Domestic abuse survivor lives life looking over her shoulder
A woman hides from violent ex-partner by using extreme methods on social media. (ABC Kimberley: Molly Hunt)
A woman who escaped her violent ex-partner has spoken of the extreme measures she takes to keep her location secret, including her methods on social media to stay hidden.
The woman, who is not being named in order to protect her identity, has lived in fear of being found for four years.
She met her then-partner at the early age of 17 and quickly fell in love.
“It was all happy and lovey-dovey. It was the first relationship for me,” she said.
Just one year into the relationship, her partner turned violent.
“He began accusing me of having sexual relations with other men at my job,” she said.
“One day I went into work and I had a huge slap mark on my face. My co-workers asked what happened.”
She told her co-workers a lie to cover up her partner’s actions.
“That was my first time hiding domestic violence,” she said.
“I was mentally imprisoned. I could have left but I was optimistic, and I thought if I left, he was going to kill me.”
The violence continued for nine years.
In 2014, tired of being tormented, the woman sought help from the West Australian Department of Child Protection.
She was given advice on how to escape her partner with her young children.
After hatching a plan to escape, the woman had to buy some time.
To avoid her partner’s suspicions, the woman pretended she was still in love with him for several days.
Her escape day came, and she made her way to the airport.
She sat anxiously at the airport with her children waiting to escape.
Inside, she was “really happy” but also frightened she would get caught.
“I was expecting to get hit from behind,” she recalled.
This December marks four years since the mother left her partner. She continues to live her life looking over her shoulder and is especially careful in the digital world.
Her Facebook account is set on private and shows a different location. When sharing photos of her children, she only shows photos that are a few years old.
If she is sharing current photos, she makes sure her children are wearing plain clothes and are photographed in an unrecognisable place.
Yourtown’s Domestic and Family Violence refuge offers advice to women, who have escaped a domestic abuse situation, about their social media presence.
Refuge manager, Karen (the ABC is not using her surname for safety reasons), said it was dangerous for women to be using social media, “especially when dealing with high risk offenders”.
She warned how location settings on mobile phones could link to various social media platforms, without the user being aware.
The refuge runs workshop on how to stay safe from perpetrators on social media.
“Women in refuges are encouraged not to have social media and/or have their location turned off,” Karen said.
Parents also needed to be aware of their children’s social media activity.
“We’ve seen offenders track children down through friends of friends,” Karen said.
After-effects of domestic violence
Despite leaving her partner four years ago, the mother is still dealing with the psychological after-effects.
“I have huge trust issues and I still have so many physical scars,” she said.
She often thought she would die at the hands of her partner.
“He would sit on top of me and choke me. I felt oxygen leave my brain and I stopped struggling,” she said.
“He hit me with golf clubs, smacked me on the head, smashed a cup on my face.
“His excuse was that, ‘It’s because I love you’. I knew the cycle: I’d seen it growing up.
“I got the scar on my face when I was lying down in bed. He swung and sliced me right there,” she said, referring to a scar around her neck.
Her partner controlled her every move. She wasn’t allowed to visit her friends or even leave the house to go grocery shopping.
“He accused me and said I would meet up with men in the toilets, while my kids were there.
“He was a really sick-minded person.”
Social media help
Domestic violence perpetrators can often find ways to get in contact with their former partners via social media, and sometimes it’s because of a small detail that has been missed.
Heidi Guldbaek from the Women’s Services Network (WESNET) is a national trainer and tech safety specialist who helps clients understand how to be tech savvy and avoid unwanted contact.
“We help them understand how their privacy and security settings can be secured,” she said.
Ms Guldbaek said it was not a one-size-fits-all approach. It could be challenging giving advice because each case depended on the type of relationship the two parties had.
Some clients considered cutting all ties to social media which was not ideal.
“If we expect them shut down their Facebook, phones, or technology, that’s not feasible,” she said.
“That’s digital exclusion.”
Ms Guldbaek advised anyone experiencing harassment from an abusive partner to devise a safety plan and speak to a specialist.
Despite the mother having to follow extreme social media protocols, she said she was able to do whatever she wanted, such as going the shops without facing the wrath of a violent partner.
“I feel free. Free of everything.