Secret life of us: if these crisis housing walls could talk
THE pin-code security panel on the front door is the only external clue that all is not as it seems at this otherwise non-descript suburban home.
The expansive five-bedroom residence is one of four Tweed Shire refuges for victims of domestic violence managed by On Track Community Programs (OTCP).
The crisis accommodation locations are a well-guarded secret to protect victims from violent partners who can try to hunt them down.
The Tweed Daily News was given permission to inspect one of the homes this week as OTCP seeks to reassure the community that there is still a full suite of services for domestic violence victims following the controversial closure of the Tweed Valley Women's Service in December.
Over Christmas, OTCP's senior domestic violence case worker Debby Maddox was juggling 190 domestic violence cases.
That's now down to 90, she reveals in the front room of the refuge which serves as an OTCP office.
Ms Maddox said the disturbingly high DV statistics in the Tweed were inflated by women (and it is mostly women) escaping violent partners in other states, not just from over the border in Queensland, but across the country.
Pre-Christmas is typically a busy time. Between Christmas and New Year there's often a lull before the number of cases pick up again just before school resumes and post-Valentine's Day.
"It's money pressures; ice is a big thing," she says.
Women can make contact with DV workers dozens of times before they find the courage to leave and file police charges.
It's fair to say that domestic violence workers like Ms Maddox, who has been working on the Northern Rivers for 10 years, see the worst of humanity.
There's the husband who poured acid over his wife's face and body, leaving her disfigured. Last year he was sentenced to six years jail.
Another man over the course of an 11-year marriage engaged in various acts of torture including mutilating his wife's genitals and shooting her in the buttocks, before she mustered the courage to act.
He was sentenced to four years prison.
"To the very last point... she said 'I love him to death'," Ms Maddox said in disbelief.
"People say they are like animals but you know, animals don't treat each other like that," she said.
A university-educated woman lived in her car for six months to escape a violent partner who bashed her in the head on multiple occasions with a mobile phone.
"So you can imagine what she smelt like, what she looked like," she recalls.
"She was too afraid and too ashamed to get Centrelink. She basically lived from garbage tins and handouts."
She's a success story. With the help of OTCP she now has a home, a full-time job and has returned to study.
Ms Maddox confirms that victims and perpetrators come from all stratas of society.
Some of the most extreme cases can involve men with the highest public profiles and most prominent jobs.
Despite the acts of unspeakable cruelty, Ms Maddox is not without compassion for the perpetrators, many of whom have often suffered abuse in their childhood and are completing the circle of violence.
Help is available to them also.
Since taking over the domestic violence contract from Tweed Valley Women's Service on December 17, On Track Community Programs say they have done the following:
- Assisted 254 people experiencing DFV. Of that number, 224 have been women with children, while 25 women and five young people also received help.
- Helped 28 people who needed crisis accommodation in the Tweed Heads area, housing them in one of three new properties opened before Christmas or the re-opened refuge. They were also offered specialist case management services including support to enter more permanent housing, risk assessments, safety planning and links to other legal or community support agencies.
- Provided intensive support for families housed in eight transitional homes in the Tweed region.
- Delivered the Aboriginal Homelessness and Prevention Service in the Tweed Region. The agency has helped 792 Aboriginal people (including families and youth) who were homeless or at risk of being homeless since it started operating in November 2014.