On 8 March, International Women’s Day will be celebrated around the world.
At Save the Children, we’re marking it by hearing from some of the bold, brave women we’ve been lucky enough to meet on our travels.
In Queensland, Save the Children runs five domestic and family violence refuges and two mobile support services. They offer women and their children a place to go when they need to get out of an unsafe environment.
Kylie knows what it’s like to be in a violent relationship. She knows how complex it is, how hard it can be to leave. In the end, it was her son – and the thought that he could lose his mum – that gave her the strength to find a way out.
This is Kylie's story, in her own words:
Since being through domestic violence, I’ve used my story to help other women.
Shame was a big thing for me when I first left. I thought there was something wrong with me for it to happen. How could I love someone so much and they treat me as badly as they did? But I’m not ashamed anymore. In the end it was just a realisation that it wasn’t anything I did. It was his choices. And I couldn’t change that.
I think a lot of my strength now comes from sharing my story. It has helped in my healing process. Your bruises heal. Bones repair themselves. But the emotional abuse was the hardest to recover from … when somebody pulls you apart every day and tells you how worthless you are or picks on your appearance.
That’s something that takes a long time to rebuild.
A lot people look at it and just go, "If I was ever hit, I would just walk away." But violence is much more complicated than that … it can start out so subtle and you don’t even realise it’s happening.
It becomes your normal.
I’d wanted out for a while because I knew things weren’t going to change … he was extremely violent, and it was getting worse. But I didn’t quite know how. The last violent incident happened when I had just turned 30. It started the day after and went for two days. It was at that point where it was, "I just can’t do this anymore." I didn’t want my son to grow up without a mum. I needed out, otherwise I wouldn’t be alive today.
There’s a lot of planning in leaving and for me it was a milestone. I’d been with him for ten years.
The police directed me to an organisation and it was my domestic violence counsellor there that connected me with the ladies at Save the Children’s refuge.
I didn’t know much about the women’s refuge at the time. But when I got there, it was just like "wow"… you felt safe. And it’s a choice I would make again – to go. I was at the refuge for around six months. Once I settled in, it felt like home. It gave me the chance to decide "where to next?"
The ladies were absolutely wonderful with the support. If I just needed somebody to talk to about what was going on, they were there to listen. Which is really important, cause I’ve found when people ask you what’s happened in your life and you go, "oh, I’ve just left a domestic violence relationship", they all just want to go run and hide because they don’t know what to say to you.
There’s still a lot of judgement around it cause they don’t understand it’s not as easy as just walking out the door. Having somebody to talk to that understands and doesn’t judge you for the decisions that you’ve made is really important in the healing process.
At the refuge, my son had kids to play with and he just thought that was the best because he just really enjoyed the interaction and having children to play with and somewhere safe.
We used to come down to this park after we moved into refuge. It’s very peaceful. It’s just got that relaxed vibe … and I could build the bond back between me and my son, which was lost and damaged from the domestic violence.
I never realised, even though he didn’t see a lot of it, he still overheard a lot. His behaviours were really concerning me. He has come a long way. Now he’s not angry … he doesn’t have the nightmares he used to.
It is hard to leave. It’s one of the hardest decisions you will ever make.
And it’s not an easy journey, to rebuild. It definitely – it had its struggles. But when you can get to a point like I have in my journey and look back on what you were living through on a daily basis to what you are now, it’s just like, yeah. It is possible.
It's not always two feet forward, sometimes you just have to take it day by day. But there is a lot of support there, to help you through when you’re not strong enough to do it yourself.
I think that violence – family and domestic violence has to stop. It doesn’t make the person stronger or anything like that … I think that, as a society, we need to talk more about it, even if it does make you uncomfortable, we need to start addressing it. It’s not something we can just brush under the carpet anymore.
I’m more relaxed as time goes by … it’s just belief in myself that I can do this. I can keep myself safe. I’ve got everything in place.
Just because I was in a domestic violence relationship, it doesn’t define who I am.
There’s normality back in my life. When I first went to refuge, it was day by day. Some days it was more like hour by hour – how am I going to get through the day? But since I’ve had the time to heal, it’s made it a lot easier to move forward.
And my little one’s settled, which is really important to me.
If you or a friend are experiencing domestic or family violence, DVConnect Womensline offers free support, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Calls to 1800 811 811 are free.