The Trap Episode 04:

Why Do They Stay?



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KAY: It’s crazy, it’s like being in a house with an assassin. You know there is someone there, who’s out to get you and you don’t know how, when, or where, but you’re sure it’s going to happen.

NARRATION: This is Kay Schubach. When I met her a few years ago, she was living in Vaucluse, in Sydney’s wealthy eastern suburbs.

Kay’s story featured in one of the first documentaries I produced for Radio National on domestic abuse. And I wanted to start this episode by going back to her story, because it says so much about the question at the heart of this episode: Why does she stay?


Kay had survived a relationship with a masterful narcissist who went from woman to woman, repeating the same tactics of coercive control.


Simon Lowe, now known as Simon Monteiro, targeted single, successful women in their early 40s who were in a hurry to settle down and have kids. Women like Kay.

00:58 KAY: So he said, oh, you know, I really want to have kids and a house on the Sunshine Coast and we can have horses and dogs and, oh, we’re going to have the most beautiful baby. And he built this narrative up really, really quickly, and I just fell for it hook, line and sinker, I think probably because my hormones…I really think my hormones were just crying out for it.

01:19 NARRATION: Simon didn’t keep his abuse hidden for long. At first, it was just a sharp comment… and then questions about why Kay was still in touch with an ex-boyfriend… and then jealousy so extreme he would fight her for her handbag just so he could get her phone. But it was always one step into the abuse, two steps back into love and charm…


01:41 KAY: And then all of a sudden you’re walking on eggshells and you’re very afraid, but then it goes back a couple of steps and all of a sudden you’re warm and basking in his glory again, so you get comfortable again. So you’re off-balance, and then it kind of escalates.

01:57 NARRATION: As soon as Simon moved into Kay’s apartment, he knew it would be much harder for her to leave. His behaviour escalated. He’d criticise her over the smallest things, he deleted male contacts from her phone, and was just so difficult with Kay’s friends that they stopped coming over.

He was using every trick in the perpetrators handbook – and it was so intense, it virtually changed Kay overnight.


02:22 KAY: It was amazing how quickly my self-esteem just not only got eroded, it just left me completely…I was just a shell of myself within a month.

NARRATION: After two terrifying violent attacks, Kay fled her apartment in fear of her life, ran straight to Rose Bay police station and pleaded for help. Fortunately, even though Simon arrived minutes later, claiming he was the real victim, police took Kay’s word over his. She was not the first local woman to report him.

Kay got an intervention order against Simon, moved out of her apartment and went into hiding under police supervision.

Years later, when she was writing her memoir, Kay heard that Simon was due to appeal a conviction for raping and bashing another woman, who the court referred to as JR*. Kay decided to sit in on the appeal.

03:22 KAY: I was listening to everything that JR* had gone through, and I was sitting there and I was thinking …this stupid girl, how did she let this happen? Oh God, you know and she got pregnant to him twice, and oh she went back to the house and kept going back, and this went on for months, and how could she have been so stupid?

And then this like penny dropped, and it was exactly my story. It was exactly word for word, his MO was exactly the same. It was telling her that she was ugly, old, stupid, past her used-by date, that he was building a case against her, trying to discredit her mental health, getting witnesses to witness any scratches or marks on him. It was exactly the same, and she and I were a type; independent, successful, blonde women of a certain age, in the eastern suburbs, whom he could leverage off, because he’s a parasite and he needs a host.


04:33 NARRATION: Despite having experienced almost exactly the same kind of abuse, and having made many of the same choices, Kay’s mind still went to that perennial question we can’t stop asking:

Why didn’t she just leave?


My name is Jess Hill, and this is The Trap.

CUBBIE: My perspective is not just a person of color, or a carer of color but I’ve got issues of my own that I’m handling and we’ve got the pandemic. So there’s several layers happening at the same time. We’re just taking it one day at a time. That’s all we can do, just get through today and that’s fine… tomorrows a different day, I won’t worry about tomorrow, because we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

NARRATION: This is CB Mako*. That’s not their real name – it’s the name they’ve chosen to protect her identity. It’s also their pen name: Cubbie*, as they like to be called, is an award-winning writer. They moved to Australia from the Philippines several years ago, identify as non-binary, have recently been diagnosed as autistic. Cubbie is mother to two children, one of whom is disabled.

05:48 CUBBIE*: So she’s got downs syndrome, with open heart surgery, with cancer. We’ve got all the.. all the bells and whistles.

NARRATION: Cubbie* is also married to a coercive controller.


CUBBIE*: My partner, in a pandemic, thinks that even though I’m home learning, that both children I should also absorb his problems. I should be an ear to his problems, “as a wife.” That’s how he says it, he shouts it at me and says that “AS A WIFE” it is my duty, apparently. But I told him, I have no capacity. That’s how it goes.

NARRATION: Like all abusive people, Cubbie’s* husband wasn’t abusive at first. In fact, they grew up as best friends, and went to university in the Philippines together.

06:38 CUBBIE*: He’s seen his dad beat up hismum, I’ve seen my dad beat up my mum and he vowed that he won’t do that to me. Ever. But it happened… he crossed the line. The title of your book was almost the same words,”Look what you made me do.” Like, it’s my fault now?

07:07 NARRATION: Cubbie* has no capacity, and no patience for it. They manage their husband out of necessity – it’s not possible right now for them to leave. But they know exactly what he’s doing. They know now that it’s coercive control.

07:18 CUBBIE*: The word coercive control really put words, or a terminology, onto something I was generally, I was feeling or that he was doing. I’m not even sure. It really struck a chord with me, that there’s a term. It never occurred to me that there was this terminology.

07:44 NARRATION: For Cubbie*, the language of coercive control defined what had felt indescribable. But before this, they were already on a path of awakening – a path that started opening up in 2016, the year Cubbie’s* youngest child went into remission. Finally, they had a moment to think. That’s when they discovered feminism.


08:05 CUBBIE*: So I started reading feminist texts because I knew that there was something wrong with the system. Why? I could feel, I don’t know, I could sense it. Why are men advancing more than women? Why are women supposed to be complicit? Why am I not supposed to answer back? Because when you migrate, you try to change, you know you adapt to the new country.


