WHEN Jane* arrived with a bruised face at work she could not bring herself to tell any of her seemingly burly colleagues what happened. Jane said it did not feel the right place to speak up or seek help.
Jane wants to speak out now, more than a decade later, to offer women hope in their most darkest of places.
She has survived three abusive relationships. By the third, the most extreme of her experience with violence, Jane says she could finally recognise the warning signs for what could spiral into exactly what she did not want in a relationship.
Compounding trauma in her personal life prompted Jane to let go her dreams for a career in the construction industry and her "white picket fence" dreams to start a family.
Since moving home to Ballarat seven years ago, Jane has re-built her life with strong support from family and friends.
Jane said, for her, moving forward was about making small steps in minimising danger when in a difficult situation.
Jane wants to encourage women to never feel down on themselves if in a difficult and dangerous situation, rather to focus on hope - however seemingly tiny a flicker of hope it might be.
Above all, Jane wants women in such relationships to remember it was not their fault.
I got a steady job, my own place and surrounded myself with good people. Then, I could kinda let the bad experiences go.Jane
Ballarat's frontline welfare workers, specialising in helping family violence survivors say it is vital to note this is one woman's experience - every experience is different - but it helps highlight key messages of resilience.
Jane left Ballarat straight out of high school for university studies in Melbourne in the 1990s. She considers herself to have then been naive to living out of home. Within a couple of years, Jane was half-way through a demanding university degree in architecture and a stone restoration apprenticeship.
"I fell into a relationship with a guy from a very different upbringing to me but I didn't worry. I thought things would turn around...He was from an abusive background and he had a rigid personality compared to me, I was more emotional and flexible about things," Jane said. "He dislocated my shoulder. It was fairly traumatic to be an apprentice back at work."
In the next 13 years, Jane had three relationships with men who became physically and emotionally abusive towards her. Jane was thrown against floors, punched in the face, interrogated and isolated from her friends.
Melbourne no longer seemed safe, even after breaking from the third relationship. Witnessing abuse and violent incidents on trains and trams in the city triggered her own horrific memories.
Personal and emotional safety became paramount for Jane and this, for her, meant moving home to a city with familiar faces in the streets.
"I got a steady job, my own place and surrounded myself with good people. Then, I could kinda let the bad experiences go," Jane said.
"Those years were supposed to be the years when you find your life partner and settle down. A lot of my friends have either had their career take off or started families.
"...A lot of women I meet and know, don't understand why I'm alone. For me, it's about making those steps back to my white picket fence situation. It can be a little hard that I'm not the same as everyone...but I'm in a pretty good job and there is an upside on my social life."
Child and Family Services deputy chair Wendy Sturgess said family violence was a trauma and always left a legacy on the survivor.
Jane wanted to tell her story to The Courier without her face, nor her real name.
Ms Sturgess said even when a woman has left an abusive situation, no matter how long ago, many felt it was important to put their own such safety measures in place.
She praised Jane's strength to find resilience in her journey.
The odds are stacked high and it is good to know the woman in this story found her way. It is important women find their own way, what works for themWendy Sturgess, CAFS deputy chief
"The odds are stacked high and it is good to know the woman in this story found her way. It is important women find their own way, what works for them," Ms Sturgess said.
"For some women, this could be leaning on family support, for other women it is joining support groups or counselling. It might be the need to move interstate or it might be to change your name. It is good to know this woman's strength, that she could find amazing resilience to forge a new existence."
Ms Sturgess said a particularly big challenge for women in leaving an abusive relationship was when children were involved. For others, she said it could be the stigma within towns and families - not being believed or supported. Fears for homelessness and work could also be heightened.
Ms Sturgess said it could take years for some women in learning to navigate their lives around lasting impacts of trauma. This could be in finding other ways to find fulfillment in life.
She said women like Jane were incredibly resilient, giving up or changing their dreams in a need to be safe. There was a high risk, Ms Sturgess said, for many women to turn to seek refuge in drugs and alcohol.
Ms Sturgess said survivor support needs were assessed case-by-case.
Central Highlands Integrated Family Violence Committee advocates for a multi-agency response to best support women.
Committee chairman and WRISC executive officer Libby Jewson said the key mission for frontline agencies in the region was to help empower women and stand beside them in the decisions they want to make.
"(Jane)'s story fits what we help to do as an agency but we don't see that result, seven years down the track, how it has changed her life," Ms Jewson said. "For me, it's really empowering for that woman to make decisions around her life.
"...Even within (abusive) relationships, women can be very proactive and resilient in how they manage those relationships. Every day these women work hard to get from one day to the next - that takes enormous strength and resilience."
1800RESPECT is the 24-hour counselling hotline for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk, of family violence.
Lifeline 13 11 14
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