Cathy’s story

Like many abusive men, my partner gave me no initial reason to think he was capable of extreme violence towards me.

I met him while I was in my twenties and studying at university – he was charming and very popular with his friends. I had no reason not to trust the façade he presented to the world.

His abusive behaviour towards me started within a few months of our relationship beginning. It started with him making jokes at my expense and calling me derogatory names, then escalated fairly quickly into threats and violence.

I remember one occasion fairly early on in our relationship when he chased me down the road with a knife.

Like many family violence perpetrators, he was extremely controlling of who I spent time with and systematically isolated me from my friends and family. Within six months of being together, he had turned my housemates against me and they moved out.

He then moved himself and his two younger brothers into my house. He was openly violent and threatening towards me in front of them but they did nothing. I remember one time when he threw me to the ground and kicked me repeatedly. His brothers just watched.

My home became like a prison or a warzone – each day became about survival.

Trying to concentrate at uni became impossible, so I dropped out. Work was a temporary escape and relief, but it was humiliating having to make up fake excuses as to why I was yet again covered in horrible bruises.

My life went on like this for three and a half years. During this time I tried to leave him multiple times (as many family violence survivors do). One thing kept me with him: fear. He assured me – sometimes with a knife to my throat – that if I left him he would find me and kill me. Or he would go after my friends and family.

When I left…

Eventually, with much difficulty, I was able to move away from my abuser permanently. But, I discovered that leaving did not ensure my safety. He soon started stalking me and didn’t stop for ten years. I reached out to the police and sought legal protections, but often found it not only extremely difficult, but down right traumatising to engage with the very institutions that were supposed to assist and protect people who have experienced what I have.

There were so many times when I wanted to give up, when I felt overwhelmed by anguish and frustration. But my healing happened, slowly, and was aided by an unexpected opportunity. In 2007, I saw a newspaper ad for safe steps pilot Survivor Advocate Program. It was like a lightbulb moment for me. I immediately applied to be involved.

As an Advocate…

At my first training session, the workers made it very clear that the program wasn’t a therapy group, nonetheless becoming a Survivor Advocate has been extremely therapeutic for me. It has helped me reclaim my voice and channel all the hurt, anger and frustration I was feeling regarding structural and systemic failures into being part of informing positive change processes within organisations and government.

As a safe steps Survivor Advocate, I was privileged to have the opportunity to make a submission and give evidence to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence – I subsequently found out that recommendations 104 and 106 were made as a direct result of my submission and testimony.

It is the proudest achievement of my life that I was able to help bring about changes so that some women in the future will not have to go through some of the challenges I faced.

On a personal level, becoming a Survivor Advocate has also been incredibly empowering. It has given me back my voice, self-esteem and sense of identity. The strong, confident person who I have become today is as a direct result of my involvement with safe steps and the Survivor Advocate Program.

To anyone reading this who is experiencing abuse…

I want you to know that you are strong and courageous. The criminal behaviour being committed against you is not acceptable and you do not need to endure it alone – there are lots of services that can provide you with assistance and support. I know it can seem hopeless and inescapable, but it is not.  Pick up the phone and call safe steps. One of their crisis-line workers can help you explore you options and become safe.

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.