08:35 NARRATION: Cubbie* had first heard the word ‘misogyny’ when Julia Gillard was prime minister, but they didn’t know what it meant.

CUBBIE*: I had to research that word, because I’d never heard it before. There was no translation for misogyny when that popped up.


NARRATION: Then Trump happened, and the whole world changed.

Archive of women’s march

09:04 CUBBIE*: Because I was very active on social media and hashtag advocacy, the #metoo happened.

Archive of women’s march

You started to question all of these things and I’ve learned about the male gaze, the female gaze. Why are women not in cinema? You know, it’s all one big ball of interconnected things. And you try to read feminist texts like Audre Lorde. When you’re a person of color apparently there are setbacks and then there are more setbacks when you’re also disabled. I learnt all these things, in a new life.


09:50 CUBBIE: He didn’t like the change, that’s coercive control. He didn’t like that I was changing.


Philippine culture thinks that the father is the head of the family. There is no co-parenting kind of thing. For him, I parent,  I handle all the kids. He just brings in the money, that’s it. I’m supposed to serve him kind of thing. Like, what? I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all. Not here. Not here when we’re in Australia.



10:25 NARRATION: As they were going through their own internal revolution, Cubbie* felt they had no choice but to just absorb their husband’s anger and frustration.

10:31 CUBBIE*: He would get angry because the traffic was bad, then shout at us when he got home. He’s angry after work because he had a new boss and the boss was a woman. Or, the site manager now was a woman. Like okay….Looks like theres a trigger there. That’s my own interpretation. But, he would just be fuming.

11:05 NARRATION: But with a growing sense of what their rights were, and how they should be treated, Cubbie* started fighting back. It was when they resisted that the physical violence began. Cubbie* remembers that one day…

11:12 CUBBIE*: The argument kept on going. Did I forget my medication that day? I’m not even sure, was it a hot day? Next thing I know, I was shouting back. You know because I never shout back. When you argue, you can just be quiet. That’s how things go, that was my default. But, I fought back on that particular day. I was just, I had the courage. I don’t know where I got it, but I fought back and he didn’t like it.

He didn’t like me fighting back. Then, yeah. He pulled my hair, then the next thing you know, I was on the floor. It’s a vague memory now, because I tried to push it to the back of my head.


We vowed not to be our parents, but we became our parents the moment that happened.


NARRATION: Since the pandemic began, Cubbie* and their kids have had to endure numerous lockdowns with the man they call ‘the bear’. For months at a time, their house has felt like a cage. Now, before the bear returns home from work, Cubbie* has to make sure everything in the house is exactly the way he likes it.

12:33 CUBBIE*: For example, the cable wires on the charging port shouldn’t be eaten up by the cabinets. The mat in the kitchen should be straightened. The fridge shouldn’t be ajar. Sometimes I forget. I tend to forget a lot of things. When you’re multitasking, you forget a lot of things. He expects, oh God this is disgusting but he expects me to have his uniforms ready with socks and underwear. I still have to do that. It’s that awareness that things should be the way he wants it. So that things will remain in the status quo.


NARRATION: This constant walking on eggshells has made Cubbie* hypervigilant. Their senses are finely tuned to every noise, every shift in atmosphere and tone and what that might mean for them and their kids.

13:33 CUBBIE*: The cadence, the sound. Your other senses are aware and suddenly click into place. Even though I’m hard of hearing, suddenly I’m hyper aware of movement. Of how the ground moves, the sound of the car. It’s all very sensory, it becomes sensory. You have to listen to the voice, the grunt. I have to listen to all of that.


How he responds to the kids, is he in a good mood? Is he in a bad mood? That means I have to make sure that his dinners or his meal is ready. Whatever triggers him should not be out of place.

That’s the thing as well, with my mom, when she knows that my dad was about to come home from work we were told to tidy up. To make sure it’s very tidy. To make sure everything is in place, everyone was just scampering. At an early age, we were already taught how to behave…. I’m becoming my mum.


14:48 NARRATION: When most of us look at a violent relationship, we see just one logical binary: if your partner abuses you, you should leave. That’s just ‘common sense’, right?

But what even is ‘common sense’? What I’ve found in the time that I’ve been writing and speaking about domestic abuse, and meeting hundreds of victim survivors, is that all of the preconceptions and cliches I had about why women stayed, were wrong.

In truth, the reasons women have for staying are complex, but essentially it’s not that complicated – especially when we’re talking about coercive control. This is, as we’re coming to understand so well, not just a form of abuse, but a process of entrapment.

15:34 KAREN WILLIAMS: It’s a stranglehold. There’s no way for the women to just leave easily and presumptions that the public has, that they should just leave or why would you stay in a relationship like that? You should just leave, is so unfair and is so dismissing. It just adds to the layers of abuse women are experiencing.

NARRATION: This is Dr Karen Williams. It’s late at night when we speak, we’ve just got our kids to finally go to sleep, and it’s cold.

KAREN: I’ve got three layers on because it’s fricking freezing and I’ve got a heated blanket and a heater on because I’m genetically designed for Indian temperatures, and I don’t believe I was meant to be here in this cold.

NARRATION: Dr Williams works as a psychiatrist in a private hospital on the New South Wales south coast. Her clientele is split between returned military vets and first responders with PTSD, and victim survivors of domestic abuse. She says the reason so many victim survivors stay is often largely because society doesn’t support them when they leave.


16:41 KAREN:  You just mentioned Cubbie*, who’s got a disabled child. So she’s obviously going to be a primary carer. So how is she going to work and what she’s going to do with this child? How is she going to find a place, which is safe for both of them? There is the fact that you need a safe place to go, not just a place to go. It has to be 100% safe, because these women often know just how dangerous their perpetrator can actually be. They’ve seen things that no one else has seen them do.

KAREN: I’ve had one woman whose partner would throw the chickens against the fence to break their necks and deliberately do that, and not allow her to take those chickens to the vet and have them looked at. So she had to watch them slowly die. Now of course, he would only do that stuff for her to see. So she sees a side of him that is so evil and so frightening, that she knows that he could do something similar to her.


