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Beaten & battered or poor & hungry?:

Too many Australian mothers are faced with a 'Sophie's choice' situation when confronted with domestic violence.
By Sherree Clay
Date: January 14 2014
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I was broken and battered from years of abuse, socially isolated and worn down from the constant domestic violence in my life.

To some, domestic violence - or DV as it’s known for short - is just another word to describe an horrific violation of a loved one; but to others, the survivors, the very word can trigger emotions much preferred left in the past.

One never truly recovers from domestic violence.

You can move on, move forward and succeed in life, but it will always haunt you, always cast its shadow. Late at night laying in bed, trying to sleep, remembering the sounds of your own screams, the sounds of the thuds against your head as you recall being beaten, recalling the words of your attacker over and over again, the words of how useless you were, how much of a failure and a burden you had been, remembering the incidents that you thought, ‘this is it, I’m going to die, I won’t see another day’.

Surviving domestic violence means reliving the flash backs and memories of the most horrific and frightening moments of your life for the rest of your life.

Tragically, domestic violence is all too common in Australia and across the world. It is the single biggest killer of women. It is life destroying not only for the women entangled in its toxic clutches, but also for the children who witness and bear the brunt of the assaults.

Not enough is being done to help women like me. If anything we as a nation have wound back the clock, and left the victims the choice of stay and risk their lives or leave and face the extreme humiliation of dire poverty, and the hardships and neglect of living in such a manner.

Changes to Newstart

It all started in 2006. The Government forced new parents onto the Newstart payment once their youngest turned 6 (for couples) and 8 (for singles). Six years later on the same day as her famous misogyny speech, then Prime Minister Gillard launched a shock attack on the single mothers of Australia when the Government announced they had passed legislation to dump 84,000 more single parents (who were previously exempt from the changes due to the grandfathered arrangement) onto Newstart, devastating already struggling families across the nation.

This was not the action of a woman who claimed to be supportive of women’s rights. The policy forced single parents (90% of whom are women) to live and support their children below the poverty line on a payment designed to support a single unemployed person was not a wise move. It was a huge blow for single parents across the nation and an even bigger shock being that it was our first woman Prime Minister who introduced the changes. I believe this cruel measure contributed to the loss of the Labor government in 2013.

Pressure on single parents

The implications of this policy have been devastating.

Increased assistance in forms of charity support has spiked for single parent families, putting many services under strain. According to the Australian Council on Social Services (ACOSS), nearly 600,000 Australian children are living in poverty, with 18,000 children under 12 years homeless, according to the ABS.

Schools in some of the lower socio-economic areas of Australia are now having to supply breakfast and lunch for children who have been skipping school due to no food, or who go to school without food. This assistance is not provided by government but by charities.

It was the straw that broke the camels back for single parent families - and for women trapped in relationships where there is domestic violence, it is even more dire. They are forced to choose between continuing the relationship at the risk of their own personal safety to keep their children fed, clothed and housed or risk the unknown of a life below the poverty line … a life on Newstart.

Pressure on women who suffer domestic violence

When women leave a domestic violence relationship it can be extremely traumatic. Many women suffer simular traits to ‘Stockholm syndrome’ up until they leave. I can only explain this as women trying to survive, forgiving and accepting the abusive behaviour of their partner.

When a woman leaves this controlling environment, it is like being released from a prison where you have been kept and tortured for many years, the ongoing physiological affects and trauma can be incredibly difficult to deal with.

I know myself I somehow was convinced during my relationship that I could not survive without this man in my life. I was convinced that I was to unable to support myself, incapable of doing anything right and I was more frightened of leaving and failing my children than staying and being beaten and strangled.

It takes a long time to recover from such a relationship. To deal with poverty on top of recovery is far too difficult for some women to cope with.

Impact of changes to Newstart

On Newstart, victims of domestic violence cannot afford medication or psychology appointments (only a small amount of visits per year is paid for by government). It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to afford to run a car. There is not enough money to buy enough food to sustain a healthy diet; no sport for the kids; no birthday parties; no clothing; no money for public transport; there is not even enough coming in to cover basic bills. Without outside assistance a vulnerable mother is likely to end up homeless under the Newstart policy.

Many women who are survivors of domestic violence have expressed the same view when it comes to Newstart. They feel a similar level of abuse, control and neglect from their own government, not least because when these changes were implemented, they were done so in a manner that publicly shamed, stigmatised and vilified our most vulnerable women. It was done the same way in which an abusive partner implements his verbal assaults. The message was clear from the government: that these women were lazy, a drain on society, bludgers and living off the taxpayers’ dollar.

The Newstart policy has destroyed lives and families.

I have heard over the past year many stories of women who have been forced out of their studies, women who have given up their children because they cannot afford to support them, women who have had breakdowns under the pressure and have needed medication and psychological support as a direct result of Newstart poverty.

There are women who go without food, basic sanitary items, medical assistance and other life necessities; women who have gone homeless; women who have lost essential amenities such as phone, internet or power; women who have tried self harm’ and even women who have taken their own lives. Some women have returned to abusive relationships – which is the worst outcome.

Unless you’ve been in the situation like me, you cannot imagine what a tough choice it is for a woman to be driven back to their abusive partners to avoid poverty. In my view, the outcomes will be more tragedy due to domestic violence. Any government that continues to support the current Newstart policy has the blood of domestic violence on their hands.

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Helen Walker says: 2014 01 14

Also when your child turns 13 and choose who they want to live with.  If the go back they are alienated from you as he lies to them so they blame you for what has happened, he controls them.  They do not go to school if they do not want to he is totally irresponsible.  You do not know what is going except that the abuse is still going on.  So they are at risk, telephone conversations are controlled.  You go to court if your lucky to get legal aide, you but they won’t help as they are of an age to choose.  You   loose children to him.  You left him because he was abusing you and the children.  You are no better off, as he has the children and you cannot protect them from his abuse and you think of them day and night.  It is like they are dead you feel grief and pain for what you have lost, but also you know when you do see them you can hold them.  I can talk to them once a week and if I am lucky see them once a fortnight.

Superwoman says: 2014 01 14

Too true Helen and he will have manipulated the financial situation so he has better accommodation than you have. He will have manipulated you into doing certain things to avoid wasting money on legal fees knowing you would rather have that $25,000 or so available for tertiary education rather than go to solicitors. Then he will fail to keep his side of the bargain and screw you over and there is nothing you can do except spend that money to fight for your rights anyway. The positive bit is when they work it all out (if they have survived)and come back to you. Now the ex is getting no tax benefit from the kids to help pay off their mortgage they don’t really care, so you are up for all the tertiary expenses unless you have a spare $25,000 to take them to court over that. Of course you care more about the kids and the money goes to them because you cannot put their life on hold for years while you battle things out in court. Meantime the ex has spare rooms for family and guests while you have had to sublet your home to survive, and now live under someone else’s stairs.

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