Abigail* is typical of many Australian women – she has a warm grin, a dozen tasks on the go and welcomes us to her family-filled townhouse in jeans and a blue shirt. Her blue eyes light up when we arrive, and watching her smile and chat as she makes cups of tea, it’s difficult to imagine the trauma she has been through.
She’s bravely invited us to hear her story, as raw and personal as it is.
Abigail’s first marriage started out okay, but as her children began to arrive it spiralled into a terrible mess of “dysfunction and abuse”.
“I desperately wanted to make it work,” she says now. “Then our toddler had an accident. He was 18 months old when he passed away. The trauma was crippling.”
As she battled through “a fog of grief”, the abuse continued to escalate, and Abigail saw the damage that was being done to her children.
“It was a desperate situation,” she says simply. “I knew I had to leave for my children’s sake. But I had no resources, nowhere to turn. I didn’t have a cent. Everything was controlled.
“I knew I’d have to make a giant leap into the unknown [and] I thought, “If I don’t go now, I may never have the courage to.”
“I called the crisis line and I heard a voice on the other end of the phone saying, “Can you safely get to [a location]? We can meet you there.”
“So I threw a few things in a bag, got the kids in the car and left. I was terrified.
“The Salvos took us to a crisis accommodation service.
“From the moment we got there, the women from the Salvos were so lovely. We ended up staying three months, which was amazing. I needed all of that time to rebuild my self-confidence. They took my daughter to her high school and picked her up daily. They gave me counselling, and financial counselling, and they also took me to a pro bono lawyer. When I finally moved into longer-term accommodation, they helped me get a deposit for the bond as well as assistance with electricity and good second-hand furniture.
“Even the simplest things meant so much. They took me shopping and said, “Put into your basket whatever you need.” I was so careful because I’d only ever been allowed a tiny budget by my ex-husband, but the lady with me kept saying, “Just relax and get whatever you need as a good mum to look after you all.”
The difference that that window of hope made in Abigail’s life has had dramatically positive effects. She and her children are “flourishing”, she says – healthy and happy, in strong relationships and stronger for their journey together.
“They were there for me when no one else was there.”
The Red Shield Doorknock funds much of the support survivors of family violence can access through The Salvation Army. To donate, go to salvos.org.au/donate