Shirley Smith is a domestic violence survivor. She was verbally, physically and sexually abused over 16 years by two partners who regularly left her bleeding and black and blue from bruises.
She lost nine babies because of the violence as she fought to survive the horrific times.
And survive, she did, to fight another day, her battles culminating in her escape and now a book of her life aimed at helping other women chart their way to a happier and healthier life from the pain, the shame and indignity piled on her from the day when, as a teenager, she fell “in love” with her first tormentor. This where the start of her human rights began to slowly disappear.
Shirley (not her real name) has dedicated her book Becoming A Queen Again “to every woman who has suffered any form of abuse at the hands of others”. It is a raw, unapologetic account of what she suffered during the interminable abuse from her partners and the, at times, soul destroying journey to get away.
Shirley explains in her book that she “had to do what I had to do to SURVIVE”, adding that “a lot of people don’t get that domestic violence is a matter of survival”.
“But I can tell you this Queen, every word, every hit, every time he belittles you, when he takes your money, when he tells you what to wear, it makes your fight for survival grow inside you.
“That’s the reason you get up.
“You may not think you are, but you are already strong. I’m not writing this to say poor me. I am writing this to show each and every person that yes, it’s hard, but if you put your head down and focus on a better future for yourself YOU WILL BECOME A QUEEN AGAIN.
In an interview with SheSociety coinciding with the release of Shirley’s e-book, Shirley said she wrote it to empower other women like her.
“I want the women that read my book Becoming A Queen Again to remember their worth no matter how hard it is to leave a relationship that is abusive; no matter its shape or form.
“They are worthy of a life free from abuse, the fight which burns inside them, to get up every time they are knocked down. That fight to leave and stay alive.
“Because, Queens, you deserve that life. I want the women being abused to know that they are not alone in their fight, in their struggles.
In a direct message to other domestic violence victims she said: “I see you QUEENS, I feel your tears, but most of all I understand.
“I do get it. I understand why you don’t leave because you believe he loves you. He controls all that you do, you have been made to think he will take or hurt the kids, hurt your family, that you can’t survive without him. I get that real fear, your love and hope that things will change or go back to the way it used to be.
“You are not invisible. Queen, I wrote this book to not only to remind you but to remind myself; every day I when I wake up, I tell myself the same things.
“You are STRONG! You are POWERFUL! You are KIND! You are AMAZING! You are BEAUTIFUL! You are LOVABLE! You are WORTHY! You are AMAZING! You are RESILIENT! But most of all YOU CAN leave; because you DESERVE THIS. But most of all YOU are not ALONE.”
Shirley said she was 18/19yrs old when she met “my perpetrator”, and that day, that moment, her life slowly turned upside down.
“I want young women to read my book to see the signs, to see how quickly a life can change because I too believed that he would never do any of the things that I have experienced,” she said.
“And each time he abused me, the violence escalated, and at the end it was beyond extreme. The violence, the torture, and the head games, the sexual abuse, the manipulation, the FEAR was beyond one’s imagination. I want victims to gain the knowledge and the courage to be strong enough to leave once the VERY first sign of abuse begins.
“I want families of those being abused, those wanting to understand why women ‘don’t just leave’, those studying to enter the community sector, those who already work in the sector. I want members of the parliament to all read my book so that maybe they can gain some understanding, empathy and offer their support to women and men who are being abused.
“To help these men and women regain their lives. I want them to STEP UP and INTERVENE when they see the violence happening. Not turn their head the other way or close their windows when they hear the screaming coming from the neighbors.”
In response to a question from SheSociety asking her to detail how she found that taking the big step to leave a violent relationship became even more frightening when Shirley was thrown into a system designed to help women she said:
“When I took the step to leave, I stepped into a world of fear and the unknown; I am grateful for the safety steps DV Connect and DV support workers took to keep me safe. But this journey scared me just as much as the violence.
“I came interstate to QLD and was given a bed in motel that was scary, the building was supposed to be secure, but the back door was open so anyone could walk in, the room was so small I had to put my bag on the bed and sleep with it beside me, but I am thankful I had a bed to sleep in. But I was petrified he would find me.
“My parents had driven me to QLD and stayed a few nights in another motel so that I was not so frightened he would find me and kill me. Because that fear was real, that fear isn’t a threat it is a promise. DV Connect, after three days, found me a bed in a refuge and the next step of my journey began. I was given an alias and told to head to the bus station and hop on a bus and the bus would take me to the town the refuge was in.”
That was the start of a harrowing journey in spite of the help provided by DV support services. She lived in fear and uncertainty losing her ninth baby in the process.
It was an escape horror story, albeit not as bad as before she did her runner, and continued for months, which eventually ended when a Centrelink social worker heard Shirley during a center meltdown.
“She took me into her office. We had a chat and I told her if I walked out of this office without help, I was going home to face whatever the consequences were,” she said.
“She didn’t hesitate. She called SunnyKids Cooroy Family Support Centre and within 20 minutes I was linked in with their support service. They saved me.
