Luka Smith* tried to leave her violent and controlling partner years before she found out he was sexually abusing their young daughter.
"I never ever witnessed him doing it. I only ever had suspicions, which he would then convince me I was crazy," Ms Smith said.
"Unfortunately for me, when I reached out to my family, I was told to 'shut up' and 'that's too ugly' and that they 'can't handle it'."
It wasn't until her daughter was five years old that she was able to disclose the horrendous life-scarring abuse to her mother.
"That was it. I made a plan with the domestic violence counsellor here, Jenny, to flee," Ms Smith said.
Ms Smith and her daughter went into hiding for about a year before they moved to Tamworth where they now live in a refuge, planning their future in a stable home and developing the educational potential of her numerically-talented child.
It was really, really awful the things we went through with him.- Luka Smith
"He's since been arrested again, and has a monitoring device on. We're pretty safe now," Ms Smith said of her former partner.
During the seven years Ms Smith was in the relationship, the physical and psychological abuse, gaslighting and coercive control was too much to bear, but she couldn't escape.
"I come from a predominantly Aboriginal remote community, where we were told that you do not trust the Department of Community Services because they will take your babies," Ms Smith said.
"But that's not the experience I've had. And so that's one misconception I would like to put out there. They did everything in their power to keep my baby with me."
Ms Smith is working hard to break the domestic violence cycle she first suffered at the hands of her older brother while growing up.
"We make poor decisions based on our traumas and things that happen to us in our family violence," Ms Smith said of her lived experience. "So then we have a tendency to choose our domestic violence partners, basically, and repeat that cycle."
The road ahead will also be a long one for Ms Smith and her daughter as they both navigate healing through the trauma inflicted upon them.
"The trauma affects the children severely, really affects their development, their brain, their functioning, everything," Ms Smith said.
Her message to other women who feel like they are "stuck" in an abusive relationship, is that "it can be scary" but reach out to someone.
"It's been many, many, many attempts over several years for me and my daughter," Ms Smith said, even being locked in a room unable to attend to her screaming daughter when her partner found out she had told someone what was happening.
Ms Smith said she has received incredible help from domestic violence services, and was whisked into a hotel within hours and provided with meal cards and taxi vouchers after she phoned 1800 RESPECT.
However, there was once when she phoned the number and the person on the other line asked her if her partner was ever alone with their daughter, "only at night when I am sleeping", she said.
"And they said, 'well, how do you know it's happening?' That made me feel like they didn't believe me. That crushed me. I thought 'no, you're just like my family'."
"So I hung up on them. I'm feeling that panic again, that 'oh my god, who's going to help me protect my baby',"
"That's the biggest thing for me, through it all, was that constant panic of who's going to help me protect my baby."
It comes shortly after the latest figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) show that domestic violence related assaults in the New England North West have jumped a whopping 22.3 per cent in the five years to June 2023.
The situation with domestic violence in Australia is so severe and serious that one woman on average every week is murdered by a current or former partner.
From July 2024, coercive control laws come into effect in NSW, making it a criminal offence to use abusive methods - such as threats, intimidation and humiliation - to control or abuse a current or former partner.
White Ribbon Day is Friday, November 17, which is a nationally-significant and global movement that aims to put a stop to men's violence towards women.
[*not her real name]
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Domestic Violence Hotline - 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- 13YARN 13 92 76
- Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905
- Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800
- Elder Abuse Hotline 1300 651 192
- Men's Referral Service 1300 766 491
- Men's Line 1300 789 978
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