To honor the work of Toora Women’s Inc in Canberra over the past 40 years, we are sharing the stories of the women they have helped. Please note that this story contains details about domestic and family violence.
In a backyard in a leafy suburb of Canberra, Leanne talks about a trip she took to China to visit her family four years ago.
Leaving her eight-month-old son in the care of her husband and in-laws, Leanne flew to her hometown – she didn’t know her husband had an ulterior motive when he encouraged her to do the travel.
Once Leanne was overseas, he burst into her email and withdrew her application for permanent residency with the Australian government. This, she says, was the start of a pattern of emotional, financial and physical abusive behavior that seemed to spring up out of nowhere.
Stranded in China with her ability to return to Australia uncertain, Leanne had no choice but to find a job to save for a flight to Australia.
“I was very vulnerable. I did not have a permanent visa. It’s when the [abuse] started,” she said. Her mother even hid her passport, fearing for her daughter’s well-being in Australia.
“She didn’t understand why I wanted to come back. She said to herself, why would I want to come back when I was confronted with this kind of family? But I wanted to come back to my son.
After four months, Leanne finally had enough money for a flight to Australia and returned to her son and husband in Canberra on a visitor’s visa, only for the abuse to turn physical.
“My husband was very stressed about paying his mortgages and making me apologize for his tenants being late while he was slapping me,” she says.
Leanne became pregnant again and the abuse escalated, culminating when her husband flew into a violent rage after lending a friend eczema cream.
Leanne’s poor mental health was identified during one of her prenatal appointments, but despite concern from her healthcare providers, she was reluctant to act.
“My mental health score was low so they asked me if I wanted to speak to one of their social workers. They suggested that I separate from my husband, but I really thought everything would be better after the baby was born.
After another physical altercation, Leanne’s husband moved into his parents’ house, asking his father to move in with Leanne and their son. Leanne says her stepfather controlled her daily activities and “wouldn’t let us go out for long periods of time.”
One night, his stepfather accused Leanne, who was heavily pregnant, of being too rough with his young son and physically attacked him. Leanne called the police.
“I was so scared. I thought, ‘There’s too much violence in this family,'” Leanne says quietly. myself.
Leanne was helped by Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT to find emergency housing and apply for a domestic violence order and was then connected with Toora Women’s Inc. For Leanne, this was a turning point.
“I have been living in Toora accommodation for a year now. I don’t need to see my ex-husband and my kids are happy and going to daycare… I’m so lucky.
“Toora gives women a place to live and makes them stronger. We have support, we have a place to live, we can be brave, and we can protect our children. Without Toora, we would be in darkness.
However, that doesn’t mean Leanne has completely escaped her ex-husband’s influence.
“The court cases are ongoing and my ex-husband is refusing to pay child support so the abuse continues. Now he is trying to use the system to abuse me.
Leanne says she is very aware that without services like DVCS and Toora, women like her without family in Australia may choose to stay in an unsafe home rather than venture out on their own.
“I’m alone, I don’t have anyone else here,” she says. “I would have been homeless or I would have remained in this situation.”
Now Leanne sees the future clear ahead of her. She plans to study disability care or elder care and further develop the community that has grown in times of need.
“My project is to work in community services. I get so much from the community and from Toora. I feel very warm – everyone has helped and supported me, so I want to do something for the community. I want to give back.
We asked Kellie Friend, CEO of Toora, what she wants the community to know about domestic and family violence in Canberra.
“These issues run deep in our society and, simply because Canberra enjoys above-average access to education and income, domestic and family violence does not discriminate and permeates all socio-economic groups. economics of our community,” she said.
Kellie also seeks to remind the community that while the common understanding of domestic and family violence is ‘wife battering’, it is also ‘coercive control where a person’s choices and freedoms are taken away, financial control where a person’s ability to earn or access money is controlled in a way that limits freedoms, this is sexual abuse and control, where a person’s right to consent is taken away, it is verbal and psychological where a person’s self-esteem is eroded and often represents a complex combination of several of these”.
Of course, although statistics confirm that most domestic and family violence is perpetrated by men, this is not always the case and support for male victims and perpetrators of domestic and family violence is also available.
Finally, Kellie asks us to remind the community not to keep services like Toora secret. Tell your family, colleagues and friends about it.
If Toora supports over 500 women every year, you might know someone who hasn’t contacted her yet.