Life after domestic violence

4 min read

Alongside Rosie Batty, domestic violence ambassador Kay Schubach is fighting to put the clichés around domestic violence to rest. She shares how she escaped an abusive relationship and rebuilt her life. 

“No matter where you live, family violence exists in every pocket of every neighbourhood. It doesn’t discriminate and it’s across all sections of our society. Family violence may happen behind closed doors, but it needs to be brought out from these shadows and into broad daylight.” These words were spoken by Rosie Batty when she accepted her title as Australian of the Year in 2015. Despite Rosie’s best efforts to stop the “epidemic”, the rates of domestic violence in this country continue to climb.

The latest statistics from ANROWS show that one in four women and one in 20 men have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner. And while these statistics are startling, and the story of Luke Batty’s murder is known nationwide, there’s still a considerable lack of understanding around the nature of domestic violence in this country – particularly who it affects. Many wrongly believe that domestic violence refers only to physical violence, but in reality it’s any form of abusive, intimidating or controlling behaviour in a relationship.

As a woman who escaped an abusive relationship and who is now a domestic violence ambassador, Kay Schubach echoes Rosie’s sentiments. “Domestic violence can happen to anyone,” she says. “There are still a lot of people who find it distasteful, and think that it only happens in lower socioeconomic groups or with people who are affected by various drug, alcohol or financial stresses. Domestic violence is about power and control, and an imbalance in a relationship, and that can happen to anyone.”

The barriers

Speaking from her own experiences living in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, Kay says the social clichés and the assumptions around who is affected by domestic violence create a huge barrier for people who need help. “In higher socioeconomic groups it’s more insidious, and there’s a lot of pressure to maintain the status quo,” she says. “A woman could be struggling in her relationship and try to reach out, but there’s pressure to keep quiet because the lifestyle is good. It’s an attitude that it’s worth it for the financial rewards, but it’s never worth it.”

Alongside society’s blindness to who is affected, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW, Moo Baulch, says judgement and stigma are another barrier to women and men admitting they need help. She explains, that this is where the role of a good bystander comes in.

How you can help

For someone who is concerned about a friend or loved one, Moo offers three pieces of advice. “They may not be ready to leave, so the best thing you can do is to be there as support and offer to help with practical things. Remain non-judgemental and be available. It can take a lot to leave. And lastly, understand that while you may have a set vision of how you think this should play out, being on the outside is different.”

Kay adds that it’s also important that bystanders are aware of the red flags and understand that domestic violence isn’t only limited to physical abuse. “It comes down to an imbalance of power,” she explains. “It could be someone keeping a woman under surveillance, monitoring what they spend their money on tracking the kilometres they’ve covered in their car.”

How to rebuild

Kay suggests that if more women and men are to come out the other side of domestic violence and have the opportunity to rebuild their lives, in the same way that she has, attitudes in Australia need to change. “I blamed myself for a long time,” she says. “You feel judged that your relationship isn’t as wonderful as it appears. You’re blaming yourself, your partner is blaming you as well, and you’re struggling to fix a problem that can’t be fixed. You feel failure and your self-esteem erodes. It’s a cycle.”

So, what does it take to break that cycle? Kay recommends being open about the situation with friends, seeking outside help from support services such as 1800RESPECT and reading as much domestic violence information as you can. “Reading up helps you to get some perspective on what’s happening,” she says. “Women will try to leave a violent relationship eight times before they are successful. Finding out that’s normal is really helpful.”

For Kay personally, diarising what she was going through was invaluable. “Writing was very healing for me. When my relationship tipped into boiling point and I had to flee, I was ostracised and isolated from my friends. When I looked back at my diary, I realised it wasn’t my fault. To be able to look at that in hindsight was an incredible relief,” she says.

“You can’t underestimate how much better life will be when you’re free from fear,” says Kay. “There are so many tragic cases of people who feel like nobody understands them and that there’s no way out. But you need to have a strategy, keep fighting and taking those steps to freedom, recovery and a life free of fear. There is a better life ahead.”

If you or someone you know needs help in this situation, you can call the police on 000 or the 24/7 domestic violence and sexual assault helpline on 1800 737 732. 

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This information is current as at 16/12/2016.

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