Content warning: family violence, mental health, thoughts of suicide.
Aish is a member of our Inspire for Change victim-survivor advisory group, this is her story…
In the winter of 2014 I was a new bride, smiling as I toasted my husband in front of friends and family thinking “how can anyone be this perfect?” Little did I know, the person I’d just promised to love for the rest of my life would become my oppressor.
Within a month of the wedding I was in Melbourne. A place where I’d been promised I could build a life, undertake PhD studies in special and inclusive education and continue my career working with differently-abled children. But this was not to be.
As soon as we arrived my husband’s behaviour began to change.
It was months before he allowed me to have a key to our apartment and when I suggested we take a trip into the city centre or have people around for dinner he would tell me how dangerous Australia was, how people could not be trusted unless you really truly knew them.
Isolated in the apartment, I had no access to a computer, the Wi-Fi password would change every week and even the TV was password protected. So I found myself passing the days gazing over the ledge of our balcony, watching the tiny people toing and froing in the street below, waiting for 3:00 pm when friends and family in my home country would begin to wake and I might receive a message from home.
Decisions about what I would wear, what I could eat, where I could go and who I could speak to were made without my consultation. Forbidden from earning money of my own, every purchase in our lives was decided upon by my husband.
I missed my family. I missed travelling and learning new skills. I missed the sense of connection I used to have with friends and colleagues. I missed teaching children and the sense of purpose this gave me.
Despite this, people often said I had a dream life. But there’s a stark difference between being taken care of and being controlled. This is one way cultural thinking can be damaging, as even today some parents who seek a partner for their daughter, may mistake controlling behaviours as signs of love, care and providing protection.
As the months progressed, the abuse I endured evolved from social isolation to financial abuse, to verbal abuse and psychological abuse. And then the physical attacks began.
I was afraid to challenge him as even a simple question could trigger an uncontrollable rage. A glass thrown, a knock to the ground or hand clasped tightly around my throat until my vision blurred. And just as suddenly as the rage began it would end, with me being comforted and consoled by the very person who had hurt me as he said the words “look what you made me do, I have to do this to keep you safe.”
Every day I hoped someone would hear my cries and knock on the door to ask if I was ok, but they never did. I searched for people to confide in, wives of his friends who knew us both and might do something to end the abuse, but they never did.
I was worried to talk about any of this with my family as I wanted to protect them from my pain.
As the months and years passed, I grew compliant as I was conditioned. Feeling my vibrant former self slip away as fear filled every minute of my day. Exhausted, I would sleep long into the afternoon and my brain began to feel muddled, foggy, dull.
Things continued this way until one day my husband left the house and never returned. His only communication a carefully worded email – as if written by a lawyer – saying “I fear for my life and don’t feel safe around you, I will be contacting immigration to inform them we are no longer a legitimate couple, I do not want to mislead the department.”
Within a week he had disconnected the water and electricity to the house and a day later, I was taken to hospital suffering from shock.
When inTouch first contacted me at the request of my doctor I was so unaware of the support I required. All I wanted to do was fix my relationship, to restore everything to normal even if that included more abuse. It was all I knew.
But when I met *Indra, a case manager from inTouch, everything changed. She knew straight away my visa would be in jeopardy and started working to protect me from deportation by searching for evidence of our relationship. She asked;
“Do you have a joint bank account?” I said no.
“Do bills come to the house in your name?” I said no
“Do you have a rental agreement in your name?” I said no.
“Do you have people in Australia who can say they know you as a couple?” I said only his friends who believe I am the one at fault because of the terrible, misleading things he has been saying about my character.
It was then that I began to realise he knew what he was doing all along…
Often it is extremely difficult to get family and friends to hear and understand experiences of abuse because manipulation, coercive behaviour and gaslighting is hard to prove. Especially when there is disbelief and denial.
I will never forget the day *Indra told me this was something that happened to many, many women. It was a revelation to me that there were other women like me, that inTouch existed because family violence in migrant and refugee communities is such a big problem.
The fact that *Indra understood my culture meant I could begin to trust her and open up. She understood my sense of safety was tied up with my husband, that co-dependency as a result of coercion and conditioning was a challenge I would need to overcome. And she understood that any action I took could disappoint my family. Peeling back my beliefs, she would say “yes that is culture, but it’s still not ok”, “yes that is culture, but it’s still abuse.” It is because of *Indra that I now believe culture is only important to preserve if it empowers people. If not, it is little more than bondage, designed to hold women back with the chain of tradition.
With support from *Indra and *Jana from the inTouch community legal centre, I was guided through my visa application with a sure and steady hand at my back. Without these two women supporting me, encouraging me and helping me I would not be here today.
When women are in immediate danger there is support available. But it is short term, and when it ends you find yourself looking around asking what do I do next? Where do I go now? How do I heal?
After I received my visa and my divorce was confirmed, my case was closed with inTouch. Suddenly I couldn’t even speak with the people who had been guiding me through.
For the longest time after this, I was without support and feeling so alone in my journey. With no way to meet other people, develop myself or build a new life. I was severely depressed and thinking about suicide.
This is why inSpire programs are so critical. Tailored to assist migrant and refugee women after conventional crisis interventions and support end, the programs support women to be empowered, find hope, community and the strength and confidence to move forward with their life after escaping family violence.
This initiative drives real and long-lasting change as women with lived experience and people who’ve dedicated their lives to working in this area, come together to transform the lives of victim-survivors.
When I first moved into an apartment of my own, the sight of the empty rooms broke my heart. It felt as though my life was as empty as those rooms were stark and white, and the dreams I’d had for my life as a young woman were so far from reach.
But slowly, I’ve been able to furnish my home, taking back control over my life. And it feels magical.
A story from the Bible often comes to mind when I think about my journey and that of other women with similar experiences. It discusses how gold is refined by a goldsmith through exposure to immense heat and pressure as it is worked to take its new shape. I like to think that this is the process I am going through – and the goldsmiths are people like those at inTouch and women who are a part of inSpire who are with me on this journey. Every time they provide support to women who have experienced family violence they are refining gold, shining it little by little as women build their new lives. In this way I feel I am slowly being refined, buffed and shaped. The process is hard, but the end result will be beautiful.
I’m so glad to be here in Australia to experience this transformation, and thankful for the help I received from *Jana and *Indra as well as the people working on inSpire programs who help women find long-term wellbeing after family violence. I know that one day soon I will be able to show my parents that even though I haven’t followed the traditional path, I am strong, my head is held high and I am forging my path forward on my terms.
By sharing her story Aish hopes to show women who may be experiencing family violence that abuse is never ok and culturally responsive services like inTouch are available to listen, understand and help women to live free from violence.
Aish experienced additional barriers as she was on a temporary visa and she hopes to also raise more awareness around this issue. Her husband used her temporary migration status as a form of power, to control every aspect of her life. Read more here about her experience being a woman on a temporary visa who was experiencing family violence here.
Help ensure our inSpire programs are available to support women after conventional support services end. Donate to inSpire today and help women rebuild their lives after family violence.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
Would you like to speak to someone after reading this story? Please call Lifeline on 13 11 14
In case of an emergency, please call Police on 000.
Are you or someone you know experiencing family violence? Call;
– Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre 1800 015 188 (24 hours)
– Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1800 806 292 (24 hours)
– inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence 1800 755 988 (9am – 5pm Mon to Fri)