Survivors of domestic abuse are struggling to become financially independent because of the “insidious” ways their abusers continue to harass them, according to a report.

The St Jeanne Antide Foundation said its support service SOAR helped 113 survivors of domestic abuse last year and “the majority” said their main need was to secure a job that would give them regular income and financial security.

Nearly half the women, 53, did not have enough money to pay for essentials and had to receive food aid, clothing and emergency debt relief from the not-for-profit foundation.

Many highlighted the importance of further education to give them economic independence but faced an uphill battle to complete their studies.

Five survivors had to drop out of a course at either the University of Malta or the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology due to the “never-ending aftermath of domestic violence”.

“In one case, for example, the survivor dropped out of her studies as she was constrained to take her daughter for supervised access visits [with the father] twice a week by bus. Each time, she had to catch four buses,” the report noted.

Meanwhile, she was also fighting a legal battle with the father, who was attempting to reduce child support and get unsupervised access to their son, even though the man had been found guilty of exposing him to physical abuse and neglect.

The report exposes the obstacles faced by domestic violence survivors as they try to rebuild their lives.

“Although they are ‘survivors’, many continue to suffer invisible abuse and harassment which is insidious and meant to run them further to the ground… Regrettably for many survivors, the systems are not working well for them,” the report says.

Regrettably for many survivors, the systems are not working well for them

It goes on to list: lengthy court cases; incessant unnecessary filing of court applications by the perpetrator; failure by the perpetrator to pay maintenance; refusal to sign off on the sale of the matrimonial home; accumulating debts due to failure to meet bill payment deadlines; having to stay at home when school classes were online; and inflexible supervised visit dates and time.

The hardships faced by survivors had serious mental health implications, sometimes leading to suicidal thoughts. 

“Managing one’s life and family life single-handedly often leads to high levels of stress and anxiety. Accessing therapy for their children too becomes a nightmare as the abusive parent has to sign his consent. Oftentimes, survivors disclose that their body feels as if it is about to fail them. Many fall ill multiple times a year. For those in employment, this situation becomes a nightmare as they unsuccessfully try to grapple with keeping their job,” the report states.

SOAR supports these women through all this. As recounted by one survivor: “When I have flashbacks, I suddenly remember that I have moved out from our house where he used to abuse me. But the abuse hasn’t stopped. I am renting and he is still in the matrimonial house. I wish to give up and go back because I cannot cope financially. But the regular chats I have online with SOAR mentors, even late at night, keep me aware of why I left and that I must stay strong. Even though it’s not fair I had to move out, my life is no longer at risk. I wish the court can see what we are going through.”

The report calls for more action to ensure that once a perpetrator is convicted of domestic violence, the victim “should not  have to spend the rest of her assets, time, money, and life fighting to separate from her abuser”.

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