“I was lucky enough to get the best social worker at SunnyKids. She supported me to get my stuff together, encouraged me, assisted me with safety planning, food, furniture, paper work, mental health and I can tell you every time we met, I had another new challenge for her to assist me with.
Cinta of SunnyKids was that support person for Shirley and said that after receiving the call from Centrelink, we arranged to see her for intake on the same day and listened to her story and current situation.
“We worked with Shirley to identify her goals and how we could support Shirley to achieve them.
“We work to be holistic and look at all aspects of the client’s life and situation. We look for gaps and barriers and support our client to access the support and services they need and require. Cinta said.
Shirley said that “SunnyKids didn’t question my choices, they just supported me to get my life on track, to set goals and meet those goals.
“Every hurdle they were there, supporting me, coming up with ideas to jump those hurdles, and when they couldn’t help, they referred me to a service that could.
“When my perpetrator found me in the refuge, SunnyKids organised a safety check before I returned to the refuge to grab my things, and disappear again. The refuge I was in told me I was overreacting, but I knew I wasn’t.
“SunnyKids opened doors for me that had never entered my mind. Writing a book was never on my list of goals, but here it is and a new dream and a new goal has grown and I intend to conquer them too.
Cinta said that “As an organisation, SunnyKids began to talk about the idea of resources that could be a tool and inspiration for other women. Shirley had been talking about wanting to share her journey and her experiences with others to provide hope and courage for them to find the strength not only to leave but to stay away.
Asked what should be happening to assist victims’ “transition” to a normal life, Shirley said:
“To assist the transition process, a safe place to stay is not somewhere scary. Support and assistance longer than three months. A folder that consists of all the paperwork needed to move forward, housing forms, victim’s compensation forms, suppression of identification, AVO, DVO, contacts for support services e.g. Centrelink, social workers, counselling services, local police, courses that offer support such as journeys (Nundah community Centre), women on the move (Centacare Maroochydore), shark cage (Neami national Strathpine).
“Just because you leave a DV relationship doesn’t mean it’s over. The support needs to continue until the client/victim/survivor no longer requires the support.”
Shirley said she was two-and-a-bit year’s down the track and she still had hurdles she needed to climb.
“Without the support of SunnyKids I couldn’t keep pushing through and achieving and following my dreams.
“I’m not sure if you can ever stop the violence, but the judicial system needs to back the police with longer sentences, habitual offenders need life in prison. The only thing I know that will help the DV crisis in Australia is education. Education is the KEY. It may not stop the violence but hopefully it will slow it down.
Asked if, looking back, she would do anything differently, Shirley replied:
“To be brutally honest I’m not sure I would change too many things in my past. I would definitely change the criminal past. I would love to turn back the clock to when I lost my babies because the what if’s, and if only haunt me.
“I do wish that I could stop the hurt, the pain, the nightmares, and fear I have experienced and how my domestic violence situation has caused heartache for my family over the years.
“But these experiences have made me the person I am today. I am stronger, more driven, more powerful, more determined and more empathetic to others and have a greater understanding of the lives of others.
“Because without this lived experience I wouldn’t have taken the steps I have to change my entire world around, and chase my dreams. I also wouldn’t have met the wonderful people that I now have in my life who continue to support and encourage me”
Shirley said that while she would never stop having to watch her back, she was hopeful for her future.
“I have met a wonderful man whom I call my angel fall from heaven, he loves and cares for me. He encourages me to follow my dreams, he has shown me what real love looks like. I am working on repairing relationships with my family. For the first time in my life I am excited and planning for a future that is within reach.”
She said she wrote Becoming a Queen Again as a free resource to be given to every woman experiencing DV in Queensland.
“But becoming a queen again turned out better than I dreamed it would so that dream has escalated. I want a copy of the book to be free for every woman Australia wide experiencing DV.
“I want hard copies in every refuge, staffroom, workplace, community center, jail, doctor surgery I want it to be given to every senior high school student. Domestic Violence doesn’t discriminate. But for this dream to become a reality I need the financial support of others to enable me to print this book into a hard copy. So, I am working on that.”
Cinta from SunnyKids agrees that education and understanding is key in our society.
”I believe that a real authentic understanding of the complexities of the situation is not completely understood by many in our society and whilst we still make comments like “she should just leave” without the knowledge and understanding. We cannot provide the support and empathy that is often required for many women to make the very brave decision to leave.
There is also the belief that the model of care for people experiencing Domestic and Family Violence should be reviewed.
“Personally, I would like to see more funding for men’s hostels and supported accommodation so that the women and children survivors can remain in their own homes whilst the men are ousted but into supported environments. So that the men who chose to use violence can receive the support and care they require to address their identity issues and behaviors. However, it is essential for appropriate
resource and services for victims and survivors of Domestic and Family Violence to increase significantly before we can ethically advocated for funding for men who chose to use violence.” Cinta said
To access a free download of Shirley’s e-book Becoming A Queen Again, please visit the link below.
Free Download of Becoming A Queen Again
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