Sarah remembers the night she left, with only the clothes on her back, no shoes on her feet, no money and nowhere to go on a freezing cold night in Melbourne. The city surrounds seemed foreign to this Queenslander, as she ran praying her abuser was not following… “Where should I go? Who can help me? Will I be safe?” It was the 23rd of June 2007, when Sarah escaped the hold of her abusive partner Matt. This decision was three painful and exhausting years in the making…a decision that saved her life.
From the outside, her friends thought she had it all. She was 33, beautiful, slim, blonde, extremely generous and an intelligent woman. She reflected exuberance in everything she did. Sarah had a wealthy and good-looking partner, a large house to match and a lifestyle anyone would be envious of. From the onset, her life was ideal, but this quickly changed as her partner became possessive and demanded she asked his permission regarding what she wore, who she could see and insisted upon her email and banking details. If they were going to be in a relationship he believed “there would be no secrets and no withheld information, no matter how minor” says Sarah. Matt wanted her undivided attention and became violent if she did not obey his wishes.
It began with mental manipulation, taking away small luxuries and promoting feelings of guilt. Over time, this behaviour morphed into the calculated mental and physical violence, portrayed in horror movies – the work of a true “a psychopath”. Sarah was regularly “slapped and choked”, had a gun pointed to her head, and lost all her belongings, “he burnt photos, family memorabilia, [her] Great Grandmothers jewellery”. The most shocking abuse occurred when after hitting her repeatedly, “he locked [Sarah] in a shipping container for two days without water”. He gave her a mirror, that after two days she smashed and cut herself with in a desperate bid for some kind of hydration. Sarah was exhausted and screaming for help “but no one could hear [her],” she was “broken [and at her] lowest point”.
It was some months after hearing of her ordeal, whilst flicking through the local ‘Leader’ newspaper that I came across an article about an organisation called ‘Pinchapoo.’ As I read I was reminded of Sarah. ‘Pinch-a-poo’ was soon revealed to mean ‘pinch a shampoo’. This group has been set up by a former victim of domestic abuse, to provide women in shelters with the essentials they flee their abusers without; shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, soap. ‘Pinchapoo’ began with the power of social media. Local Box-Hill resident, Kate Austin created a Facebook page asking people to donate the little toiletries they had ‘pinched’ from motels and had no purpose for. Promotion for ‘Pinchapoo’ continued with the Leader newspaper publishing a second article on the organisation. Kate Austin’s local initiative has been inundated with mini toiletries. So much so, that at one stage Kate had “an entire room in her house filled with these donations”. Whilst Kate “could never have imagined such a positive response”, she is using her growing support to improve the lives of others. A beautician by trade, Kate has begun to ask for donations of make-up and is holding beauty workshops at a local women’s shelter, to “help these women regain their confidence, feel beautiful and respect themselves once more”.
Like Sarah, Kate fled her abusive relationship at night. However, she was not fleeing a partner; she was fleeing her abusive father at the age of fifteen, with no-where to go and little hope. She spent that first night on the streets, cold, alone, with no essentials or any particular strategy. The following day Kate sought assistance from a shelter, much like the one she assists today. Looking back, Kate acknowledges that leaving home at such a young age was “a pretty gutsy decision”, one that could have lead her “completely off-the-rails”. Kate is currently married with two beautiful little boys, owns her own beauty-salon and is giving back to the support system that helped her find her way. Sarah and Kate are among the growing number of female domestic abuse survivors in Australia – an issue recognised by many Victorian communities as serious, yet it remains an issue people tend to avoid.
Domestic violence, “is a pattern of behaviour which involves the abuse by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as marriage, cohabitation, dating or within the family” (Tower, Rowe & Wallis, 2011). In 2011, 101,600 women were sexually assaulted in Australia, with 21 per cent reporting that the perpetrator was a previous partner and eight percent implicating a current partner (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011). Thirty one per cent of women were physically assaulted by a current and/or previous partner (ABS, 2011).
These statistics are higher than the average cancer related death rate in 2011, yet domestic violence is not discussed as openly within the community; even though the implications of domestic abuse are just as terrifying. Local psychologist Robyn Habner, believes the best way to prevent domestic violence is for victims to be open and somewhat public about their abuse stories. “Society often acknowledges domestic abuse, through donating to charities and so on …however the most powerful contribution they could make is to listen to these victims’ ordeals.”
According to a psychological study conducted by Paula Nicholson (2010) ‘Fear’ is a key element in domestic violence and is often the most powerful way a perpetrator controls their victim”. As Robyn explains, “often the psychological tactics abusers use place genuine fear into the lives of victims that they feel leaving will harm those they care most about”. Sarah experienced such fear as Matt threatened to harm her family if she ever left. As a consequence of her escape, Matt harassed her family to the extent that it damaged Sarah’s relationship with them. “They felt angry that I had brought fear into their lives, especially my brother and sister who had little children and it was distressing for my mother” says Sarah. “I could not contact my family and friends for months to protect them”.
Sarah believes the existence of organisations such as Pinchapoo are important, “It is the little things that mean a lot to you, that help you…that give you a lot of drive and hope to get well again…it’s a wonderful feeling to know someone cares when you escape after being so broken down”. Sarah remembers when she received “a toothbrush and soap, a towel; coffee… a pair of shoes…it just felt like there was angels looking after you”. She was unaware of the support systems which were available to her. These organisations are not-for-profit and lack publicity, they rely on community support.
The first step as a community in preventing domestic abuse is to accept its existence. There are many organisations in the Melbourne community which you can be involved with, such as donating toiletries to Pinchapoo, volunteering at shelters and raising money for foundations such as White Ribbon. The prevention of domestic abuse begins with the individual; it is your pledge not to commit domestic violence, to be comfortable enough to listen to victims and not pass judgement. Violence against any human being is morally wrong. Domestic abuse is against the law. We all know this, yet why it is still occurring? Take the first step in preventing domestic violence by listening and learning from the experiences of these women.
If you would like to donate any unwanted toiletries or make-up to Pinchapoo, please click on the website below or visit the Facebook page:
Remember, someone is always willing to listen, you are not alone and there will always be hope. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse below is a list of resources and helplines you can access:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline (SAFE):
Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline (is a 24 hour service):
Ph: (08) 9223 1188
Free Call: 1800 007 339
Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline (is a 24 hour service):
Ph: (08) 9223 1199
Free Call: 1800 000 599
1800 RESPECT a 24 hour counselling line:
1800 737 732
Lifeline (24 hours):
Victoria Specific Helplines:
Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service of Victoria
1800 015 188 or 9322 3555
Sexual Assault Crisis Line
1800 806 292
Men’s Referral Service
1800 065 973
For more Resources:
To find contact details and links to more organisations refer to the Domestic Violence Resource Centre: