leave. The final time took six months’ planning.
“Like many women, I kept telling myself to wait until the youngest was 18, but in the end I couldn’t,” she said.
“He continually threatened me, if I ever left he would destroy me, making sure I got nothing. True to his word, he tried everything. It was hell for many years.”
The first thing Smith knew she had to do was to start squirreling away money and open a bank account.
She said she was fortunate to have a job. She asked her employer to deposit any bonuses into her new bank account. In addition, any spare cash - even $5 or $10 - she would stash away into the bank.
“This is really important to do. I was petrified hiding it,” she said.
”I couldn’t have the bank app on my phone as he constantly checked my phone. I used a girlfriend’s address so no mail came to our house.
“Slowly, over six months, I had saved a few thousand dollars to help escape.”
Financial dependence a major barrier
Financial dependence can be crippling and often the DV perpetrator knows this and uses it to control.
“If I had the funds and felt confident I could survive and support my children on my own [I would have] left a lot earlier,” Smith said.
“But like so many women, I lived in fear and believed my ex-husband when he said I wouldn’t be able to survive without him.”
Eventually, Smith was able to move.
“He continued threatening to destroy me and take everything I love off me,” she said.
“He no longer controls me but he did try to control my children as a way of getting back at me.”
Annabelle Daniel reminds that the point of leaving is often the most dangerous time, particularly if the abuser is controlling or dangerous.
On leaving, this may be the only chance to reach out to a service or go somewhere safe.
“It’s incredibly important, in that moment when women come in, we help them to navigate a variety of systems, from Medicare, Centrelink, also housing and police justice,” Daniel said.
“All these have to interact within a moment of crisis, and that’s why support is so essential.“
When English isn’t their first language, some abusive partners use visa status or a lack of understanding on how the Australian system works as a way to intimidate.
“They deliberately misinform their partner about what they’re entitled to and what help is available,” Daniel said.
$5,000 for women fleeing violence
The Australian Government has provided funding for domestic violence, via its new Escaping Violence Payment, which provides up to $1,500 in immediate cash and a further $3,500 for goods or direct payments of bonds, school fees, etc.
The concern Daniel has with the package is its accessibility.
“It’s a bureaucratic process to get the funds,” she said.
“In a moment of crisis, we require the funds to be immediately available and not to have to jump through hoops when you’re already navigating other systems as well.”
Daniel is pleading for an easier process.
“A number of our services have written to the Social Services Minister, requesting to simplify the process.,” she said.
“When a person needs assistance and is connected with a professional domestic and family violence organisation, they need the funds immediately and we can confirm we are assisting her.”
The last word goes to Smith.
“Always have financial independence, or at least the ability to survive financially on your own,” she said.
“Continue working, at least part time. If you are not working whilst raising your children, keep your skills up so you can get a job should the need arise.”
*Not her real name
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