Amanda, 39, arrives at work on a Thursday morning and shares a joke and a laugh with her colleagues about a show they watched last night. Making a coffee and starting up her computer, she appears happy and relaxed as she begins her workday. But this is a mask – a mask she’s put on every morning for the past 15 years. The mask tells the world she is OK. But Amanda is not OK.
Amanda’s husband started exercising coercive control over her soon after their relationship began. After the birth of their first child, she suffered emotional abuse including putdowns about her parenting and intimidation. She was subjected to physical abuse when he punched her in the arm and threw a phone charger at her, hitting her in the head. He even made threats to falsify information to child safety officers and police about her.
Centacare Area Manager Patricia Gorman said it’s not unusual for women who are experiencing domestic and family violence to hide what’s going on in their lives, especially from the people they are closest to.
“Professional women, in particular, have the tendency to feel shame or even embarrassment about what they’re experiencing,” said Ms Gorman.
“They can sometimes believe that, as an educated woman or a professional woman, they should’ve known better or recognised the signs earlier.
“Quite often they choose to remain silent for fear of hurting their career. Of course, if there are children involved, there is a strong motivation to protect them. There is usually a fear of the violence escalating, sometimes to the point where they could be killed.
“Wearing a mask, or putting on a brave face for the world, is something that women experiencing domestic and family violence become used to. It becomes second nature and they become very good at it. They believe that keeping the mask on is an easier option than what they consider the repercussions may be if they seek help or talk about their experience.”
The Federal Government introduced new legislation, effective 1 February 2023, to ensure that all employees are entitled to 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave per year (with employees of small businesses being entitled to the 10 days from 1 August 2023).
This allows employees who are experiencing domestic and family violence to make arrangements for their safety, attend medical or counselling appointments, access legal services and attend court hearings among other things.
Centacare General Manager Anick de Réland said domestic and family violence is far more present than anybody could imagine.
“It could be people in our family who are subjected to it, and we don’t know about it,” she said.
Centacare practitioners can help women to remove the mask. They create a safe and confidential space for women to share their darkest secrets. They listen without judgement and will help women explore their options and move toward a future where they feel safe.
In the 2023 financial year, Centacare supported more than 17,000 people experiencing domestic and family violence across South East Queensland. A large percentage of those cases were considered high risk and involved child safety.
Centacare also provides crisis intervention, counselling, safety planning, court support and essential services such as post-crisis housing and long-term case management and support.
Ms de Réland said Centacare needed donations to help deliver its vital work.
“When a woman is escaping violence, everything is often left behind,” she said.
“In the first instance, donations can help purchase vouchers for petrol and for buying groceries, clothes, and baby needs. School children require uniforms, shoes, bags and the IT equipment they will use in class – otherwise they will stand out very quickly in class.”
If you’d like to support Centacare’s domestic and family violence services, you can make a donation.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing (or is at risk of experiencing) domestic and family violence, contact your local Centacare domestic and family violence service.
In an emergency, call 000.
You can also call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT for advice and support. This service is open 24 hours and provides confidential advice via phone or webchat.
Please note, this story is a fictionalised account of a real scenario. The real name of the subject in this story has not been used.