A few hours within publishing the devastating story of a Greek mother, her two children and their struggle to start a new life after fleeing domestic violence, Neos Kosmos was overwhelmed by calls and messages from people in the community desperately wanting to help.
The woman, who we will call Marina to protect her identity, is currently living with her children in housing that has been provided to her by one of the several agencies responsible for assisting survivors of family violence to find a safe home and assist in their recovery.
Marina’s troubles started years ago, when she migrated from Greece to live with her partner, only to discover a few months later, that he had a violent nature. Incidents of physical abuse, she claims became a constant in her life.
“After six months I wanted to return to Greece. If I had money I would have left,” she told Neos Kosmos, but without knowing the language and without money, fleeing was a near impossible feat, especially with young children.
She tried three time to separate, she explained, “but I had no one here, I did not know the language and I felt completely lost. It was a wild feeling. Those I spoke to, encouraged me to go back, to give him one more chance. But people don’t change. That is what I have come to understand.”
The last incident of abuse by her partner was so severe that Marina ended up in hospital. That was the moment, around one and half years ago, that she was taken into the care of a family violence response team, who gave her and her children refuge.
The mother and her children moved from one emergency accommodation to another, until she was given a permanent home in a Melbourne suburb, and her file was transferred to one of the several state agencies that are responsible to monitor and guide the survivors of family violence in receiving the care they need as well as the government support they are eligible for, so they can find their independence and recover.
Neos Kosmos published her story this week to cast the spotlight on the complex and dramatic problems faced by victims of domestic abuse after Marina had sent her children, once again, to school without food.
Her bank account was empty, she told us, adding that she couldn’t make ends meet while trying to recover and stand on her own, with the support of relevant state agencies.
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New beginnings and obstacles
The government payment she is now receiving for her children is not enough, she told Neos Kosmos. From that payment, money for rent is subtracted, and the electricity bills need to be paid, and then whatever little is left goes towards food and for anything else that may arise.
She realised her bank account was empty when her payment was declined at the supermarket.
“I told my child to put down what they were holding so we could leave. But a gentleman in the queue felt sorry for us. I refused his help but he kept on insisting to pay for our shopping, not for me, ‘but for the child’, he said,” Marina told Neos Kosmos.
She added that the government funds these agencies which gives her a home to stay but “they don’t come to see in what state we are living in these houses”.
Marina describes the accommodation as filthy and infested with bedbugs.
“Every night we slept, only to wake up with more spots. When the doctor saw us he told us to leave the place immediately as living in that environment would impact our health.”
The house was disinfected, but Marina continues to spray the rooms daily in order to keep the bedbugs under control. Due to the chemicals she uses, she is also concerned about the health of her children.
Marina finds that she has reached a dead end. Her communication with her agency, until the day after speaking with Neos Kosmos, was mainly about settling her bills, she said.
It is also apparent, that because of her poor understanding of the language, she has no idea to what she is entitled to.
“I am not a beggar,” Marina said, stressing that she doesn’t want to live on handouts and the mercy of others, but from what she is entitled to. She has applied for a job, and hopes that if she gets it, that might help her situation.
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Community rallies to help
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese responded immediately when Neos Kosmos informed them of Marina’s situation and in the hours that followed, she received food and assistance to get them by for a few days. PRONIA also reacted immediately, taking over her file.
“Her case is complex,” the organisation told Neos Kosmos, but said they would do all in their power to help the mother and her two young children.
Many multicultural groups, including the Greek community, have noticed a rise in domestic violence in families during the pandemic. Like Marina, others have got in touch with our newspaper including another Greek Australian woman who claims she gets beaten up by her husband and needed assistance in finding a policeman of Greek descent to help her obtain an intervention order.
Meanwhile, to support the family, contact PRONIA at 7 Union Street, Brunswick, Vic, 3056. Telephone (03) 9388 9998
If you need support or more information, please contact 1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732 or Lifeline: 131 114. Anyone with concerns about suspected child abuse or exploitation should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or online.
Australian government’s focus on women
Many multicultural groups have noticed a rise in domestic violence in families within their communities.
Assistant Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Minister Graham Wood, who also has a background as a police officer, told the multicultural press during a budget briefing that “too often we get to see a victim believing that they need to stay with the offender, particularly with children” and pointed to a pathway, working with the home affairs community.
“The Morrison government is very supportive of victims of family violence,” he said, pointing to the government’s investment of $1.1 billion in funding for women’s safety; $1.9 billion to support women’s economic security including $1.7 billion to improve the affordability of child care for Australian families and $351.6 million in women’s health and wellbeing measures during this month’s announcement of the Budget.
“Our approach to developing this Women’s Budget Statement has been informed by our values of respect, dignity, choice, equality of opportunity and justice – these are fundamental to the safety and economic security of women in Australia,” Prime Minister Morrison said.The package builds on the Government’s investment for women in Australia, including under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-22 (the National Plan) and the 2018 and 2020 Women’s Economic Security Statements.
Mr Morrison told multicultural communities that “people experiencing family violence will not have their visa cancelled if their relationship breaks down because of family and domestic violence.”
“This is a very important change that we’ve made because this is often used as a threat over women experiencing violence in these situations, when they’re told that they’ll lose their visas if they tell people, and this is not the case,” he said, pointing out how the pandemic has made domestic violence more acute as, in many cases, “victims have been locked up with their abusers”.