NARRATION: But it’s not just threats from the perpetrator that looms over victim survivors who want to leave.

17:48 KAREN: People ask that question. Why don’t you go? Well, we don’t allow her to go. If she’s got children, she cannot leave. You just cannot walk away, we don’t give women the permission to leave, despite the fact that we’re continually telling her to.


18:05 NARRATION: What Dr Williams is talking about is the family law system which, in the majority of cases featuring allegations or even proven histories of abuse, makes orders for shared parental responsibility. Now that doesn’t mean 50-50 actual custody, but it does often mean that families have to live in proximity to the abusive parent they just fled, so that parent can have time with or even shared care of the kids. They also often have to consult – and even get permission – from the other parent to make decisions about their children: whether they can get medical attention, see a counsellor. You can imagine what that is like with a coercive controller.

18:48 KAREN: These women have … they know the situation, they have checked it out… they always have. They’ve spoken about it. They’re not silly. They have checked it.  They know what has to happen, and then you have to go through the family law court. That’s what’s going to have to happen. And the family law court is going to say that unless he’s been physically abusive, and I say specifically, physically abusive to the child and there’s evidence of that, then he’s entitled to 50-50. And most of the time there isn’t evidence. In fact, there’s been deliberate concealing of that evidence for long periods of time, and a show that has been put on for the public where they’re often very happy families and there’s photographs of everything looking good.


19:30 NARRATION: Image management is central to coercive control: make sure it all looks good from the outside.

Dr Wililams founded the group Doctors Against Violence Against Women, and is trying to educate her peers in the psychiatric world of the impacts of coercive control, to stop them pathologising victim survivors. Here she is talking on a podcast produced by The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

20:04 KAREN (COERCIVE CONTROL PSYCH PODCAST): We have a huge amount of women going into mental health and coming out with diagnoses that do not represent what they’re going through. They come out with ‘you’ve got depression, you’ve got anxiety, you’ve got borderline personality disorder’, and we’re gonna treat you with medication and some CBT, and we’re gonna completely gloss over the fact that you’ve been traumatised. But if you talk to all of our patients, invariably you’re gonna hear that that person has experienced abuse.

NARRATION: What she’s telling these psychiatrists is still controversial. Which is bizarre, because we’ve known for years that the long-term impact of coercive control is profound. We know this. And yet still, the prevailing belief says that if there are no serious physical injuries, the harm is less severe.

20:48 KAREN: It’s probably one of the biggest reasons I feel so strongly about criminalising coercive control, because … there are injuries happening. So she’s under threat, right? So any animal that is under threat has to respond to their threatening environment, right? And so there’s increased levels of cortisol. There’s increased levels of anxiety and vigilance, to be aware of where the threat lies.

NARRATION: This constant hypervigilance to what the perpetrator wants or needs, combined with the other techniques of coercive control, creates an effect that psychologist and victim survivor Lisa Aronson Fontes calls ‘perspecticide’, this is a term we talked about in the first episode. Basically, it’s the feeling that your perspective is being erased, and replaced with the perspective of the perpetrator. Over time, says Fontes, victim survivors may lose a sense that they even have a right to their own perspectives. Dr Williams sees this time and again.


21:48 KAREN: There is no real time or devotion spent to what she wants. And a lot of the time asking her, what do you want? What do you … they don’t actually know. Even things like, what do you want for dinner? That is a really tough question, because for them what they want for dinner, what they’ll say they want for dinner is the thing that he wants for dinner. Because if they order the thing that he wants, he’s going to be in a happy mood, and then therefore she will be safe.

NARRATION: As they lose their perspective, they may blame themselves, and become increasingly disoriented – to the point where they no longer even remember what they used to think or feel. While the victim survivor is learning to banish their own wants and needs, they’re also becoming more and more exhausted.

Dr Williams says her clients feel like they’re sleeping with one eye open – especially if their partners have a tendency to attack them – physically, sexually, or psychologically – in the middle of the night.

22:46 KAREN: So they’re chronically sleep deprived. They’re exhausted, they’re frightened, they’re operating in a very base level. It’s a survival instinct at that point.


NARRATION: Ok, so some of you may be thinking that if these women were really following their ‘survival instinct’, they would get the hell away from this guy. But that’s not how this works.

23:09 KAREN WILLIAMS: When you are busy trying to just survive, the executive part of your brain – and I’m talking about the bit that’s creative, the bit that’s intelligent, the bit that will allow you to plan, say planning your exit strategy. You can’t do that because you’re operating on the prime, what we would call the primal brain. So asking a woman in that state is very unfair to ask her to make decisions, because she will often not make decisions that are in her best interest at that point in time. Because she’s actually injured. She’s like a very frightened animal at that point and not operating at her normal level.

And often if you speak to those ladies 10 years later and ask them about it, they don’t recognise that woman anymore. They’re like, “I can’t believe what I put up with. I can’t believe how scared I was. I don’t even recognise her.” Because she’s so different from what they’re like when their full brain is getting to participate in their life.

24:11 NARRATION: And all the while, they’re blaming themselves. Why would they leave? It’s them that has the problem. Who else would even want such a damaged person? That’s the perspective so many victim survivors have been trained to adopt.


NARRATION: This isn’t just something that affects vulnerable people, or women of weak character, or whatever other stereotypes we have about victims. This psychological process occurs in every kind of person: magistrates, police, lawyers, politicians, stay-at-home mums. Everyone.


In fact, Karen says the entrapment that occurs in wealthy and socially prominent families can be extreme, especially when the perpetrators have direct access to power.


24: 58 KAREN: These are men that are used to power. These are men that are used to getting what they want, and they expect that from their partners. So I see huge amounts, and probably the most frightening ones are the ones that are coming from positions of power. And they’re often the ones where the women cannot leave, because of the huge influence their partner has. The amount of money and power he has, that he can hire people to check, to follow her… He can hire the private detectives. He is hiring the private detectives. He’s got surveillance on the house. He’s got friends in high places and their partners are absolutely terrified.

And I would have to say the most fearful person I’ve seen had a partner in government.


