Christmas is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year, but for families living through domestic violence, it is anything but merry.
Someone who knows this all too well is a Sunshine Coast woman who remembers the day she realised her long-term relationship ticked all the boxes of domestic violence.
Jess, whose name has been changed for the purpose of this article, knew her relationship was unhealthy. A mother of young children, she was monitored and controlled by her partner and did not realise the full extent of her situation while she was caught up in it.
“The relationship I was in, when you don’t know the signs and you’re in the middle of it, you don’t know that what you’re experiencing is domestic violence,” Jess tells My Weekly Preview.
“When you are in a relationship that is very abusive, the perpetrator will have you feel like you are crazy or exaggerating or it’s you that is doing something wrong.
“For many years I was called every name under the sun and thought I would never achieve anything.
“When you are in a relationship like that you get very good at hiding the truth because you don’t want anyone to know what’s going on.”
It was not until Jess came across a book called The Purple Book that she saw in black and white what she was experiencing was domestic violence.
“I was very monitored and controlled. I couldn’t have anything on my phone or laptop, so I remember going to a park with this book and looking at all the categories of domestic violence.
“Every category was ticked for me, and I remember just shaking because it was like reading about my own life.
“I binned that book in the park because I couldn’t go home with it and realised I was having to go home to that environment.
“I knew my relationship wasn’t healthy but after I saw it written the way that is was, I started to feel really, really scared. You are always fearful of escalation in behaviour or for your safety and you are walking on eggshells 24/7.”
Jess says while close family and friends raised concerns, the solution was not as simple as just leaving.
“When you’re in the relationship people would be telling you what you need to hear, but you are weighing up so much in your head of the risks of leaving the relationship. It’s so complex and not as easy as just leaving.”
It was Sunshine Coast charity SunnyKids that became a shining light for Jess during her darkest and scariest days, providing and safe shelter for her to leave her abusive relationship and help her young family find their feet.
“When we were in shelter, the way SunnyKids helped me and my children was through the counselling services they provided,” Jess says.
“I had a safe environment to learn about domestic violence and that was a huge shift in my understanding of what had been happening. It was the first safe space I had and I learnt what a healthy relationship was and the signs of an unhealthy one.
“Because I didn’t have that awareness or knowledge of domestic violence, the signs were probably there from the start.”
Jess says SunnyKids has given her the tools to take back control of her life and the person she is today is very different to the woman who entered refuge.
“I still live in fear to an extent but I don’t let it dictate my life like it used to. SunnyKids gave me the tools to build my confidence and independence and showed me I can trust people again.
“You come out of the relationship terrified and you don’t trust anybody because you have just been played, big time.
“It was the first time in a really long time I felt people believed in me again and even though I didn’t believe in me, SunnyKids had a constant [belief] in me and that I could rebuild my life again.”
Jess says while the emotional and financial difficulties take years to overcome, she always knows SunnyKids will be there for her if she needs help again in the future.
“The biggest strength I have found is coming out of the refuge is you are not forgotten when you transition out of SunnyKids refuge.
“They feel like family or friends; I know they are always there for me as I rebuild my life. I know I can always reach out to them for support or guidance.
“It gives a sense of empowerment. They make you feel valued and worthy, and everyone deserves to feel that.”
SunnyKids is currently running its Sunny Xmas for Kids campaign to help the growing number of families across the Sunshine Coast who need support.
“I know firsthand how life-changing and important their work is,” Jess says.
“SunnyKids need the community to support them so they can keep helping families.
“The Christmas period for so many families is anything but merry and I know that from my own experience.
“I’m quite triggered during Christmas time with my own memories. That’s why when Christmas comes around I do my best to create new memories.
“That where SunnyKids shines – they have the tools and resources to help but they need the community support.”
Jess says given the events of the past two years it is more important than ever to help families this festive season.
“I think the past year that we’ve all experienced, SunnyKids need support more than ever and they are going to need more support over the next 12 months.
“You think of what the last year has had with an impact on mental health, the housing crisis, loss of jobs – it was bad before for people living in domestic violence, but it’s really concerning now.”
