When Tasmanian woman Lucy* finally managed to break away from a relationship of more than nine years of abuse and sexual violence there was nowhere for her to go.
"I lost my home and my children as well. I was out there on my own and having to move from place to place. Shelters were booked up," Lucy said.
"I heard of other girls who were offered hotels or caravans but there was never any assistance offered like that to me."
Lucy had finally made the choice to flee from a perpetual cycle of violence, although "choice" in a violent relationship such as hers is different to the one most people face. Choice for Lucy was staying in a home and copping the constant beatings, or trying to run and facing the very real probability that her abuser would hunt her down seeking retribution.
"I thought the only way out was that I'd be killed by him ... everybody thought it too," she said.
Fighting Back against family violence:
"FED UP WITH BEING LET DOWN BY THE SYSTEM"
Of course, Lucy is not her real name. She cannot legally be named because of the particulars of her story, and the nature of the crimes committed against her. There is also a likelihood that her story will be used against her by her abuser.
Like so many other women in her situation, the history of abuse against Lucy is long.
She first experienced it as a five-year-old. She watched as her mother was consistently beaten by her partner until child services stepped in and removed Lucy from the household. This was violence her mother had seen her grandmother be subjected to as well.
Just as abuse survivor and Northern Midlands Mayor Mary Knowles told The Examiner as part of the Fighting Back series, her perspective on how a woman deserves to be treated was immediately knocked off course.
Like some kind of developmental tunnel vision, Lucy could see the world around her but she was blinded to what was in front of her eyes from a non-existent perspective stolen from her in childhood.
"As a child and growing up, that's all I saw and all I knew. And when I was in it I didn't realise that there actually is a different side of life," she said.
"What's normal doesn't seem normal."
Lucy said that for most of her life she had never received a gift and had never even been taken out to dinner.
Fighting Back against family violence:
While in reality she was already a victim of the system in which family violence operates, Lucy's experiences as a child soon transferred into adulthood and she became a direct victim of family violence herself.
At 21, Lucy entered into a relationship in which she was consistently abused over two years - crimes for which her abuser was sentenced - until an intervention order was handed down.
Not long after escaping that relationship she met a new partner; the man who would end up mentally controlling her, using her children against her, breaking her ribs and nose, smashing her teeth, strangling her and kicking her in the stomach while she was pregnant on multiple occasions, before she was finally able to begin to seek refuge.
Physical violence was outwardly obvious in the relationship, but the manipulation that Lucy was subject to was extensive. When her abuser had male visitors he did not allow her to speak to them. He isolated her from her family and friends. He took her phone from her. He stopped her from seeking treatment for the wounds he inflicted upon her.
This abuse began when Lucy was 24 and she does not believe it has stopped.
Her fear lies not only in the fact he has a history of tracking her down once released from prison but in concerns about the system, one that she knows better than most.
Lucy said, after one of the many times her abuser was charged for violence against her, he was bailed within two hours. Despite believing that she would be notified of his return to society, Lucy was left unaware that he was back on the streets.
"He was bailed and it wasn't until 48 hours later that I was able to get any information and I heard it from other people that he's actually back out in society," she said.
It was not the first time Lucy had been forced through the system to try to escape her abuser, but she believed this failure to protect her had broken her.
"It got that bad and I didn't speak up for some time because I got really fed up with being let down by the system," she said.
It got that bad and I didn't speak up for some time because I got really fed up with being let down by the system.Lucy, abuse survivor
"I stopped actually speaking up.
"It's not getting me anywhere and the sentences are appalling. There was one [charge and sentencing] of being pregnant and being assaulted and he got a four month sentence."
Even when Lucy's abuser was in prison he would find ways to control her.
He used the very fibre of her being - the maternal instinct she was born with and nurtured - and weaponised the love she had for her children.
"He's still got that power over me," she said.
"That there is control. It's a life changing one."
Fighting Back against family violence:
"ALL I HAD WAS A BACKPACK"
When she was turned away from shelters Lucy entered the states Rapid Rehousing program. But it was everything but rapid.
As part of the program, women fleeing family violence situations are prioritised by various factors.
Despite at least 12 charges being laid against her abuser ranging from family violence to assault, including four charges of non-fatal strangulation, Lucy was on the waitlist for 18 months. In that time, Lucy was on her own.
"I'd go to friend's homes and whatnot. All I had was a backpack", she said.
I'd go to friend's homes and what not. All I had was a backpack.Lucy, abuse survivor
"I'd just lost my children, my home, all my possessions that I've worked all my life for. And then when I finally got into a home, I had to restart from scratch all over again."
After couch surfing with a backpack, all of her belongings being sold without her knowledge and child services taking her children from her - which she holds no grudge about, "it's generational, that cycle had to be broken" - she had finally been housed.
But as these stories always seem to go it was not the end.
