Australia

Shiralee escaped 'relentless' domestic violence, only to end up homeless

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The number of people seeking homelessness services after experiencing domestic violence is increasing each year, a new report has found.

After years of "relentless" abuse at the hands of her partner, Shiralee Martins said she'd had enough and fled her community in the Northern Territory for what she hoped would be a better life in Sydney.

But when she arrived, the hardships were far from over.

"I just wanted to get out of there, I felt like I'd be looking over my shoulder like forever," she said.

"I was like really thinking about committing suicide and stuff like that. I felt like I didn't have anywhere to go."

Mission Australia's Out of the Shadows report, released on Thursday, shows Ms Martins is far from alone.

Shiralee Martins escaped a violent relationship, only to find herself without a home.
Shiralee Martins escaped a violent relationship, only to find herself without a home.
Supplied

According to the report, 42 per cent of all people who sought assistance from homelessness services in the last financial year were experiencing domestic violence. Of these, more than three quarters were women.

Ms Martins told SBS News she contacted police when her partner was violent but he "would always come back" and that sometimes, police would refuse to help her. It took her Aunty intervening to allow her the chance to get away.

"I didn't know if the police would help me if I might get stuck again," she said.

When she arrived in Sydney in December 2017, she tried staying with her father but was forced to leave due to alcoholism and violence. 

Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children in Australia.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children in Australia.
Mission Australia

Afterwards, she couch-surfed with friends and relatives but because of her past history with violence and the resulting post-traumatic stress disorder, she found she couldn't relax in environments that weren't safe.

Eventually, she contacted a homelessness service and has now found temporary accommodation which she hopes will lead to something permanent.

Many others are not so lucky.

According to Mission Australia, the number of people seeking homelessness services after experiencing domestic and family violence is increasing by an average of 9 per cent each year - and resources are already at capacity.

"Everyone has the right to a safe and secure home. Yet there’s very little hope of addressing homelessness if there aren’t enough social or affordable homes for individuals and families to build a settled life in when escaping domestic and family violence," Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said in a statement.

The number of people seeking homelessness services after experiencing domestic and family violence is increasing by an average of 9 per cent each year.
The number of people seeking homelessness services after experiencing domestic and family violence is increasing by an average of 9 per cent each year.
Supplied

"We must acknowledge the enormity and reality of the problem if we are going to work towards real and lasting change."

The data also showed that Indigenous women, like Ms Martins, are more likely to experience family violence than the non-Indigenous population.

In 2017-18, one in four Indigenous people sought assistance due to family violence, with Indigenous women 32 times more likely to be injured and taken to hospital for family violence. 

"It should also be noted that, despite the public narrative to the contrary, violence against Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women is not always perpetrated by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander men," the report states.

Ms Martins said she wanted to make sure people from her community know it's possible to seek help.

"They kind of accept the domestic violence thing, they kind of think this normal kind of thing," she said.

"I hope my message gets to people that know me or anyone, I hope it would give them an idea that they can live free or they know they can have a life after all of that."

Mission Australia also noted that women from migrant and refugee backgrounds face additional barriers in seeking help.

Cultural stigma and shame associated with domestic violence, isolation within communities, inability to speak English and a lack of understanding of Australian laws are all considerations when seeking assistance.

"Particular visa classes can restrict a woman’s access to housing, employment, social security, health care, child care and education, or establish a dependency on men where sponsorship is required," the report said.

"The response and support available to women should not be dependent on migration status."

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 16 per cent of Australian women have experienced violence from a partner after the age of 15. For men, the percentage is 5.9 per cent. 

Domestic Violence NSW spokesperson Renata Field told SBS News there needs to be more done to end homelessness - but to do that, she said, you need to end domestic and family violence as well.

"Unfortunately domestic and family violence is the highest risk factor for death disability and illness in women of childbearing age," she said.

"The effects of domestic and family violence are not short term. They can be lifelong. A lot of women that we speak to spend 15, 20, 30 years trying to deal with the consequences of the violence."

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

If you are struggling mentally contact lifeline crisis support and suicide prevention on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.

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