If you or someone you know is at risk DVConnect offers 24-hour support on 1800 811 811, or phone Lifeline on 13 11 14. You can also contact SunnyKids on 5479 0394. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call 000 immediately.
At a glance
- Since the beginning of the 2021/22 financial year more than 250 DVOs have been lodged at Maroochydore Magistrates Court
- In the 2020/21 year a total of 930 DVO applications were lodged
- Sunshine Coast officers have attended almost 1600 breaches of a DVO in the region in 2021
- In 2020 the total number of DVOs breached was 1639, compared with 1289 in 2019
Source: Queensland Courts and Queensland Crime Statistics
How you can help: support the SunnyKids Christmas campaign
In 2021 SunnyKids has already helped 1598 individuals.
Knowing full well the need for SunnyKids services is increasing, CEO Kathleen Hope believes the next 12 months will be a critical time for vulnerable Sunshine Coast families.
“Sadly, the demand for our services is increasing and as the population grows and the rental market tightens this only serves to add extra pressure on families already doing it tough,” Ms Hope says.
“When children and families need help, they present to SunnyKids eithervia self-referral or referral by schools, agencies or authorities, with the most prominent issues in 2020-21 being domestic and family violence, accommodation and mental health.
“This financial year we saw an increase of 47 per cent in terms of referrals and in order to ensure we can meet this demand and put all the safety nets in place we really need the help of the Sunshine Coast community to ensure that not only do we give these families hope this Christmas, but they can move forward knowing there is support there for all of 2022.”
As part of the Christmas campaign, SunnyKids is hoping to raise $90,000 to support 150 families over Christmas and into 2022.
“For as little as $600, or $50 a month, we are asking people to sponsor a family and really make 2022 a year that is filled with hope and opportunity,” Ms Hope says.
By sponsoring a family, SunnyKids will ensure a child has a gift to open on Christmas Day, and that their family can look forward to a brighter future in 2022.
To pledge your support visit sunnykids.org.au.
Intervention program shows we can all help break the cycle of family violence
Queensland Police play an important role in the intervention of domestic violence.
In life-threatening situations, officers are often first on the scene to a domestic violence call out, or breaches of a court-ordered domestic violence order (DVO).
According to Queensland Courts data, since the beginning of the 2021/22 financial year more than 250 DVOs have been lodged at Maroochydore Magistrates Court. In the previous 12 months a total of 930 were lodged. Meanwhile, according to Queensland Crime Statistics, Sunshine Coast officers have attended almost 1600 breaches of DVOs in 2021. In 2020 the number of breached DVOs was 1639, compared with 1289 in 2019.
As part of Griffith University’s Motivating Action Through Empowerment (MATE) Bystander program, 30 senior Queensland Police Service (QPS) officers recently underwent specialist domestic and family violence training.
The program is designed to respectfully challenge problematic behaviour, encouraging bystanders to be leaders in the prevention of violence.
Assistant Commissioner Brian Codd says the participation of police in the program is valuable in empowering officers to identify and address the full spectrum of problematic behaviours.
“Domestic and family violence, which includes coercive control, is incredibly complex,” he says. “The role our officers can play in the prevention of domestic and family violence is examined in great detail both internally and externally.
“Working closely with sector specialists and academics is incredibly important to ensure that we are considering the latest research and best practice in our training and response.
“The MATE Program is an incredibly respected program and will assist our district officers in continued learning on this constantly evolving issue with the ultimate goal of enhancing the way in which we prevent, disrupt, respond to and investigate domestic and family violence in our communities.
“Our officers can then bring the learnings from this program back to their communities, and further empower the police under their command.”
MATE Bystander director Shaan Ross-Smith says QPS plays a crucial role in identifying, assisting and supporting those involved in domestic and family violence situations.
“The MATE Bystander program at its heart seeks to educate and invite participants to step into their own leadership and contribute to a safe, equal and inclusive world. Working with QPS, we’ll explore what’s ‘below the iceberg’ of domestic violence and highlight the important role we all play in creating safe, equal and inclusive homes, schools, workplaces and communities.”
To find out more visit matebystander.edu.au.