25:52 NARRATION: We’ve talked a lot about the impact that coercive control has on women and kids, and how difficult it is for them to leave. But we know that coercive control is just as prevalent – if not more so, according to some studies – in same-sex relationships, and that perpetrators can be male, female, non-binery. The barriers that victim survivors in these relationships face are multi-layered.

26:19 RUSS: I kept thinking to myself, if I don’t make this thing work, all everyone’s going to say to me is that you should never have left that heterosexual relationship you were in.

NARRATION: Russ Vickery was a married man with three kids until the early 2000s, when he acknowledged to himself – and to the world – that he was gay. The first man he fell in love with was a serial abuser, and for years, he abused Russ emotionally and physically.

Despite all the pressure he felt to make this relationship work, he had his breaking point.

26:55 RUSS: I tried to leave it around the two and a half year mark. He had, he belted me up and cracked my skull, and I’d gone to the hospital. And he’d gone off drinking with his mates, because that was the modus operandi. He would do something, I would get the blame, he would phone his mates, they’d all come and ‘poor him’, take him away and leave me to deal with whatever was needed to be dealt with.

So I’d taken myself off to the hospital, it happened to be a Friday night. There wasn’t very many questions asked of me. And there was nothing asked about my safety going home.

I go home, and there’s a gay rag on on the coffee table, and I opened it up and, and I noticed that there was an ad for a counseling service. And so after a few minutes, and I have to admit that I was at the lowest ebb in this relationship at that point. So I picked up the phone and I didn’t really know what I was going to say to them.

27:53 NARRATION: As far as Russ knew at this point, this was a service that was advertising in a gay magazine to gay clientele. He wasn’t really the type of guy to contact a service, but he pushed through that resistance and dialled their number. He really didn’t have any other option.

28:13 RUSS: Anyway, they finally answered and, and I pretty much blurted out what was going on for me. And the response that I got was – and it’s so clear in my head – the response was, I’m sorry, but our service doesn’t have the capacity to deal with people with your chosen lifestyle.

So instead of getting any form of assistance, I just got homophobia.

So I hung up from that call. And all that really did was supported the fact that I’d made my own bed and I needed to lie in it. I just went back into that same situation for another two and a half years.

NARRATION: When Russ hung up the phone, he went to the spare bedroom – the only one with a lock on the door – and shut himself in.


RUSS: That meant that if he came home, and I knew that he’d probably be drunk, that at least I’d be safe, because he couldn’t get in.

29:08 NARRATION: The next time he saw him, Russ got the usual treatment.

RUSS: It was all apologies, and it’ll never happen again. You know, I mean, it’s just cliche, isn’t it? It’s cliche, but, but that’s what I got. And I sort of felt like I had to believe that.

NARRATION: He had to believe his partner because another belief had taken root when he hung up that phone call: no-one, no system, no authority would step in to protect him and his kids from this man. It was now up to him alone. And yet, fixing this on his own was virtually impossible.

29:47 RUSS: I couldn’t fix this. It didn’t matter what I did. I couldn’t fix it.

It’s funny, isn’t it because in myself, I had already made my decisions, and some of those decisions were ‘I actually don’t like you very much, mate, but I’m here. I’ve, I’ve now had, you know, confirmed with me that nobody is interested in this. Whether I like you or not, I’ve actually got to stay here and I actually got to try. And on the surface of it, you know, make this thing work. But more importantly, I’ve got to stay safe. I’ve got to work on being safe.

30:32 NARRATION: It would be two-and-a-half years before Russ’s boyfriend attacked him for the last time. By then, Russ knew he was having an affair. One night, he came home drunk again, there was an argument, and he threw Russ down the stairs, shattering his wrist.

30:51 RUSS: And he stepped over me, I remember, he stepped over. And he said to me, you want to think yourself lucky, because I could have chosen the first floor window, you’re lucky, I chose the stairs. And he walked out and his new mate was waiting for – his new boyfriend – was waiting in the car. And, you know, left me to get myself off to hospital, which ended up with a surgery for five hours to put the thing back together.

NARRATION: That was the end of the relationship. But for months, Russ was stalked by his ex. Even after he moved house, Russ’ ex – and the new boyfriend – moved around the corner.

31:27 RUSS: So he would turn up at three o’clock in the morning, knocking on my door drunk with flowers, and you know, just all that crazy stuff. And at that point, I thought, I honestly thought I will, I’m never going to get away from this man. Like, I am never going to get away with this man from this man. So I decided that  ending my life probably was the best thing because I would just never escape.

31:50 NARRATION: This was how desperate Russ had become – feeling utterly abandoned, nowhere to turn, no way to be safe. No way for his kids to be safe.

RUSS: So I organized the kids to be away, I’ve been to the doctor, I got Valium, I’ve got vodka. And it was a Friday night. And I was ready to roll. I’ve written letters to all the kids. And I glanced up and saw a photo of the kids, and I was living in a hot state. And it was summer. And I thought, ‘I do not want the kids last view of me being what they would come home to in a few days time.’

So I decided that I’d pick another time. So I didn’t do it. But thankfully, because I decided to pick another time, I also developed some clarity in that period. And part of that clarity was I’m going to move again, I’m going to move, i’ll get away from him. And instead of around the corner, I moved 1000 kilometers away. And I actually went to Mackay, of all places, I went to Mackay in Queensland. And you know what, that was the most healing place I have ever experienced in my life.

33:09 NARRATION: In this new life, Russ rediscovered singing, which he had loved doing since he was a kid.

RUSS And so I got involved in that again and started singing in, you know, nightclubs, and, and surf clubs and all sorts of things. And so singing was the way I found my voice again. And I knew, I knew that I was healing.

33:31 NARRATION: Russ is now a cabaret singer, and a member of the Victorian Survivor Advisory Committee or VSAC, where he and other victim survivors – like Geraldine Bilston, who we’re just about to hear from again – as a committee advise the state government on how to best protect victim survivors. In his public speaking and advocacy, he has a clear message.


34:00 RUSS I never wanted anyone to go through what I’ve gone through and so and I never wanted anyone to experience the lack of pathways that I experienced, because none of us deserve that; male, female, it doesn’t matter. None of us deserve that. And if we ask for help, you know, we should be able to get it.