"I COULDN'T GET AWAY FROM HIM"
Lucy trying to move on with her life, as she had predicted, represented a loss of control for her abuser. Losing control made him angry, and he was going to make Lucy pay.
After settling in the Rapid Rehousing program Lucy's abuser tracked her down. The 18 months spent couch surfing, and every obstacle that she had overcome as part of that, was rendered irrelevant. In contravention of a family violence order, her abuser broke in and raped her.
When he raped her he told her that this was how she would pay for what she had done; pay for the fact that she had tried to escape.
Her rape is a confronting reminder for those that believe women should work harder to remove themselves from family violence. Lucy was trapped, not because she had not done everything she could to get away, but because her abuser would not let her.
"I couldn't get away from him, I couldn't get free," she said.
I couldn't get away from him, I couldn't get free.Lucy, abuse survivor
Lucy prefers not to go into most of the details of exactly what happened. As much as she has healed, and continues to heal, the trauma of what her abuser subjected her to has had an incomparable impact.
In the sentencing comments from the case in which her abuser was handed down a long term prison sentence the judge discussed how "painful and degrading" the experience was.
"These were serious acts of family violence," they said.
The judge said that being the subject of such an experience would leave her with psychological and emotional consequences that would likely stick with her "permanently".
Despite the "success" of the trial for her rape Lucy said she is nowhere near the person she once was.
"I was so fearful. I still am. I can't walk the streets still, I'm still trying to get my courage back," she said.
After going to trial and having to retell what happened during her rape Lucy said she was re-traumatised.
"I went to trial and that's put me 100 steps back again," she said.
"When I walk the street I think, 'oh my gosh, what's going to happen, who's out there that's going to come after me?'
When I walk the street I think, 'oh my gosh, what's going to happen who's out there that's going to come after me?'Lucy, abuse survivor
"I'm always looking around, I'm always wondering. I go to sleep at night and I'm in the same home because there's nothing else out there. I'm in the same home it all happened in. It's just a constant reminder."
Lucy believes she could now, through intensive and ongoing education programs, notice the red flag of family violence if it were to once again fly in front of her face.
Her new focus is on her children that she lost through no real fault of her own - the ones that were taken from her because she was being abused.
"One day these children are gonna knock back on my door," she said.
"I need to find that strength to be able to open that door with open arms and allow them to see a mum that fought the odds," she said.
I need to find that strength to be able to open that door with open arms and allow them to see a mum that fought the odds.Lucy, abuse survivor
"[A mum that has] been able to come out of the other end and be there for the rest of their years, and is able to raise them and be the person that I should be for them."
Lucy wants to be there for her children, but she also wants to be able to breathe freely again.
"I can't just get out there like other people can. I fear even getting in a car. Why can't I be somebody that can just get in a car and go on a road trip?" she said.
"I haven't made memories. I don't even have a story to tell my children. That's the worst bit out of all of it.
"Here I am at [age] and I haven't even lived life."
Like many family violence survivors Lucy has offered herself to assist in making change. She knows her story, while probably not yet over, can help others facing the same perilous journey she has been through.
Lucy wants to tell people in the situation that she was in that they can speak up.
She wants to be a voice for others and she wants other women to know that - despite the seemingly impenetrable barriers they may face - there is light among the gloom.
"I always tell myself, 'never give up no matter what'," she said.
I always tell myself, 'never give up no matter what'.Lucy, abuse survivor
"As hard as it gets, there's always going to be light at the end of it.
"At the end of the day I don't really care if there's nothing for myself. So long as I'm able to help someone else, so they know they're not alone. That's all I really care about. If it can help one other person out there, then that's what I'll be thankful for."
The Tasmanian government was contacted for comment about Lucy's story and asked why it took so long for a home to be found for her and how the prioritisation for Rapid Rehousing works.
"While we cannot comment on the circumstances of individual cases, applicants will be prioritised on the Housing Register in accordance with their level of assessed need by Housing Connect, as per the Social Housing Policy that is publicly available on the Department of Communities Tasmania housing website," a Tasmanian government spokesperson said.
The priority system is as follows:
- Highest Priority - people in the highest need, including those leaving homelessness services, hospital, or who are leaving care and protection;
- Standard Priority - other high needs based on health, homelessness, safety and affordability; or
- General - in need based on health, homelessness and affordability.
For those seeking help, Family Violence Counselling and Support Service is available on 1800 608 122 from 9am to midnight weekdays, and 4pm to midnight on weekends and public holidays.
Telephone and online counselling is available at 1800 RESPECT or by calling 1800 737 732.
Lifeline is also available 24/7 on 13 11 14.
To access crisis accommodation contact Housing Connect Launceston on 1800 800 588.
Want to join the push? See the petition to remove legal fees for lodging an interim family violence order here.
What do you think? Send us a letter to the editor: