Warning: This story includes sensitive material on domestic violence and loss.
We know that intimate partner violence in Australia is a leading contributor to illness, disability and premature death for women aged 18-441. At the hands of her young daughter’s father, Rachel* experienced both illness and disability - and narrowly escaped death - her unborn daughter, however, didn’t.
“When I was 21 weeks pregnant, we got into a physical altercation. He bashed me and I lost my baby. That was a big wake up call. I’d probably be dead today if that hadn’t happened. It made me leave,” said Rachel.
Five years ago, Rachel packed up her 12-month-old baby girl and fled. “I knew I had to leave before I ended up dead, or before Olivia* ended up dead.”
Olivia’s father followed and made a violent attempt on their lives before being charged and sentenced to jail. “When I first left, he found out where we were living and came round to kill us. He went to jail for assaulting me then.”
Despite the AVO, he continued searching for them after his release.
“Once he was out, I found out he was paying people for information on where I was.”
During this time, Rachel was battling her own health issues. “When I fell pregnant with Olivia, her father didn’t let me get any prenatal care, so I didn’t get an ultrasound until two weeks before she was born.”
Rachel went into organ failure during labour caused by untreated pre-eclampsia. The result; a toxic organ she is currently on a waitlist to have removed.
One night, Rachel saw her ex coming round from the power box, after cutting the power to her new home. Rachel’s friend, a previous tenant in BaptistCare HopeStreet’s supported accommodation, told her about how the service helps women and children rebuild their lives after violence.
The drawcard of the service is its secure location and significant security measures that include security monitoring and cameras.
On arrival, women and children are given their own self-contained unit, a key to the unit, and everything they need to feel at home, including food, toys, linen and furniture.
BaptistCare HopeStreet’s response is based on the unique needs of the women and their children - the majority aged from two to nine years - newborn to 17 years are accepted. Their safety is first and foremost.
The security gave Rachel the space to assess the damage the years of fear had caused. “Olivia was just 12 months old when I left. She didn’t start talking until she was almost four because of trauma-related experiences from when she was little,” said Rachel.
Both mother and daughter experienced severe separation anxiety. Rachel admits Olivia should have started school last year, but didn’t put her in due to threats on her life if they were ever to leave.
“Because I knew he wouldn’t know where we were, I was able to start slowly pushing that boundary,” she said.
“Before, if she was in bed with me, he wouldn’t come in and attack me. Olivia was sleeping in my bed up until I moved into BaptistCare. They helped me a lot mentally to get to know myself again. You know, to be the best mama I could possibly be.”
BaptistCare HopeStreet support includes meeting weekly with a support worker, counselling, attending group and parenting programs, financial literacy and budgeting, No Interest Loans, and an early intervention program for the school-aged children, who have often experienced significant trauma, violence and chaos in their family life.
With the gentle encouragement of BaptistCare HopeStreet staff, Rachel put Olivia into playgroups, then preschool. “It was so hard. Some days, I’d be bawling after drop off and Jenny, in the office, would give me a hug. To see Olivia respond though, she’s blossomed so much. She’s just the most beautiful little girl. She’s talkative and confident,” said Rachel.
BaptistCare HopeStreet’s team member, Jenny, also saw the transformation. “On arrival, Olivia displayed anxious and introverted behaviour. She was difficult to engage. Now Olivia’s language, vocabulary, and interaction with both children and adults has greatly improved,” said Jenny.
“As for Rachel, her resolve and resilience is so strong. She’s got herself a No Interest Loan for driving lessons, she’s worked hard and got herself out of debt, she’s had counselling.”
Women typically stay for nine to 18 months before moving on to long-term private rental or government housing. Their self-esteem and confidence comes with the opportunity and support to rebuild their lives, reach their full potential and experience a life free from violence.
Earlier this year, Rachel and Olivia moved out of BaptistCare HopeStreet’s supported accommodation and into their new home. That same week Olivia started her schooling.
All women and children have a right to live a life free from violence. Will you help us?
If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic or family violence, please call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or ACT Domestic Violence Crisis 24-hour Service line on 6280 0900. In an emergency, call 000.