Vinnies Winter Appeal – helping families like Leah and Charlotte

Wednesday 11 May 2022

This year, our Winter Appeal is focused on ending domestic violence, the campaign’s theme is Make it Stop.

To help us do that, Leah shared her story – and that of her daughter Charlotte – with us.

At just 22, Leah has been failed by many people in her life who have been closest to her.

From an early age, her story is one of people around her deliberately trying to remove her ability to choose for herself.

Control of another person is the driving force behind domestic violence, and it is something so common that one in six Australian women have experienced it at the hands of a current or former partner.

At 11, Leah’s mother would leave her caring for her younger sister on her own.

Her father was verbally abusive with Leah and physically abusive to her sister.

At 16, she found herself couch surfing and then living in a youth hostel.

Even finding short-term accommodation there came at an emotional cost.

“The only way I could get help was if my parents said they didn’t want me. They confirmed that which hurt.”

Shortly after, she met her boyfriend.

Leah became pregnant and her boyfriend didn’t want the child. Pregnancy is a time of heightened risk for women who experience domestic violence.

After fleeing the violence, at 17, Leah delivered a baby daughter six weeks premature.

Alone, at 18, Leah then met her second boyfriend, and the couple would be together for the next two years.

During that time, he was physically abusive, and financially controlling.

“It started with threats. He choked me at one stage and would hit me.

“I was just angry because I wanted to protect my kid.”

Leah was scared and wondered where she would go and how she could protect herself and her daughter.

Leah ended the relationship after a particularly traumatic experience.

“I was scared of everyone, everything. The pain, the aching.”

Leah’s turned to her sister who called an ambulance and Leah ended up in the hospital.

“I was really broken, but it was where I actually got help.”

This led to Leah being put in touch with the St Vincent de Paul Society.

The Society has provided Leah with support to find housing, food, clothes, furniture, white goods, and emotional support.

“When I got there, the biggest challenge was dealing with the PTSD. I was loving life so much where I was having major highs from going to the beach and finding that calm. And then I would have huge lows, and nightmares, and insomnia. And I didn’t feel like I deserved it, but I knew my daughter deserved it.”

The assistance has opened an array of choices for her that had been closed due to the neglect and abuse she had experienced from those closest to her.

Leah’s main goal is to provide the kind of life for her daughter that she didn’t have as a child.

“I want to give her what she wants which, at the moment, is gymnastics and swimming. She is a sporty kid and I love it. Because when I was young, I always wanted to do so sports, but my parents couldn’t afford it.”

“I just want her to be this strong, independent little woman. And I think she already is. Trust me, she is boss – she’s house boss.”

Nationally, one woman a week is killed on average by a perpetrator of domestic violence.

At the same time it is important to remember that it does not have to be physical and can take many forms, including financial control and social isolation.

Domestic violence is the number one driver of homelessness for women and children.

Last year, the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW helped more than 2,400 women escape domestic violence.

It’s estimated that there are 2,400 more who have had to return to a violent partner because the only other choice was homelessness.

There is a similar number in the state who have escaped domestic violence into homelessness.

Women like Leah deserve a better choice than continuing to remain in a violent home and leaving to live in their car or worse.

You can help us help them by donating to the Vinnies Winter Appeal at https://www.vinnies.org.au/nswwinterappeal or by calling 13 18 12.