All they want for Christmas is to feel safe.

Trigger warning: this story talks about family violence. An estimated 1.6 million women in Australia of age 15 years and over have experienced violence by a partner.

Jess* is a strong, independent woman who never imagined domestic violence could happen to her. When it did, she faced an awful dilemma: should she stay and raise her child in violence, or escape with nothing – and risk homelessness?

When Jess met her partner, it was love at first sight. Soon, she became pregnant. Her partner treated her with kindness and care. “Together we booked the hospital, bought clothes and came up with a name for our baby,” she says.

Things changed almost overnight

When Jess stopped working to prepare for the birth of her child, her partner began to treat her very differently. He was controlling, suspicious and manipulative.

Jess was terrified. “When I was four months pregnant, he viciously assaulted me,” Jess says. “He changed so quickly… I never saw it coming.”

A prisoner in her own home

Giving birth to her first baby should have been the happiest time of Jess’ life. Instead, she was scared and isolated. The ongoing threat of violence made it so hard to bond with her baby and enjoy this precious time together. Her partner would take what he wanted from her through violence and threats.

COVID lockdowns made things much worse. It was so easy for Jess’ partner to hide his violence, as she was stuck at home with few options for support. Jess was forbidden to leave the house, even to go into the backyard. The windows were always covered. He also took away her phone and computer and denied her money for essentials.

An unexpected escape

After the pandemic, Jess and her partner were struggling with the cost of living. They could barely afford essentials like food and bills. Due to the financial abuse Jess was experiencing significant hardship, and she had no savings. She was scared to leave with Ellie and risk becoming homeless.

But one day it all got too much. At a health appointment for her baby, Jess confided in the nurse that she wanted to escape the violence and abuse. The nurse immediately connected Jess with our team at Safe Steps.

Time to heal

Within days, Jess and baby Ellie had a safe place to stay at Virginia’s Place, our crisis accommodation in suburban Melbourne.

Jess was distressed and overwhelmed when she arrived. She had fresh injuries from her ex. But what was most heartbreaking was how quiet and serious baby Ellie was. From such a young age, she’d learnt that making noise and drawing attention to herself was a dangerous thing to do.

Jess was so grateful to be in a safe place where her ex couldn’t find her. Along with the comfortable, private apartment, Jess received intensive daily support from a Safe Steps case worker from the moment she arrived.

Her case worker helped her build confidence, learn to set boundaries in relationships and work towards goals she hoped to achieve. This was vital in Jess’ healing journey.

“I can now see that there are people who care deeply about Ellie and me – and that we deserve to be safe,” Jess says.

Today Jess and Ellie are thriving

The best news is that Safe Steps could arrange permanent housing for Jess and Ellie and a car for them to get around. 

Jess is now getting the chance to bond with Ellie that she was denied by her violent ex. She is so proud to see her little girl blossom after such a traumatic start to life.

“Ellie is smiling and making sounds,” Jess says. “She is crawling and exploring her environment. I can tell she feels close to me, and she is starting to trust other people.”

Jess can’t wait to make beautiful memories with her little girl this Christmas in a home free from violence and trauma.

“I now realise I don’t have to return to the violence,” she says. “I have a choice.”

*All names have been changed to protect identity and privacy of victim survivors.