When Jen Armstrong left her violent husband – six months' pregnant and with a 10-month-old daughter in tow – she was so financially desperate that a $20 bottle of body wash donated by a stranger felt life-changing.
"I knew I had to get out of my marriage but I didn't know how," she said. "I was scared, broke and didn't know where I was going to live but that body wash felt like the most luxurious thing ever. It gave me strength when I felt like giving up.
Financial stress, a history of emotional abuse and a lack of family support are key red flags for intimate partner violence, new research from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has found.
By comparing 7800 women who reported to the Australian Bureau of Statistics they had experienced intimate partner violence to women who hadn't, BOCSAR found that the presence of emotional abuse made a woman 20 times more likely to be physically harmed.
In an extraordinary finding, they calculated that a single parent who experienced abuse as a child, who is unable to pay rent on time and who has been emotionally abused by a partner has a 97 per cent chance of experiencing intimate partner violence.
The research coincides with new figures showing a steep increase in women seeking homelessness services because they are escaping violence. Almost 300 women a day sought support for homelessness last financial year – a 33 per cent increase in four years, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found.
Yet domestic violence funding in NSW has not increased to meet demand, said Domestic Violence NSW child executive Moo Baulch.
"Until we tackle the affordable housing part, we're going to keep cycling through this issue of women having nowhere to go or being in really unsafe accommodation like sleeping in their car," she said.
"If domestic violence is a priority for Australia, as we keep saying it is, we need to do better."
A spokesman for the Department of Family and Community services said a record $1.1 billion has been allocated to social housing and homelessness in the state budget while the Start Safely Rental Subsidy for women escaping violence has grown to $100 million.
Ms Armstrong, from the Sutherland Shire, had no job and had hidden years of violence from her family out of embarrassment.
But, after three visits to an emergency department in 2013, police and hospital social workers said, "you have two choices: leave now or risk losing your children".
"I was able to couch surf a bit and luckily I had family who could co-sign a lease but, for a house that was really affordable, I would've been 50 kilometres away from my support network," she said.
She said emotional abuse was the first red flag in her relationship.
"I was married to this man, I thought this was the one person I could believe and trust so ... when he started saying you're worth nothing and you're useless I started believing it. I didn't have the self-confidence to say, 'hang on, I deserve better than this'."
She was so moved by the body wash that she established the Beauty Bank, a charity that distributes toiletries to men and women escaping violence.
She agreed with Ms Baulch's call for school programs on emotional abuse and respectful relationships.
"We need to start tackling young women and young men with a sense of urgency," Ms Baulch said."
Original Article on the Sydney Morning Herald