And so that’s what my fight’s been for the last, you know, X number of years – to try and make sure that, you know, there are pathways available to people who need it.


NARRATION: It’s become a well-known saying that ‘leaving is the most dangerous time.’ We know it’s dangerous, because more than half of men who kill their intimate partners do so either after they leave, or indicate they’re about to. Victim survivors know that leaving is the most dangerous time, because they know how much the perpetrator needs to be in control.



Geraldine: I was a mess, in every sense of the word. I was crying. Like I said I was in a singlet and tracksuit pants. I had had this ordeal for like two and a half hours or something, trying to get out.

When we last heard from Geraldine Bilston in episode one, she was at the medical centre, she’d just escaped from her partner’s car after he attacked her.

That was just the beginning of a very dangerous and sudden process of leaving.

35:17 GERALDINE: The medical center rang my mum. She came in and took me straight to the police station. I just turned up at the counter. Like I said, I had physical injuries, including on my face. When the police officer came out to the counter, I said, “I’m here because my partner did this to me.” He just said, “What do you want me to do about it?”


JESS: It’s so obvious, it’s right there on your face.


GERALDINE: Yes! On my face!


JESS: You’ve literally run in, it’s just happened. What they are absolutely employed to do, with no ambiguity, is to police assaults.

GERALDINE: YES! Yes. And so again, thank God for my family and my mum because she jumped up and down and said, “Well, we want to press charges!”


…Eventually, he took us into a room and I gave him a statement. Then he had a look at the bruising, I had bruising up and down my legs. He ended up taking photos of all of that, as well. At that point, I still couldn’t see out of my eye. And so we left from having given a statement and we went to the hospital. I wasn’t discharged from the hospital until about three o’clock in the morning.

36:35 NARRATION: Geraldine returned to her parents house to find that the police had already delivered a safety notice, and had requested that she come to court first thing the following tomorrow morning. She had fled the house with nothing but her daughter, and the clothes on her back.

GERALDINE: The next morning, I had to turn up to court dressed right down to my underwear in my mum’s belongings. We got to the courthouse early and he was waiting out the front. I was petrified. My mum and dad were with me and they were petrified, as well.


37:11 NARRATION: Geraldine couldn’t stand it. She made a run for it back to her car, and her mother waited with her there while her dad ran to the courthouse to ask the security guards to come and escort her.

GERALDINE: It was a court support worker was the first person that said to me you’re a family violence victim. I was like, am I? “Oh, that’s what you call it.” I didn’t say that, but that’s what was going on in my head. She was showing me the power and control wheel, things like that. I was just like, Oh, okay.”

NARRATION: Geraldine was in court to get an intervention order. When she sat down with the police prosecutor, she got a totally different response to the dismissive reception she got at the station.


37:58 GERALDINE: She was really good, really good. She said, “Do you want to stay in the home?” I was like, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, we can kick him out of the house and then you can stay in the home.” I said, “Oh, no way. No, no, no, no way that would set him off. That would be way worse for me. No.” She kept asking, because she was like, “Are you sure? Are you sure?” And I was like, “No, no, no, it’s not the right thing. It’ll be worse for me.”

NARRATION: But then, because Geraldine had agreed to leave the house, somehow that gave her ex-partner permission to block her from the house – which meant that she and her young daughter would not be able to access any of their belongings.

GERALDINE: I was like, “What the hell!” I left and I was sobbing. I had nothing. No income. Like I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t even have a nappy for Katie. I didn’t have a car seat. I didn’t have a pram, or my purse. I didn’t have anything. I ended up calling up the courthouse and speaking to the prosecutor and saying, “There’s got to be something I can do to get some stuff.” She was like, “That’s why I was asking you, do you want to stay in the house?” I was like, “Oh, okay.” She goes, “Do you want to?” I said, “Well, I guess if that’s the option. I guess.”

39:14 NARRATION: Geraldine was told to go back to her parents’ house, and wait for police to remove him.

GERALDINE: We’re all at my parents house. All agitated, like, “Oh, this is going to get hectic.”



NARRATION: And it did. Police had to call three times for reinforcements to get him out of the house.

GERALDINE: And so that happens, they called me and said “He’s out, but he’s not happy. He’s taken some things with him. We told him to take some things. And they said “you better get the locks changed as soon as you can.”

NARRATION: At the house, the locksmith was literally changing the locks when Geraldine’s ex pulled up in his car outside the house. Her mother was terrified.

GERALDINE: She said, “I’ve never seen a person with so much anger on their face. That’s when I was most scared.”

40:07 NARRATION: Geraldine called police to say that her ex was coming to the house, which was in direct breach of an intervention order. The policeman on the other end told her to ring 000.

GERALDINE: I’m just thinking, “Oh my god, this is not how I thought that I would be protected.”

We’re getting the locks changed, then the police prosecutor from court called me and said, “Your ex has just been here. He’s yelling and screaming. Honestly, I don’t know what he’s capable of. Whatever you do, do not be alone tonight.” Then probably 20 minutes later, the local police station called and said, “Your ex is here, right now, yelling and screaming I don’t think you should be alone tonight. Keep your phone on charge and call 000 as soon as you see him. Call 000.” I just thought, “I’m fucked.” I thought, “I’m literally going to die.”

I’ve got three older brothers, two of them came there and were planning to stay at my parents house. We got back in the car and then we saw him driving.

41:16 NARRATION: As soon as Geraldine saw him in the car, she frantically dialled Triple Zero.


NARRATION: He eventually drove off. That night Geraldine couldn’t sleep.


GERALDINE: I remember every time that there was a noise, I was in the kitchen of my parents house trying to look out the front. My older brother was like, “Are you okay?” I was having some sort of nervous breakdown, I guess that’s what you call it. I don’t know. I just thought that I was going to be murdered. I just said to him, “I’m going to get murdered and no one is going to do anything until I get murdered.” I was having a breakdown. This is a grown man holding me, crying, because that’s what we all thought was going to happen.

