Guiding Joanne to a better life

Joanne suffered years of abuse at the hands of her partner. When he finally left, she was unprepared for the pain he would continue to inflict.

Cut off from her finances, caught in a draining legal dispute and without a close network to call upon, the support of Vinnies provided the mother of four with a path to a better life.

Joanne remembers a time when her financially secure life was “happy and comfortable”.

However, when her youngest daughter was born, a daily barrage of verbal abuse began, too, leading to a toxic environment which ultimately turned physical. Having undergone surgery for back pain a year earlier, the impact of being pushed against a wardrobe saw one of the cords in her spine dislodged.

With police taking out an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) following the altercation, the abuse continued in the form of coercive financial control.

“The day he left, he cleared out the bank account, froze the credit card and paused the home loan,” Joanne explains. “I found myself in credit card debt and no money left for household expenses, food or school fees.”

A few days later, a threatening notice from her ex-partner’s solicitor informing her to vacate the family home resulted in legal action which took a toll on both her finances and wellbeing.

“My ex-partner would come to the house vowing the children and I would be ‘homeless and hungry’.

It was really tough on them going to the courts and telling their story, but somehow they found the courage, even though they lived in fear.”

Continuing to work throughout the legal proceedings, the mounting expenses saw Joanne turn to her local parish and primary school for help.

“The school immediately gave me food vouchers and boxes from Vinnies and asked me to reach out for support – but I didn’t for a long time.

“I just quietly waited for them to put food vouchers in my letterbox, as I was so ashamed in asking for help.

“It wasn’t until my youngest daughter went to bed hungry when I knew I had to swallow my pride and reach out, as I had no choice if we were to survive.”

After making the choice to reach out for help, the care provided by a nearby Vinnies Conference and Community Support Office helped turn the tide for Joanne and her family.

Gaining assistance with fresh fruit and vegetables, household bills and court-mandated family counselling, the comfort of knowing someone was in her family’s corner helped to alleviate the pain her former partner had inflicted.

“At the time, it felt as though we were alone in Sydney with no family networks or support to fall back on.

“It was a long and expensive process, where our lives were on hold until a decision was made.

“Vinnies helped me with so many things. I wouldn’t have been able to continue with my medication or my children’s orthodontic treatments at a time that was critical to their health and wellbeing.

“They empowered me and showed my children that they matter.”

Joanne and her children are now free of their abuser and beginning a new life close to family interstate.

Once again, Vinnies stepped up before they left with food vouchers to help the family acclimatise, as well as providing presents for the children to enjoy a Christmas to remember following years of unrest.

“The courts have given me full custody of my children and he is not to have any communication or access.

“We feel empowered and comforted because Vinnies opened a door and gave us reassurance that we would be okay.

“Vinnies is there to help and don’t judge you in any way. They will be there to help you through the hard times and guide you to a better life.”

The experience of Joanne and her children is a harrowing yet tragically common instance of domestic violence.

One in six women in Australia have experienced domestic violence by a current or previous partner during their lifetimes.

According to a 2020 study published by the Australian Government’s Institute of Criminology, the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with an onset in cases of domestic violence against women. This period of time also saw an increase in the frequency of domestic violence committed against women already suffering at the hands of a current or former partner.

Some of the key findings highlighted in the study include:

  • One in 20 women (4.6%) experienced physical or sexual violence during the first three months of the pandemic;
  • 5.8% experienced coercive control, such as monitoring whereabouts, belittling/derogatory comments and financial abuse;
  • One in 10 (11.6%) experienced at least one form of emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour perpetrated by a current or former cohabiting partner;
  • Two-thirds of women who had experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former cohabiting partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic said the violence had started or escalated;
  • More than half who experienced coercive control reported the onset or escalation of emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you haven’t already donated to our Autumn Appeal, please make a gift now to support people like Joanne to find safety and a path to independence.

Donate online or by calling 13 18 12.