It is alarming to know that domestic violence is an ongoing issue around the country. In fact, one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence and one in four Australian women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. Domestic violence doesn't discriminate, one in three victims of domestic violence are men. Domestic violence can creep up on victims and sometimes the warning signs are subtle but it can come in varying forms including verbal, physical, emotional, financial and sexual.
With Domestic Violence Prevention Month coming up in May, there are ways you can find and get help if you are experiencing domestic violence. Rachael Scharrer had thought that domestic violence was limited to physical and verbal abuse and excused or justified each incident. When she researched domestic violence years after her marriage ended, it was then she realised she was at greater risk than first thought. She founded online resource, DivorceAnswered.com.au and shares her advice for leaving a relationship involving domestic violence.
Set up the emergency or panic function on your mobile phone
"Each mobile phone is different, so research the specific functions for your phone within the settings. Enable and personalise your emergency settings so that your location and an audio clipping will be alerted to selected family or friends. When the alert has been received, your family or friends can contact the police on your behalf."
Inform the local domestic violence police officer or liaison
"Remember the police are allies to victims of harassment and domestic violence. Meet with your local Domestic Violence Police Officer (DVPO) to get informed about your rights. The DVPO can refer support services and assist you wherever possible. Don't be afraid to contact the police if you are concerned for the safety of yourself and your children. The police can instigate interim and emergency Apprehended Violence Orders (AVO) or Domestic Violence Orders (DVO) at short notice if required. Both orders help to restrict the behaviours of the offending person, allowing you to have some legal recourse against their actions. Should the offender breach the terms of the AVO or DVO, report it to the police."
"If you are able to prepare to leave at any time, you will feel more confident and comfortable in making the difficult decision.
a) Have a planned excuse. Ensure you have a reason or excuse to leave the house, particularly if you have children.
b) Know where to go and what to do. You may have a relative or friend who can offer a place to stay for a short period of time. Similarly, it is worth researching organisations that can assist with temporary accommodation in a safe place."
c) Gather important documentation. This includes birth certificates, marriage certificates, copies of accounts, financials and more. DivorceAnswered.com.au provides a free Separation Checklist for items that you should take or make a copy of. Don't forget to back up documents and emails. Consider giving a copy or access to these files to a person you trust.
d) Store heirlooms. Make sure special or sentimental items of value (e.g. photographs) are located in a safe place outside of the house.
e) Have an 'exit box' ready. This is handy if you are in a rush as your key belongings will be with you. The exit box should include money, keys, keep-sakes, certificates, licenses, passports, medication, clothes and digital copies of documentation. This box could be kept at a friend or relative's house. Alternatively, if you do have to leave suddenly and the exit box is in your home, the police can escort and supervise while you take your belongings.
f) Have some funds set aside. If possible, save money into a separate account as it will make your financial situation easier. Organise pre-payment of expected outgoing expenses. Quite often finances are tight once separated, so whatever you can save will help with starting a new life.
g) Change passwords on everything. This include passwords for bank accounts, phone, emails and other resources or accounts you use."
Share with a trusted friend
"Tell them about your concerns and plans. Most importantly, keep in regular contact and ask them to contact police if you fail to make regular contact. It is also useful to have a 'help' word with your friend which notifies them to step in."
Contact support or government organisations
"There are many organisations set up to assist victims of domestic violence. If you want to continue living at home, contact Staying Home Leaving Violence (NSW only). National organisations which you can contact include Victim Support Services, Domestic Violence Advisory Service, Relationships Australia and your local police station who will also know of other local organisations which can help."
Rachael's e-book 'How to best separate: Domestic Violence' is available online at www.divorceanswered.com.au/e-books/. RRP $15.
For more information, visit www.divorceanswered.com.au
Question: What inspired you to write How to best separate: Domestic Violence?
Rachael Scharrer: Separating is challenging in the best of times, however, when adding in the element of domestic violence, there are often other challenging factors such as accommodation/relocation, different versions of abuse/violence and severe financial challenges. Writing an e-book about how to separate when managing the added challenge of domestic violence allows other people experiencing domestic violence to separate with more clarity, structure and confidence. The e-book offers guidelines and considerations about where to go, what to do and what to ask for.
Question: Can you share with us, your experience with Domestic Violence?
Rachael Scharrer: My marriage wasn't perfect but then again, I don't believe that any relationship is absolutely perfect. I noticed that once I became pregnant, my husband's controlling behaviours exploded. Our relationship quickly became defined by his incessant calling. I couldn't make any arrangements or plans without his approval and if I wasn't where he wanted me to be and when he expected me there, his aggression escalated. With his increasing verbal and physical anger, I tried to change myself and the way that I approached him in the hope to diffuse situations. I did my best to conceal the reality I faced from friends and family.
I was fortunate to live near my family and felt that I had a Plan B in anticipation for when the relationship finally ended. With a growing family, we moved homes to enjoy the benefit of a small backyard. I had not realised that my Plan B wasn't an option anymore. I felt exposed in unfamiliar surroundings.
After driving away all of my male platonic friends, he started to create wedges between family, friends and myself. He even suggested relocating to an isolated fishing village and I seriously considered it to save my marriage.
The last time that he broke up with me, I thought about the children. They were both displaying behaviours that were not age appropriate. I had a 3-year-old who was acting out because he never got time with me and a toddler who displayed anger issues beyond her years. I took a moment to reflect on the family as a whole and I realised that it wasn't a healthy relationship and it hadn't been for a long time. This was the tipping point and I wasn't going back to that relationship again.
