Zofia’s story

In many ways, my story begins before I was even born. It begins with a young woman who, in 1948, found herself pregnant in a Displaced Persons’ Camp in Germany far from her hometown in Poland.

She had been severely traumatised by her experiences during the Second World War. The only way she could relate to others was through her prism of the violence of war.

She was my mother. I was her first child.

Growing up with her was an emotionally abusive experience. Her constant criticism of me left me with little self-esteem.

I learnt unconsciously from her that a loving relationship was an abusive relationship.

When I was about 19 years old a man came into my life who was interested in me. He made me feel valued and affirmed. “Ah My Rescuer!” I thought.

Three days after my 21st birthday, I married him and I got pregnant very soon after.

The physical, emotional, psychological, financial, social and sexual abuse started almost immediately after we got married.

I was horrified by how he was treating me but I felt there was no way for me to leave – where would I go? Back to my mother?

I knew of no support services (there were far fewer in the 1970s), and something inside me said that I deserved how I was being treated.

I lived in a constant state of fear. When would he be violent next? What small thing would set him off?

That’s how I lived for years. My primary focus was on keeping myself and my children safe. My love for my children kept me going.

When I left…

It took 19 years before I had the courage to leave. “How could you have stayed so long?” I’ve had people ask me. Quite simply, I stayed because I was sure he would kill me if I tried to go. This is something many women experiencing family violence know – that you are at highest risk of extreme violence, including murder, when you do leave. But eventually even the fear of death wasn’t enough to keep me there.

As an Advocate…

Now, as a Survivor Advocate, I use my story to help people question and understand family violence. What does a woman experiencing domestic violence need from us? Judgement? Empathy?

How can we raise awareness about the plight of these Australian women?

Perhaps through conversations with our own family, young people, friends and neighbours, each one of us can make a difference.

safe steps recognises that survivors have been among the most powerful activists for change regarding societal attitudes towards family violence. By courageously sharing their stories, survivors have raised community awareness about abuse in the home, and pushed for important political and sector reforms.

We share the stories of some of our safe steps Survivor Advocates to ensure their powerful experiences are heard by even more people, and honour the important contribution each woman has made as an advocate and an activist.

Read more survivor stories.