NARRATION: Geraldine’s ex had checked into a motel right in-between her house and her parent’s place. In the days following his attack, he was regularly driving past both houses, texting and calling Geraldine, posting threatening messages online. Two days after the car incident, he even parked out the front of her house and left it there.


43:03 GERALDINE: I would go to the police to make a report about a statement and my phone would be ringing. At that time, it was constant. I don’t even know. I couldn’t even record it all, because it was so constant.

It was at that time that he jumped on a plane. For fear of lying and being caught, they were telling him that he was going to get charged with Conduct to Endanger Lives. So, he got on a plane and went interstate. That was my saving grace. Otherwise, I don’t know, it just would have kept going on.



43:44 NARRATION: Even from a distance, Geraldine’s ex continued to abuse her, using every system and every official he could as a proxy.

GERALDINE: As the Family Law proceedings started to take off, I started to have things like a real estate agent turn up. We had agreed, through lawyers, that the house would go on the market. A real estate agent turned up and said, “Oh my ex has asked to come and take photos of everything inside the house.” I was like, no. Just babbling, that sort of stuff, all the time.

JESS: Right? Sounds like what we’d call systems abuse.

A lot of people think that it’s just through the courts, and don’t realize that literally any avenue can be used to get to you. A real estate agent, your electricity bills…or whatever

GERALDINE: All of our utilities, everything was in his name. All the utilities got cut off.

NARRATION: Geraldine says that the thing that got her through this, and people to help her, were the visible injuries on her face.

GERALDINE: When people talk about the ideal victim, I was the ideal victim. I could not speak without crying. I’m a white female mother, all those things.


But also, having a physical injury on my face. Wherever I went from that moment, (because from that time, support services stepped in. I went to Centrelink, stuff like that) Wherever I went, people felt so sorry for me. It was in their face and I’m there and I’m crying. I’ve got nothing. I’ve got a bruise, like a black eye. People just wanted to help me. If I hadn’t had that one thing, a bruised face, then it would have been different. I can see how it would have escalated, because I would’ve got frustrated at people not helping me.


45:41 My mum often says that my bruised face was a blessing. It’s really, really hard to hear because it’s so frightening to be physically assaulted. But, I agree with it. She’s right, it was a blessing.


JESS: It shouldn’t be a world that we live in, in 21st century in Australia, where other victims, survivors, might be jealous of women who’ve been assaulted because they feel like they didn’t get that opportunity to prove what was going on to get to safety. It feels like that alone should indicate how backwards the system is. How unsuited it is to the phenomenon of domestic abuse, what happens in these situations…

GERALDINE: It’s so fucked up. When somebody speaks out about abuse and family violence people say, “If it’s that bad, why didn’t you just leave?” Or, “Why didn’t you leave earlier?” Yet, if the victim tries to leave earlier, without physical violence, then there’s nowhere for them to go. Go apply for an IVO, go to family court and be forced to share care? It’s just a lose-lose situation.



47:02 NARRATION: Ok, so this is all pretty easy to understand, right? The disorientation victim survivors go through, how the abuse can make them almost forget who they are. How the systems that are supposed to protect them too often fail them, and prove that it’s unsafe to leave. The fact that leaving is the most dangerous thing a victim survivor may ever do.


But what about those people who, no matter how badly they get treated, still seem to love their perpetrator?

47:34 EMMA*: It’s totally fair, you’ve only just left. That’s totally understandable. I’m just wondering, I know you said you had a headache. I know you said he strangles you quite often.

NARRATION : If you want to see what it’s like to leave an abusive partner, there’s no better place than a family violence helpline. At the office of Safe Steps, Victoria’s statewide helpline, family violence crisis specialists work non-stop – 24 hours a day – helping people leave, and get to safety. The volume of calls is dizzying – every two minutes, they are either receiving a call from someone at risk, or making a call to manage their safety.

Before Covid, calls to the centre hovered below 200. The week I arrived, the daily rate of calls coming in was up to around 300, with 380 outbound calls to manage the safety and wellbeing of other victim survivors assessed as at high risk.

I’m sitting with case manager Emma*, listening to her handle a very delicate conversation with who has just left. She’s in a safe place, for now. But she wants to go back.


48:52 EMMA*: I know, it’s a really tricky one, you’ve been in a relationship with him for quite some time. But, you know more than anybody else that when you return things can be fine for a little while and then they can really escalate really badly.

What I’d be worried about is your life, if you were to return. It could get so bad that you might not…

49:22 NARRATION : Emma* is gently trying to reinforce the risk this woman is facing, and that she doesn’t deserve to be abused. She’s also just discovering that this woman’s partner has claimed that she is the primary perpetrator, and is taking her to court.


49:40 EMMA*: That’s not okay, but it’s extremely frustrating that you’ve been listed as the respondent. Now you have to go to court and you have to contest that you’re not the respondent and that you’re the victim. It’s really not fair.

NARRATION: The woman on the call clearly feels self-conscious about wanting to go back to him.


EMMA*: 50:07 But you’ve done an amazing job, to be able to get away again. It’s a really brave thing to do, that you did. It doesn’t make you stupid that you went back, because he’s the one that forced you to do that. You didn’t have a choice.

Yeah, exactly. It sounds like he’s using your mental illness against you quite regularly to the police and to everybody to make you look like the aggressor.

Yeah absolutely it’s not fair at all.

But, I think that your life is extremely important. Nobody that loves you should treat you the way that he has treated you.


Well, that’s what we’re here for.

Do you need anything else before I go? Or, do you have any questions?

Good. Good. That’s a really good idea. Okay, well, I’ll let you go. I’ll let you chill out this evening and I’ll speak to you in the morning. Okay? Okay, bye.

She’s really torn about whether she wants to leave the relationship. She’s been in previously and she continues to return to the relationship, which is quite sad. It’s a really, really high risk case. It’s a RAMP (Risk Assessment and Management Panel) case, which means that they’re the highest risk cases in the state due to the ongoing abuse from the perpetrator and the series of abuse from the perpetrator.


51:30 NARRATION: The RAMP team get involved when nothing will make the perpetrator stop. It’s made up of police, corrections, men’s behavioural change programs, local family violence services, and child protection: they will all workshop a plan to make the perpetrator accountable.


