Rachel* beamed with pride as Olivia, just shy of six years of age, went off for her first day of school in her slightly oversized uniform. That same week, they moved into their new home.
Five years ago - in a desperate attempt to preserve their lives – Rachel packed up her 12-month-old baby girl and fled Olivia’s father.
“I knew I had to leave before I ended up dead, or before Olivia ended up dead. He was making threats saying he would kill her, then me, and then himself,” said Rachel.
“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.”
Heartbroken, Rachel and Olivia moved from place to place, but each time Olivia’s father found them. They moved out of Sydney, but again, he showed up. Everybody she knew, he knew. And while family and friends tried to protect them, their homes were no longer safe.
“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. Once he was out, he was paying people for information on where I was.”
“One night, he came and turned off my power. As I went to go out the front door I could see him coming round from the power box. After that, I moved to BaptistCare.”
Rachel’s friend, a previous tenant in BaptistCare HopeStreet’s supported accommodation, told her about our service for women and children escaping violence, saying ‘these guys will really help you, it’s not safe here.’
In a secure location, BaptistCare HopeStreet’s housing includes 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. This often provides the first independence and security they’ve experienced in some time.
Stressed and anxious, Rachel was always looking over her shoulder. And she wasn’t the only one deeply suffering. “Some say children don’t understand what’s going on when they are young, but they do.”
“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.
“BaptistCare helped me a lot mentally to get to know myself again. You know, to be the best mama I could possibly be.”
Both mother and daughter experienced severe separation anxiety. Rachel had never let her little girl out of her sight. She 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.”
“Before, if she was in bed with me, he wouldn’t come in and attack me because I had her in my arms. Olivia was sleeping in my bed up until I moved in to BaptistCare.”
BaptistCare HopeStreet team member, Jenny, said it was a very anxious little girl she first met hiding behind her mum. “Olivia displayed anxious and introverted behaviour. She wouldn’t look at you, and was difficult to engage.”
With the gentle encouragement of BaptistCare HopeStreet staff, Rachel put Olivia into playgroups, then preschool. There were some tough moments for both mum and child.
“I’d come back from drop off bawling my eyes out, and Jenny would give me a big cuddle. I was a mess,” said Rachel.
“To see Olivia respond though, she’s blossomed so much. She’s just the most beautiful little girl. She’s talkative and confident.”
Jenny has witnessed both Olivia and Rachel step into their true selves. “Olivia’s language, vocabulary, and interaction with both children and adults has greatly improved. She plays now.”
“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.”
From someone who was once living in fear for her life, Jenny says Rachel has become an open book and has made strong connections. Rachel herself says the support has helped immensely. “Even now, I went in to see Jenny today, she gave me a cuddle and some things for Olivia to start school with. She said if I ever need anything, they’re there for me.”
BaptistCare HopeStreet’s response is based on the unique needs of the women and children. Their safety is first and foremost. 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.
Beyond a new home and a driver’s license, this year Rachel will also undergo life-changing surgery. “When I fell pregnant, Olivia’s father didn’t let me get any prenatal care, so I didn’t get an ultrasound until two weeks before Olivia was born,” said Rachel.
During labour, Rachel went into organ failure caused by untreated pre-eclampsia. Ever since, the damaged organ has toxified her body; surgery will remove it.
“Leaving was the best thing I ever did for myself and Olivia. I got to know who I truly am, and my worth.”
All women and children have a right to live a life free from violence. Will you help us? Your generous support will help us continue to provide safety, support and vital services to women and children fleeing violence.
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.
*Names have been changed. Images are for illustration purposes.