Emilia lived in an abusive household for twenty years before she finally made up her mind to leave.
“I thought I was a strong person,” she explains. “I’d helped friends escaped abusive relationships but didn’t really realise I was in one myself.”
Emilia had never been physically assaulted, but the psychological and emotional violence started not long into her marriage. Her husband insisted on living with his mother, who treated Emilia badly. They also bullied her into leaving her job as an accountant, so that she was dependent on them.
In 1985, Emilia and her husband moved to Australia from Chile with their two young children. She always wanted a close-knit family, but it wasn’t to be.
“He poisoned my children against me right from the start,” she says. “I always did everything in the house – cooking, cleaning, gardening, everything. I only ever worked part-time in Australia, so that I was always home for my children before and after school. I did everything I could to be a good mum, but it wasn’t enough for them.”
Her children are now in their thirties, but Emilia doesn’t think they’ve grown up. “My daughter will always be her daddy’s little girl, and she’s still treated that way by him. He made sure that she never saw him being violent or abusive towards me, he was very careful that way. He did just enough to make sure they were always on his side.”
Even after deciding to leave her husband, Emilia wasn’t left with any options of where to go.
“I was separated from my husband from 2017, but we were still living together in the same house though in different bedrooms. I was looking after my mother in a nursing home and needed a home to bring her back to on weekends. I needed to stay in the house.”
After Emilia’s mother died, she decided she wanted to sell the house, but was stopped by her husband and children.
“My daughter told me that I was a f**king bloody b*tch, and that she would never talk to me again if I left her father. My son was always insulting me and yelling at me, and he would destroy everything when in a rage – hitting walls and throwing things. I was even threatened with a hammer!”
Emilia decided to go to Canada to stay with her sister for three months, and then to Sydney to visit an aunt.
“I needed to be out of that house where everyone was always yelling at me. But the first thing my family said me when I got back was ‘What are you doing back, get out, I don’t want to see you, get out of here’! I decided that I just couldn’t live like that anymore.”
Emilia’s case manager helped her to apply for affordable housing with YWCA, and she now lives in a rooming house with other women who have been through similar situations.
“I was happy to come here. I just wanted to live in peace with no one screaming at me, abusing me, or controlling me. I may have lived in a big house, but I was unhappy and abused. Now I have this little bedroom and bathroom to myself and I’m happy and at peace. I’m learning to love and care for myself now.”
After moving into YWCA accommodation, Emilia even changed her telephone number so that her husband and children can no longer contact her.
“I’m their mother and I forgive them,” she says of her children. “But they need to grow up and realise the impact of their actions before our relationship can improve. Mothers always make the mistake of putting our children first. Sometimes we need to put ourselves first.”