The purpose of RAMP is also to get in between a perpetrator and their victim, so that she does not have to bear responsibility for her own safety.

EMMA*: A lot of the time, clients that are still in the relationship aren’t willing to engage in local services because he’s not allowing her to. When we know that there’s abuse happening, then RAMP can get involved to be able to hold him accountable again, because she’s being manipulated so much that she’s not able to keep herself safe while in the relationship.

EMMA*: She did the last time call for a safety plan though. So she knows what to do the next time that happened.

JESS: Do you feel sometimes it’s that incremental change? For the first couple of calls, she’s just starting to get an idea of what this could look like if I leave. This is what a safety plan is. Acclimatizing to those possibilities?

EMMA*: Yeah, exactly. I think she’s called a good few times and it’s really good that she’s continuing to call. She knows that we’re here to help her when she needs our support. She knows that she can come in and out whenever she needs to. If she’s not safe, she’ll call us and talk to us about what she needs. We will help her, to be able to stay safe. Then, when she’s had enough of that and wants to return to the relationship. He’s extremely manipulative. She’s telling me that she’s torn between her head and her heart. She loves him so much, she wants to return, but she knows that it’s not safe. She knows that her life could be at risk. But, I think when she calls each time and knows that we’re there every time it’s a little bit more…


JESS: You’re also educating her. If she’s really locked into the perpetrators perspective, on life and on her, you’re that other voice coming in. I guess you never know what you’re going to say that might just crack that perspective that he’s really lodged in her.

EMMA*: Exactly. The last time that she was in, she was really concerned about telling us anything that he did to her because she didn’t want him to get in trouble. Now, she is telling us what he’s doing. Each time she comes in, we get a bit more information about the violence that she’s experiencing. This is huge, it shows that she’s starting to trust us.

54:02 JESS: And not having to protect him, maybe starting to think more about protecting herself.

EMMA*: That’s what she said. She said that this time is different, because she has been through so much. She said that this time I know that she needs to look after herself and that it’s my responsibility, I need to think about me know. She said before I used to think about him and me and now it’s just me. And now I need to think about me and that’s huge!


JESS: Amazing, that’s like her coming out. Who knows? I guess that’s what you’re, I can hear the tension in your voice. It’s like, you can hear that she’s close. But, it’s a question of how many more chances do you get?

EMMA*: That’s it. I think that it’s really important to be able to talk about that openly to her. The violence that she’s experienced has been so significant that she’s been hospitalized on numerous occasions because of how injured she has been. It’s a hard thing to say, but I think it’s really important to be able to say that the next time you might not get through it. You might not survive. She’s like, “Yeah, you’re completely right. I completely understand and I know that that’s true.” She kind of stopped to think about that, whereas before it was just like, “Oh, but he wouldn’t do that to me.”

55:12 JESS: He’s taking her to court tomorrow for an intervention order?

EMMA*: Yeah, she’s been listed as the respondent which happens quite often and it’s a really high risk case that they are using this manipulation, to be able to make the victims look like the perpetrators. It happens a lot. We have to really advocate for clients to be able to turn the intervention order around so that they’re the protected person, because a lot of the time the police would attend and the perpetrators would say, “Oh, she’s done this. She’s done that. I’m not okay, you need to make sure that I’m safe. Can you please help me?” The victims don’t say anything, because they’re terrified that if they say anything they’ll be the one to suffer the consequences. Then the police believe him, because they don’t hear anything. The clients are too afraid to make a statement against the perpetrators because of what consequences could come after the police leave, which happens more than you’d think. This is quite common that he’s using and manipulating everybody to think that she’s the bad guy.


She’s starting to believe that she hasn’t done anything wrong, but I think we need to keep telling her that she hasn’t done anything wrong. But she’s at a point where she’s really in-between. I feel like, if you go too far with that kind of education she’ll just stop. You could hear sometimes, throughout the conversation, that whenever I kind of gave that advice and education she just said, “Yeah.” Kind of pulling away, and then she’ll start again. I think it’s really important to know when to stop, because if you go too far and say, “You need to do these things!” She’s not ready to make that decision. If you’re going to force her into making that decision, then it’s just going to backfire. I think you need to be able to support clients at their own pace. When they’re ready to leave, they’re ready to leave and we’re here. But, they know that we’re here. When they’re not ready, we can still help them to be able to get that education in little bits and pieces. To be able to try and keep themselves safe if they do return, which is tough.

57:15 JESS: Well, thank you so much. You did a bloody great job. It’s not easy, you must have so many difficult conversations. I wish that people in the judiciary and in the family law system could hear more of these discussions. Even the police. Every time you provide a positive interaction, you prove that there are systems that are going to be there that can keep her safe. Every time you put an ultimatum in place that it’s like, “Unless you turn up to court” or, “Unless you do this, then we can’t help you.” Then you’re just showing that your help and support is conditional. Just as everything else has been conditional in her life.

EMMA*: Exactly, because it’s their lives. They’re the ones that are going to be living it. It’s not me. If they want to do something that I don’t think is completely safe, all I can do is help them to be as safe as possible.

JESS: That’s where I guess a safety plan comes into place. It’s like, if you’re going to do something that’s risky, at least know that these are the ways in which you can get out if you need to do so.

58:16 EMMA*: Yeah, exactly. I think it’s really important to be able to do that with every client individually because everybody wants different things. If they want to return to the relationship, we just have to help them to do it as safe as possible. Even if you don’t think it’s safe. You have safety plans with every single client that exits the service. It’s necessary to be able to do that, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen when they leave.

58:39 NARRATION: When they’re  talking about leaving the relationship emotionally, victim survivors have to overcome so many hurdles. The first, is to recognise that they are being abused. So many can see that they’re in a terrible relationship, but they just do not see it as abuse. The first time I really got my head around this perspective was listening to a TED talk from victim survivor, advocate and author of Crazy Love, Lesley Morgan Steiner. It’s worth listening to the whole thing, but here’s the bit that finally made sense of this to me:

59:16 LESLIE MORGAN STEINER (TEDTALK): Why did I stay? The answer is easy. I didn’t know he was abusing me. Even though he held those loaded guns to my head, pushed me down stairs, threatened to kill our dog, pulled the key out of the car ignition as I drove down the highway, poured coffee grinds on my head as I dressed for a job interview, I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead, I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only person on Earth who could help Conor face his demons.

