When Eugenia Mora first opened up about her experience with domestic violence, she didn’t expect to provoke anger within her community.
“[They] said that we shouldn’t be talking about it, that we shouldn’t be following that up, just let it go,” she says.
“And I said, ‘but why? Every single day, it happens’.”
As the first female president of the Australian Ecuadorian Association, she’d given a speech to a Latin American International Women’s Day lunch in 2013, hoping to start a conversation about what she knew, anecdotally, was happening behind closed doors.
Instead, she found that “no-one wanted to talk about their own realities”.
“They were not aware that domestic violence was not only a physical thing, [it] is also present in other ways,” she says.
“Especially men that were jealous, who would not allow [their wives] to go places they wanted to go, study the course that they wanted to study, work at the places they wanted to work, or in the field that they wanted to work in.”
Eugenia still has the badge from the International Women’s Day event where she shared her personal story. (ABC RN: Sophie Kesteven)
Appalled by the lack of awareness and the culture of silence, Ms Mora decided to do something about it.
She approached various community leaders to get support for a domestic violence education session for Latin American women in Sydney.
“Unfortunately the community was not ready for this,” she says.
“The men became aggressive, they said I should be learning how to cook. My community tried to silence me. So I did it on my own.”
It wasn’t the first time Ms Mora had had to fight for change.
Eugenia Mora was a victim of domestic violence for more than 13 years. (ABC RN: Sophie Kesteven)
Ms Mora moved to Sydney with her parents to escape the political turbulence of 1970s Ecuador.
She touched down in Australia during the era of assimilation, and a smooth integration into high school was made impossible by her struggle to learn English at the tender age of 13.
The traumatic move damaged Eugenia’s relationship with her parents, and as an adult she decided to move back to Ecuador alone.
But first, she took a trip to the United States.
“Everyone had said if you’ve never been to New York you have never seen the world. The first thing that I wanted to visit was the Statue of Liberty,” she recalls.
The outing would change everything.
Abuse and poverty
On a subway, she met Edgar, a fellow Ecuadorian trying to make it in New York. The pair immediately hit it off and she decided to stay in America with him.
But Ms Mora’s legal status meant she couldn’t work in the US, and when she fell pregnant to Edgar, she and their daughter became financially dependent on him.
The relationship deteriorated into one of abuse.
“One day I put on lipstick so I could go and greet him, but he came home one hour earlier than I expected him,” Ms Mora says.
“He asked ‘why did you put lipstick on? Who is he?’ He hit me so hard; I didn’t know what to do.”
Afraid of how her parents would react, she didn’t seek support or speak openly about what she was going through.
“It was a matter of staying with him, facing domestic violence, or coming back to my mother’s place in Australia,” she says.
“But to hear my mother say ‘what have you done with your life?’ — I didn’t finish high school, I was nobody — it was best to stay back in New York.”
For five years, Ms Mora and Edgar lived in poverty in New York. They had another daughter, and eventually decided to move the family back to Australia, where Ms Mora could work.
“I begged my parents to bring me back here. I knew my girls needed a future. For the very first time I thanked my parents that they brought me to Australia,” she says.
Back in Australia, Edgar struggled to hold down a job and developed substance abuse problems.
This lasted for many years until a counsellor advised Ms Mora to take out an apprehended violence order against her husband.
They separated shortly after and lost touch, but the scars from the relationship remained.
“I think my daughters regretted me getting divorced to their father … I also think they saw a lot of things they don’t want to remember,” she says.
A push for change
Years later, Ms Mora put together a culturally sensitive domestic violence workshop, with police and local leaders.
Despite receiving threatening phone calls and requests that she step back, she pressed on.
She had no idea how many people would come, but to her surprise 60 Latin American women showed up.
The week after the workshop, one woman separated from her husband.
“You don’t know the peace that I now have inside of me,” Ms Mora says.
Eugenia Mora felt it was her responsibility to inform women in the Latin American community about domestic violence. (ABC RN: Sophie Kesteven)
Kimberley Hood, a project officer in the women’s domestic violence court advocacy program at Legal Aid NSW, said victims from migrant communities can face complex issues.
“What happens in migrant communities when they come to Australia is they’re often isolated,” she says
“They often don’t have the rest of their family with them or they might be living with their husband’s family.
“Maybe then they don’t know where to turn.”
Ms Hood says services have improved in the few years since Ms Mora ran her workshop in her community.
“The NSW Government has introduced a number of initiatives that have brought domestic and family violence to the forefront,” she says.
“It’s much more in public eye, police have introduced more programs for offenders and the NSW Government have introduced Safer Pathways which is a coordinated, consistent response to victims for domestic and family violence that are at serious threat of further injury, harm or death.”