Family violence is the single biggest cause of homelessness in Victoria. To coincide with the UN’s 16 Days of Activism (25 Nov to 10 Dec) and this year’s #OrangetheWorld campaign, we have chosen to share Melissa’s story in the hope that together we can create lasting social change around domestic violence and homelessness. The following is a fraction of what Melissa experienced over five years. During this period, Melissa experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse by her partner and homelessness with her two kids.
**Content warning: This story contains themes that some readers may find distressing. **
By Melissa, family violence survivor
“Family violence doesn’t discriminate. It can happen at any age. It doesn’t define you.
I come from a European Australian heritage. I worked hard and enjoyed a party lifestyle until my mid-30s. I’d had enough and wanted to settle down. That’s when I met my abuser. At first, he was charming and kind, I thought I found my Mr Right. Within a year I fell pregnant, that’s when it all changed, that’s when the emotional abuse and controlling behaviour started.
He didn’t like me spending time with anyone. If I went out there’d be hundreds of txt messages and calls; he would stalk me and leave my car windscreens wipers up, and deny it was him and would say I imagined things. At a point, I had to start taking photos of where and who I was with and send them to him as he didn’t believe me.
While pregnant with our second child, the emotional abuse got worse. I became very socially isolated. I didn’t leave the house as I suffered high anxiety and depression. He accused me of having an affair and told everyone it wasn’t his child. After our second child was born, I later found out that during my pregnancy he had an affair.
I felt so betrayed, the pain and hurt, I was angry and wanted him out of our lives, but he worked his charm and said he was ‘sorry’, and that it ‘would never happen again. He loved us and wanted his family to be together’ He ‘planned to buy a house for all of us to start a new life together’ and would mumble under his breath to me ‘don’t worry, you’ll see what’s coming to you. ’ He bought a property an hour away in the country and we moved in together for the first time.
Within the first week of living together, he started to say things like ‘short stay for you and our son, this is mine and our daughters’ home’. This was the start of the physical abuse. We would argue and fight daily; he liked throwing objects at me, especially bottles.
This one argument got really heated, I fell hard into the bench and thought I broke my ribs. I’ll never forget that immense feeling of fear and shock as I watched him walk straight over me smirking and laughing, terrified I managed to leave with my youngest child.
At that time I didn’t know what to do. I had nowhere to go. I was in total disbelief…I was worried about my oldest child, so I went back to the house and to him. After I returned, he would say “his house, his rules” and I was never allowed to take my oldest out of the house by myself.
I felt like I had sold my soul to the devil. Fires. At night, I remember, candles were always lit inside, and the light from the fireplace. He’d drink every night around the fire burning outside.
Each night I would have to have sex with him; I didn’t want to, I would medicate myself to numb the pain…I’d always feel so dirty afterwards, in the shower crying while scrubbing my skin so hard to clean myself…this happened for months.
I was living in constant fear, walking on egg shells. Living second by second. I was afraid and terrified Thinking, how is he going to be today? Whenever he’d leave, he’d lock the gate behind him. When I was told to go out to the shops, he’d time me. I’d wake up each morning at 3am gasping for breath.
It felt like hell. I remember the voices in my head trying make sense of it all, I felt like I was going crazy, all the abuse had torn me down. All I knew was I needed to find a way to leave. I started to research websites on safety plans and escaping, and each time I planned to leave it’s like he knew and would stay home.
Finally, after months of isolation I was given permission to take both kids to a family celebration, with a strict curfew. Excited, I packed a bag for the day and took this as my opportunity to also pack our identity documents.
I made it to my family’s happy that for just a few hours I could escape my hell and pretend life was good. Enjoying being in the moment with family I hadn’t realised the time, it was a few minutes past curfew when the abusive text messages started, I felt numb, immense fear and panic set in.
I called Safe Steps and did an assessment over the phone. I’ll never forget the response from the operator ‘You’re high risk. We can get you into accommodation now. If you go home tonight there is a chance you might not be here tomorrow.’
I remember the room going white; my ears ringing. This is the moment it hit me how seriously life threatening and dangerous my situation had become. I left, went into crisis accommodation with only the bag I had packed and my two kids.
That week? There are no words to describe the pain, fear, shame, worthlessness, guilt, loneliness and disbelief. That lost in transit feeling… while at the crisis site I heard so many horror stories, from so many other women who had escaped too. It was horrific.
With the help from police, I got an interim intervention order (IVO) with both my kids on it; I eventually received a final order for two years.
After a week in Safe Steps, we were homeless. My only option was to couch surf between friends. During this time, I had a fall and broke both my legs. I went to hospital; had surgery; started rehabilitation. I worked hard to recover quickly with two weekly sessions, three hours each and recovered in 4.5 months instead of 6-18 months.
I didn’t know anything about housing or specialist support services for women and was referred by the hospital into a support services, and after some time I got into transitional housing.
(Image via Unsplash. Melissa chose this image to represent her story.)
Due to other incidents that happened between my abuser (the father) and my oldest child, I was referred into homelessness children’s support services. I felt what happened to my child was my fault…I felt guilt and shame.
I never saw myself as a victim; I just always saw myself as someone trying to deal with it…life and that I was alone. Engaging with support services, participating in programs, surrounding myself with community and support groups for women with similar experiences. I realised I wasn’t alone, there is more to life, it makes me feel empowered.
The road to healing and recovery from abuse was difficult, once I started to work on myself to discover my truths and life’s lessons learned, I got my power back, my self-worth. I’m a survivor, a fighter, and I will continue to grow and thrive because I turned my worst, horrific experience into the best thing that happened to me.
I am currently studying for a Diploma of Community Services. I want to drive change by sharing my story, to inspire and empower those without a voice. I believe I have a purpose to help women and children who have lived with family violence to not let that experience define them because you are not alone, you are someone and you are worthy.”
Family and domestic violence support services:
1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114
Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
If you are at risk of, or experiencing homelessness please call Opening Doors 1800 825 955.