Domestic abuse leaves Queenstown woman a 'shell of a person'

Pressure is mounting on Wakatipu’s family violence support service, as the number of clients skyrockets.

In the past 11 months Jigsaw Central Lakes has worked with 580 people – a staggering 48% more than in the full previous year.

But while the workload is rapidly increasing, the centre’s manager says funding isn’t keeping pace.

Queenstown woman Sarah* hates to think what would’ve happened if she hadn’t shown up on Jigsaw’s doorstep two years ago.

She didn’t have black eyes, bumps or bruises.

But for 14 years, she’d suffered sexual and psychological abuse from her partner, which left her “a shell of a person”.

And he assaulted their children.

She moved to New Zealand in 2001, meeting Mike* shortly after.

She quickly fell pregnant, and despite feeling that something wasn’t quite right with the relationship, decided to stay and make it work.

Mike assumed control over everything in their lives.

Sarah wasn’t allowed to drive or have any control over their finances. Mike monitored her social media, her whereabouts, her contact with his family. The control also extended to their children.

“They were quite confined to the house we were living in.”

It was a radio ad that started to get her thinking about leaving, she says.

“There was an ad on the radio, about six months before, and it was all about domestic violence, and it was bizarre, because we had the radio going in the bedroom all the time, and every single time it seemed, I would hear that ad.

“And I think every single time I heard it, it was like ‘hang on, think’.

“So I knew what I needed to do, I knew I needed to do it for the kids and for myself. I just wasn’t sure how to do it.”

As Mike realised she was getting stronger, he became desperate.

“Mike did a bit of self-harming, some of the stuff he was doing in front of the kids,” Sarah says.

The final straw was when Mike assaulted their eldest son.

“He was chased down the stairs one night, and he had a big egg on his head with scratches and a wee bit of blood.

“He actually went to Alexandra for a police interview and when he came back the policeman actually phoned me up and said actually that wasn’t the reason for the charges, it was because he’d tried to throttle him.

“He never hit me or anything, but he would hit the kids in front of me.”

She went to Jigsaw for help, and hasn’t looked back.

“What I am now is not what I was two years ago. They picked us up and pulled us out.”

Jigsaw boss Tina Mongston says part of the increase in clients is due to more financial pressure on families.

“One of the things we’re seeing that’s different to a few years ago is there’s a lot more middle-income earners under more pressure.

“When you’re constantly under financial stress, something’s got to give.”

The organisation recently received a funding boost of $85,000 thanks to the Central Lakes Trust.

That’s a huge help, she says. But with services already stretched and forecast population rises, funding needs to increase.

There’s also no safe house in the resort, meaning services turn to hotels and holiday homes to house vulnerable people. With availability increasingly tight, that’s not always easy, she says.

Speaking to the  Mountain Scene recently, Queenstown family harm coordinator sergeant Blair Duffy said police are called to about one incident a day.

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