Have you ever found yourself chasing a friend, arranging dates to catch up for coffee and a chat, and then it seems, always at the last minute, the plans fall through? So you chase her again, and again, and again, until you are all but ready to give up on her...then, miracle of miracles, she actually shows up to a coffee date and she looks genuinely pleased to see you. But what do you do, when in the course of a conversation, she tells you her partner hurts her. She doesn't offer details, just a few mumbled and quickly regretted words.
You look more closely at her and you see how thin she looks and a tremble in her hands. Her make up is thick and awkwardly applied. Her nails are bitten down low and she doesn't sound half as confident as she would have you believe. As you sit and talk, her eyes never stop scanning her surroundings, she constantly checks her phone for messages and missed calls and then when she goes to her purse to find money for her coffee, you notice it's emptiness so you insist on paying for both.
When you ask how her family is, she mentions they don't speak much these days, as 'he' doesn't like her using the phone so most people have given up calling her. As for her children, 'he' thinks she spoils them, gives them too much attention, so 'he' needs to be tough on them. As she talks, she nervously adjusts her hair around her face, and pushes her glasses firmly back into place as she notices your eyes wander to the remnants of bruising you see there. When you ask her why she stays with him, this shadow of your friend quickly reassures you that 'he' loves her and the kids. Although he is under pressure at work, a few beers at night helps to relax him and then everything is alright, she explains. You look at her, and wonder, why doesn't she just leave?
Suspicious, you ask her why she has constantly cancelled your lunch dates and she tells you she has been to hospital, she was clumsy and broke her arm, then most recently she fell over and hit her head and she needs to be more careful because the children were left all alone. Again, you wonder, why doesn't she just leave, but you recognise there is pain in her voice and sadness in her eyes. Then you think about the emptiness of her purse and you ask yourself, if this was me, and all I had were a few lonely coins in my purse, a couple of children and I had to leave my home in a hurry, where would I go? How would I survive? What if I had to leave in the middle of the night, who could I turn to? Would family, or friends take us in if an abusive partner potentially came knocking at their door? How could I leave all my worldly possessions, the only life I, or my children know behind? How could I take the children out of school, away from their friends and routines? With no money, how would I feed us all and give us a life free from fear? Strange isn't it, how taking a moment to walk a mile in someone else's shoes and the question changes - HOW can SHE leave?
The reality is she can think about leaving when there is someone in her life she can trust. She can think about leaving when she has knowledge of support services and financial help. She can think about leaving when family, friends and others learn to 'hear' what she says and respond to the subtle clues by supporting her and showing her she has other options. She will just leave one day when she knows she can, in her own time.