Domestic and family violence: from fear to freedom
Violence behind closed doors
On the surface, eight-year-old Katy’s* life seemed normal. She liked to sing, dance, and FaceTime with her school friends. Behind her cheeky smile and tidy ponytail, no one would have guessed what Katy was facing at home.
Most nights, Katy could hear her dad’s yelling and mum’s screaming. On particularly bad evenings, Katy remembers the sound of plates being thrown around the kitchen.
In those terrifying moments, Katy hid in her bedroom. "Every time mum and dad were fighting, I'd run to my room, shut the door and hide under the blankets," staying quiet under the soft blanket helped put her mind at ease and under the covers felt safer there than anywhere else in the house.
A mother’s desperate decision: Violence or homelessness?
Katy’s mum, Melinda*, felt trapped and alone. Lately, the violent times in her relationship outweighed the good. Each angry outburst and verbal attack made her regret her choices, but she endured the pain and abuse hoping to provide a home for Katy.
But Melinda knew she had to leave when her partner threatened Katy.
Unsure of where to go for help, she thought to herself, ‘Anywhere is better than a violent home.’.
Melinda hastily packed essential items in her car – including Katy’s favourite toys – hugged her daughter tightly and made their escape.
The ongoing abuse had left her isolated and with no support. Without family or friends to turn to, Melinda and Katy were forced to spend their first night of freedom cramped in their car.
From homeless to safety
Melinda thought sleeping in the car would be temporary until she could find somewhere affordable and permanent. Long wait-lists for public housing and a lack of affordable options made her second-guess her decision to leave.
Katy tried her best to put on a brave face for her mum but as the nights grew colder, and the weeks dragged on, Katy began to wonder if she would ever have a home again.
Thankfully, before it was too late, we connected with Melinda and Katy.
Shona*, a Mission Australia case worker, heard about Melinda and Katy’s situation. When she connected with them, they had been living in the car for months.
Shona listened to their story and reassured Melinda she had made the right choice. Immediately she referred them to a women shelter and assisted Melinda in applying for affordable housing. Six-months later, Melinda and Katy celebrated moving into their new home.
Stories like Katy and Melinda’s are far too common as many families escaping abusive homes find themselves homeless. In 2020-21, around 116,200 people who received support from a specialist homelessness service also experienced domestic and family violence.1
Katy and Melinda are not typically who you think about when you hear the word ‘homeless’. You may associate homelessness with people sleeping in shop fronts, park benches and temporary shelters.
In reality, only 7% of people who are homeless in Australia are rough sleeping.2 It’s far more common for vulnerable people to experience hidden homelessness. They could be couch surfing, living in overcrowded dwellings or sleeping in cars.
Your generosity can help provide urgent support for people with nowhere else to go. Will you help find safe homes for vulnerable families?
Every child should have a safe home
When home is no longer safe, vulnerable children and women like Katy and Melinda need your help.
Please donate today, to help vulnerable families in their time of need.Donate today or Partner with us or Leave a gift
Know someone affected by domestic and family violence?
If you are experiencing abuse or violence it is not your fault. There are support services that can help you. If your life is in danger, call 000. For 24/7 domestic violence counselling call the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021), Specialist homelessness services annual report 2020–21
2 ABS (2018) Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016
*Names and images have been changed to protect the identity of our staff and the people we help.
Related news and stories
Read about what we’ve been working on, our stance on important social issues and how you make a difference to vulnerable Australians' lives.