Sometime after the relationship ended, domestic violence discussions became more prevalent in the media and I looked it up. Domestic violence comes in many forms: emotional, physical, mental, verbal, sexual and financial. I was shocked to learn that I was being groomed for far more severe forms domestic violence than I had already experienced. Isolation, control and anger were only a few elements of domestic violence that I had encountered and shared above. I was also subjected to verbal, physical, financial and emotional abuse. I was shocked to learn that threatening suicide or threatening to kill another person, stalking and intimidation are also forms of domestic violence. If I knew then what I now know today, I would have made attempts to leave the relationship far earlier.
Question: Can you talk about the research you did, prior to writing How to best separate: Domestic Violence?
Rachael Scharrer: All content on DivorceAnswered.com.au has been checked by legal professionals, however, due to the individual and unique nature of each person's situation, the information offered has been given as 'general advice only.' My personal situation is sufficiently colourful which has offered me a breadth of knowledge and information. After almost 5 years in the Family Court (and still in the process), I have learned a lot and wanted to give some guidance to others in a similar situation with the hope of empowering them and building their confidence.
Question: What do you hope to achieve in the lead up to Domestic Violence Prevention Month?
Rachael Scharrer: Domestic violence is nothing to be ashamed of. It takes a brave person to ask for help and make the change. When you are informed and when you know what support is there for you, you will be more confident taking positive steps towards a brighter future. Children are the inadvertent victims of domestic violence and they rely upon their parent(s) to make the self-sacrificing decisions for their future, safety and benefit. The decisions that you make today will make the difference between continuing the domestic violence cycle or breaking it and being free. By choosing to stand up against domestic violence, you are changing attitudes, increasing awareness and making a positive mark on society and our community.
Social media challenges our sense of self and the societal norms. Many people only share their great, wonderful and amazing moments and achievements. It sometimes feels like we have to 'put on a face', create a façade for our friends and make out that everything is more wonderful than it truly is. It is only when we, as a community, start to openly discuss the issues and challenges that we face on a daily basis that we are better able to support one another and collectively make a change. Neighbours, friends and family who are knowingly aware of any individual struggling with domestic violence often don't want to get involved. They chose not to support, act and defend the victim and are inadvertently supporting the abuser which makes the victim's struggle to leave and change the relationship much harder.
We also need to remember that victims of domestic violence are men and women, they may be our parents, siblings, friends or children. It doesn't discriminate.
Question: What do friends and family need to look for, if they think someone close to them is experience Domestic Violence?
Rachael Scharrer: The symptoms of being a domestic violence victim are often subtle and masked from family and friends.
The victim has cuts and bruises - Watch for changes in attire (covering up more)
The victim is forced to have sex or complete other activities to their abuser's standard/expectations
The victim feels like they are being stalked or followed
The victim is displaying signs of depression, is withdrawn, sad and has low-self-esteem
The victim needs permission from the abuser to do, go anywhere or talk to someone
The victim has limited funds or no funds
The abuser threatens (or plans) to relocate, therefore isolating the victim by limiting access to friends/family/familiar surrounds
The abuser creates distance or trouble with the victims friends and 'drives' the friends away
The abuser threatens to kill the victim (this is a control tactic) or the victim is considering suicide (often this is the only way that the victim feels they can escape)
The victim feels pressured to always agree with their abuser
The abuser is aggressive or abusive towards children, pets and/or property
Remember, if you know or feel that 'something isn't right' then you are probably right! The local police have Domestic Violence Liaison Officers whom you can speak to about your concerns for your friend, get better informed and ensure the police are on greater 'alert' to the situation in their home.
Question: What is the first piece advice you'd share to someone experiencing Domestic Violence?
Rachael Scharrer: Get informed, plan ahead and confide in a friend.
Knowledge is power, therefore by knowing about your choices, options and how to plan ahead for leaving, you will be better prepared for your new chapter. Start with the local police station for local support organisations, gather all necessary items and documentation for leaving. Start saving money, if you can. Also, you will need some emotional support. Your friends will want to support you however they can and you will need someone to bounce ideas off, laugh and cry with.
Question: Why is it important to share your experience with a friend?
Rachael Scharrer: Our closest friends will always have our best interests at heart. They are the first people to tell us whether we are being silly or realistic. A true friend will go out of their way to make our lives better, especially during challenging times and struggle. Having a confidant, ally and support network is essential when making big life decisions like leaving a relationship involving domestic violence.
You and your friend should stay in regular contact. Any changes out of the ordinary should 'ring alarm bells.' Have a plan and code words to alert to your safety concerns which need urgent attention. Your friend can then alert the police on your behalf.
If you go to court, you may need someone to hold your hand, support and advocate for you and confirm that you were indeed a victim of domestic violence.
Question: Can you tell us about what is involved in the free Separation Checklist?
Rachael Scharrer: Whether you are newly separated or if you are planning for a separation, the Divorce Answered Separation Checklist is incredibly comprehensive and stored safely online. In a simple, interactive form, the Checklist features many items for you to do, documentation to gather and things to consider. This checklist helps to bring order to your mind and your life during a period of heightened stress and emotional upheaval.
The more organised you can be from the outset of your separation, the better prepared you will be throughout the separation and divorce process.
Interview by Brooke Hunter