NARRATION: Domestic abuse, particularly coercive control, is so effective because it largely makes itself invisible.

Victim survivors will rationalise what’s happening to them in so many ways, depending on what they value. They may, like Leslie did, believe they can fix their partner. Or they might believe that the abusiveness is just a reaction to stress, or a response to trauma, and that if they can just find a way to fix that, the abuse will stop. Sometimes they may be right – but they may also devote years of their life, and sacrifice their own safety, to try to get their partner fixed – only to find that their partner actually isn’t going to stop being abusive, no matter what they do.

Some will just go into a cycle of amnesia – it feels too hard to leave, it’s too confronting to reckon with what’s really happening so it’s easier just to suppress what’s happening.

1:00:55 Others will blame themselves – that if only  they could change what was wrong with them, their partner would go back to the loving person they fell in love with. Many will be so attached to the tradition of marriage – or are pressured by their family and community to stay – that they will simply endure.

But the main reason victim survivors stay is because they feel it’s just not possible to leave. 80-90 percent of domestic abuse victim survivors are subjected to financial abuse, an often vicious type of control and exploitation that leaves many impoverished. One survey in Victoria showed that the fear they would end up destitute was the leading reason women were afraid to leave. It polled well ahead of a fear of physical violence.


01:01:49 CUBBIE*: I didn’t know I have an out, I would love an out. Yes.

NARRATION: Despite everything, Cubbie* has been thinking a lot about leaving. Getting prepared, bit by bit.

CUBBIE*: He doesn’t know that my passwords are different now, they’re stronger passwords. I’ve also purchased a burner phone, but he doesn’t know all these things. It’s happening behind his back, because I just need to be prepared. If leaving is even an option, because the system is rigged. The system is rigged, it’s so patriarchal. I don’t have the money or the capacity to move out. The legal fees, lawyers, no we don’t have that connection. As a carer, because I have a disabled child. There is that level of codependency, in terms of rearing the children because one is needing extra help. I don’t drive, so how would we get to the Royal Children’s Hospital?

Will the system allow me to be a single parent? Where would we even go? That’s the thing, where could we even go that would cater to a disabled child? With accessibility.

01:02:58 NARRATION: Despite all that feels impossible, Cubbie* is shoring up where they can go with their kids if – or when – they need to leave.


CUBBIE*: I’ve got friends, a friend nearby, and they’ve got a safe house for me if things escalate and I need to go to Safe Steps. I’m registered with Safe Steps, in case things escalate. They even coordinated with the disability coordinator, with them. So in case something happens, they have a place for me and my immunocompromised child during a pandemic. They will allocate a house, a safe place for me, should I leave.

What is life? Post pandemic? We don’t know.

01:03:49 NARRATION: In the meantime, as Covid rolls on, Cubbie* does what they have to do to survive.

CUBBIE*: The social distancing is very good. It’s a good excuse, actually, to socially distance myself from….We call him Mr Bear, because he’s such a bear man. I distance myself from him. I don’t know. I really don’t know, but I wish we had an out. We’re not only disabled, we’re also people of colour. I’m also a carer and a migrant. There’s so many layers, too many intersections to be solved by one case worker. Good lord. I don’t know. I really don’t know. All I have to do right now is just take it one day at a time. That’s all we can do, just to survive the day because things may change tomorrow. I can’t even plan for the future, as much as I want to.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our story, because not every family of colour is very open to discussions about disability and what’s happening. They usually hide their disability. We’re putting it out there. There are people, disabled people of colour. We exist. The narrative should be heard, as well. Part of the mainstream.

I have to go and feed the bear, thank you so much. Have a good day! Bye!


01:05:21 NARRATION: You hear from people like Cubbie*, who are so smart, so resourceful, and yet, they’re still trapped.

We persist with this question – why didn’t they just leave – because we can’t imagine we would ever end up trapped. We’d never get together with someone like that. We’d be more resourceful.

The truth is though, as Kay Schubach discovered viscerally as she sat in that courtroom, the most unfathomable experience – the kind that happens to other people – could actually happen to any of us.

Spotting abuse and coercive control early – if it happens to show up early in the relationship, before marriage and kids and commitment – is the best protection we have against getting trapped. That’s why awareness and education is so crucial. But sometimes, awareness is not enough. Ultimately, the only thing that will protect us against this is preventing it in the first place.

In the meantime, we have systems in place that are supposed to protect us against people that are harming us. In the next few episodes, we’re going to turn these systems inside out, and question exactly who are they protecting.


Next Time on THE TRAP: We investigate one of the most controversial institutions of our time: the police.



01:06:51 You’ve been listening to The Trap, proudly brought to you by the Victorian Women’s Trust and it’ harm prevention entity the Dugdale Trust for Women and Girls. We would like to thank all of our supporters and donors. Special thanks to Equity Trustees & the Phyllis Connor Trust, the Bokhara Foundation and a private donor.

Our Creative Producer and editor is Georgina Savage. Co producers are Ally Oliver Perham, Maria Chetcuti, Mary Crooks and Lucy Ballantyne. Special thanks to Leah McPherson and the team at the Victorian Women’s Trust.  The Trap was mixed by Romy Sher and Pariya Taherzadeh. I’m your head writer, producer and host, Jess Hill.


This podcast was produced in Sydney and Melbourne and we respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of this land, the Gadigal of the Eora nation and the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation.


We would like to acknowledge the victim survivors and others who have generously shared their stories and expertise.


If today’s topics have raised any issues for you, help is available. Contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or, if you are seeking specialist LGBTQI support, contact With Respect, on 1800 542 847, or see our show notes for a full list of support services.


For more information about this podcast including show notes and resources, visit and follow @TheTrapPod on Instagram


You can also find out more about the Victorian Women’s Trust via their website: or follow them on social media: @VicWomensTrust


Thank you for listening.