Trigger warning: this story contains first-hand accounts of domestic violence, controlling behaviour and abuse.
Experience of domestic violence has prompted one woman to create a service that helps victims get back on their feet.
And the charity, which provides emergency escape bags filled with essentials for adults and children escaping domestic and family violence, has "gone through the roof" since the pandemic hit.
The local initiative has supported many people across the region over the last month.
The founder, CEO and domestic abuse survivor Stacy Jane said Give Where You Live provided the opportunity to platform the issue, and to gather essential items for the bags.
"There has been a lot of support from areas within the Southern Highlands," she said.
"It has definitely made things a lot easier for us to advertise what we need, especially on a month by month basis because obviously, that changes."
Ms Jane officially launched the charity in February 2020.
The move was prompted by her own experience while living in the United Kingdom where she was abused, controlled and tormented by a former partner.
The experience of temporarily leaving her perpetrator, and her friend taking her to shop for essentials in 2018, motivated the initiative.
The news of Hannah Clarke and her three children murdered by her estranged husband in Queensland in 2020 was also a turning point.
Ms Jane explained in a talk with corporate partners doTERRA, that she was travelling with her then partner on a cruise ship through Australia and New Zealand in early 2019, when he attacked her for "the last time."
She met a family from the Highlands on the ship who saw her alone, and then helped her begin the next chapter of her life.
"Little did I know that this same group of people would go on to save my life," she said.
"Fortunately for me, it had been taken out of my hands on this occasion.
"The people next door had contacted security because they'd heard a commotion, and they took control of the situation."
Ms Jane was moved to a different room, but her former partner had changed the lock on the safe that contained her passport and other documents.
"I was terrified waking up in that cabin," she continued.
"With all of that said, I was also on the other side of the world completely alone in just the dress I was wearing that evening."
Security then connected with the Highlands family before they left the boat, and they approached Ms Jane.
"And there they all were - six very confused faces, with a cup of tea and a small plate of breakfast," she explained.
"They took one look at me, looked at each other and said 'This is the start of your new life, and you're coming home with us.'"
She spent the rest of her trip in Australia then went home to the United Kingdom to a women's shelter, which she said was not the safe haven she expected it to be.
Ms Jane later explained to one of the Australian family members who she called 'Maussie' and became a mother figure for her, that her perpetrator had found her.
Maussie told her to come "home" to Australia, and Ms Jane then sold her things and bought a ticket to Australia and applied for a protection VISA.
It was then that she was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and decided to get a sewing machine. The shelter in the United Kingdom had a class where residents could sew bags, which Ms Jane enjoyed, and hoped it would be a remedy.
It was a passion project that left her with too many tote bags, and a desire for others to have them.
Escabags are now handmade by volunteers and creative sewers across the country, and are stocked in a variety of places.
Highlanders can find an online tutorial on the Escabags site if they want to create bags.
Residents can also sew items such as trauma teddies and muslin wraps for babies.
Lockdown meant some stockists were inaccessible during the height of restrictions, which meant Escabags had to look at how to reach individuals.
Despite this, it showed Highlanders that they could give in many ways via Give Where you Live.
"With our phone number being on there too, it's a really nice way to hear of people who are willing to donate some of the items and have that conversation," Ms Jane said.
"Sometimes things like that can be lost with those conversations, especially in lockdown."
Highlanders can donate items, and fund items, such as nappies and soothers on the Give Where You Live platform.
"One of the things we have found that has been really useful is the $2 SIM cards that we've been adding to our escape bags," she continued.
"I know from my own situation, it meant that the first thing I needed to do was replace my phone and my laptop, because there was software on there which was tracking my conversations, calls and my every move.
"It always surprises me that people that are in difficult situations themselves, as individuals and businesses, can still find that little bit extra to give their local community."
Escabags can be found at the following stockists in the Southern Highlands:
- Beauty By Bonnie: Colo Road, Colo Vale
- Highlands Community Centre: 22 Bendooley St, Bowral
- Beauty Bar Bowral: Shop 2a/399 - 405 Bong Bong St, Bowral
- One Door Mental Health: 30 Wingecarribee Street, Bowral
- Natascha: 5/1117 Old Hume Highway, Berrima
- Quest For Life: 13/33 Ellsmore Road, Bundanoon
- Sage of Mind: 1A Crimea St, Balaclava
- AT Psychology: 14 Wingecarribee Street, Bowral
- Your Family Village: 38 Lytton Road, Moss Vale
- Pop In: 2 Mona Road, Bowral
- Hopscotch Partners: Suite 3/271-273 Bong Bong Street, Bowral
- That Metal Company: 13 Lyell Street, Mittagong (by appointment)
- Southern Highlands Police Station: 67 Elizabeth Street, Moss Vale
If you have been impacted by domestic and family violence, or know someone who has, you can reach out to the following services:
National Helpline: 1800 737 732
Men's Referral Service: 1300 766 491
Mensline: 1300 789 978
Lifeline (24-hour Crisis Line): 131 114
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
Women's Crisis Line (NSW): 1800 656 463
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