The most dangerous time for women. Story 1of 5 Roia Atmar


Leaving an abusive relationship is the time a woman or her children are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner.

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention centre, most women will, on average, attempt to leave an abusive relationship between five and seven times before successfully and permanently doing so. Between 25% to 31% of murders in Australia involve either spouses or sexual partners.

Here women across the country share with Guardian Australia how they left an abusive relationship, the support that helped them to regain control, and the help that was lacking when they needed it most.

Roia Atmar abuse victim image

Roia Atmar

I had no idea police would get involved and care, or anybody else would care. If I knew I had the option, I would have left a long time ago. That was one of the main reasons I did not attempt leaving him. When I found out I could leave, it was after he tried to kill me and I was in hospital.

Roia Atmar

Roia Atmar has a fulfilling job with the Patricia Giles centre in Western Australia, which provides emergency accommodation and support to women and children. Almost 20 years ago, Roia was hospitalised for three months after her then husband doused her in turpentine and set her on fire. She suffered horrific injuries – but it was in the hospital that she realised for the first time she could leave her abuser, thanks to the vigilance of staff and the support of her family. She says she received excellent support from police and social workers, and that it is possible to find happiness after abuse.

My family never knew about the abuse until I was in hospital because my ex would portray me as the best thing on the planet that happened to him, that he loved and adored me and we had a perfect family – so that’s what everybody thought. And he never left me alone with anyone, so I couldn’t talk to them. I was also quite outspoken as a child, so people thought if something was wrong, I would speak up.

We were married for about five years. He was quite controlling from the moment we met, but the abuse really started after I had my first child, and it just escalated from there and got worse.

I had no idea I had the option of leaving. I got married at 14, and came to Australia [from Afghanistan] about three days later, so I had no family or friends here. The only people I was allowed contact with was his family. I wasn’t allowed to go to school and have a job, and the story he was feeding me and the children was he could do anything he wanted to us, because he was the one working, the husband, and paying the bills, even though we were on Centrelink.

I had no idea police would get involved and care, or anybody else would care. If I knew I had the option, I would have left a long time ago. That was one of the main reasons I did not attempt leaving him. When I found out I could leave, it was after he tried to kill me and I was in hospital.

But when I did find out, I made up my mind and never, ever went back.

I was in hospital when my family thought something wasn’t right. By this time my mother, brother and uncle were living in Australia. They spoke with a hospital social worker, who told them the story my then husband was telling them about how I was burned. He told hospital staff that my scarf had caught on fire while I was warming myself, as I’m a Muslim. What he actually did was pour turpentine on me and set me on fire.

We asked the domestic violence survivors interviewed for this project to tell us their ‘safe places’ – places, memories or mementoes that made them feel secure

‘For my places I wanted to say in Perth and Australia as a whole. My photos are of the High Court and Kings Park. The court is I guess about law and order and how the system has been great to us and taken care of us. And Kings Park, as in Perth, being our home.’ Roia Atmar

My family got the hospital social worker to come and talk to me, but when he talked to me, my ex was there. He was there all the time, and he would only leave the hospital after I fell asleep, even though he had his own room in another unit. He would speak for me if anyone asked me questions. He lied, telling them he had to be in the room according to our religion.

The social worker told him he only wanted to talk to me about my children, and he would come to talk to him as well, and eventually convinced him to leave my room. But he was watching me through the window. Luckily, the social worker realised, and he got up, shut the blinds, and then asked me if I needed help.

I said even if I did need help, there was nothing he could do. I told him if my husband became suspicious he would kill me, or get someone from his family to take my kids back to Afghanistan and I would never see them again. The social worker told me he would get the police to talk to me and tell me exactly what my rights were.

A police officer came and explained what a restraining order was and how police could help me go through the family courts, and arrange for my mother to take care of the children while I was in hospital. I didn’t believe her. I didn’t know there was such thing as a family court to help people like me.

Then my mum rang and said, “I have your kids”. It was the first time I realised: “Oh God, somebody cares, the police really are helping me.” My mum told me to tell her exactly what happened, and when I told her, she didn’t go to my ex to get his side of the story, she trusted what I said and told me how we were going to make a plan together and what she would do then and there to help me.

It was then I decided I was not going back, ever. I gave my statement to police and we had an intervention order taken out against him, and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, though he was eligible for parole after five.

For a while, my family and I did move to another state, but I realised I didn’t want my daughters especially to think that we had done something wrong, that we were being forced to move. Western Australia was home to me, it had been since I was 14, so we came back. I have a restraining order still in place and a lot of security in my house.

A lot of partner homicides happen when women try to leave, and it’s not an easy decision to make. I would encourage women to put a lot of support in place and make a safe plan for themselves before they leave, and find out what agencies are there to help them.

But I think the responsibility falls on the community as a whole, not just refuge staff or social workers or police. We must believe women. She knows the situation best. Understanding and trusting women is one of the most important things society can offer to create safety for a woman and help make her decision to leave that bit easier.

I now celebrate where I am at in life, I’ve accomplished all the things that I wanted to, and I’m very proud of all I have done since I left my ex, and I am very proud of my children and our family. I feel safe now, and I feel secure. (8)

Henry Sapiecha

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