Listen: Josie Parata of SMS Lighthouse Single Mums Support, chats to Emma Mullings.
It’s heartbreaking to learn how much pain some women endure, before leaving an abusive marriage or relationship.
For mum-of-four Josie Parata, it wasn’t until her eight-year-old son tried to kill himself, that she realised she had to leave her violent husband—and fast. Pregnant with her fourth child, she fled with her children to a women’s refuge where she began rebuilding her life from scratch.
She describes it as a gruelling process. Her emotions were in such turmoil that simply filling out a Centrelink form was a near-impossible task.
“I found myself in what I now know as crisis mentality,” she said in an interview with Hope 103.2’s Emma Mullings.
“With all the paperwork that I was given in order to try and move forward, my brain was not working to fill it all out. And I wished at that moment that I had just one person that would come alongside and help me work through all this paperwork.”
Turning Her Pain Into Support For Others
Josie, who is a Christian, said she felt like a failure at the time, but that she got through by “digging her heels in and seeking God for strength”.
“I just sensed the small voice of God, encouraging me that it was going to be okay, that there was a hope and a future for me.”
The experience made her realise many women must feel the same loneliness during times of crisis. She felt God speak to her about helping others, and was inspired to set up an organisation to help women going through the same thing.
Josie educated herself, completing an Advanced Diploma in Case Management, and now runs an established support service on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, called “SMS Lighthouse – Single Mums Support”. She describes it as “a one-stop-shop for single mums”.
SMS Lighthouse supports women through:
- Finding housing
- Court attendances and tribunals
- Writing legal documents
- Centrelink paperwork
- Clothing for children
They also run a weekly support group called “Moving Forward”, giving women a chance to build friendships, and hear from speakers on topics like budgeting, time management, affordable cooking, finding jobs, looking for properties and more.
Why Abused Women Struggle To Leave
Research shows that 1 in 4 Australian women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner, and 1 in 3 have suffered physical violence (Bureau of Statistics and Australian Institute of Criminology, 2012).
Sadly, women suffering in abusive relationships often feel trapped, and many attempt to leave a bad relationship up to six times before truly breaking free.
Josie Parata tried to leave three times before walking away for good.
“It’s so hard for us when there’s children involved,” she said. “I remember thinking “where am I going to go, who am I going to stay with, what am I going to do, how am I going to live?” That was one of the reasons why I stayed longer and just put up with the continual control and belittling and everything that was going on.”
The Moment She Nearly Lost Her Son
She didn’t realise it at the time, but Josie was actually teaching her children to simply put up with abuse.
“After a blow-up I would sit with the kids and tell them it’s not their fault and try and educate them on how to deal with it,” she explained.
“I was teaching them my coping mechanisms, because I was brought up in a home of domestic violence, and had learnt how to separate myself from the situation. I was trying to teach that to my kids. Looking back, that’s so unhealthy. I was putting up with it all, it was normal to me because of my upbringing.”
Tolerating the situation nearly led to her son’s death. Josie describes the moment when she found him trying to end his life.
“He’d put a belt around his neck and tried to take his life, at eight years old.”
“My firstborn son was being affected,” she said. “We were walking on eggshells all the time and his dad was always belittling him and putting him down, and his confidence was being really pushed down.
“One evening he and his dad were in an argument and I intervened and said “go to your room”. Then a few minutes later I walked into his bedroom and found him at the top of the bunk bed, on the pole—he’d put a belt around his neck and tried to take his life, at eight years old.
“I freaked out and I yelled out to his dad to come and help me, because I couldn’t lift him up to bring him over the pole. But he said “he just wants attention” and didn’t come.
“Then with everything in me, I just pushed his body up, and he fell to the ground. He looked up at me with these little eyes and just said, “Mummy, I just want to go back to God”. That was the moment I knew that if I did not get out, then I may have a death on my hands.
“I praise God that I walked in when I did. Because I think if I had been five or ten minutes longer, I would’ve lost that little boy.”
From that point on, Josie surrounded herself and her kids with love and support, staying connected to her church, and getting the help they needed to heal. Today, her eldest son is nearly 19, an HSC graduate, with a full-time trade and a dream to play professional Rugby League.
“He’s a different child than what he was at eight years old,” she said.
Advice For Those In Abusive Relationships
Speaking from experience, Josie urges women who are in abusive relationships – whether verbal, emotional or physical – to walk away from the damaging cycle.
“I would say please don’t wait until it becomes a life-and-death situation,” she said. “If there’s no violence involved but it’s emotional and verbal abuse, don’t think “it’s OK”. The support services know that women who are going through emotional and verbal abuse are harder cases to help move forward, because the impact is even harder.
“If he’s not going to show any signs of moving forward or getting help for himself, and the cycle has been going on for a long time, you need to get out now while you are safe.”
“Us women, we actually are strong, we’ve just got to take the bold steps to move forward.”
Those who are victims of violence and are not safe, Josie advises to call Triple Zero or search online for the nearest Domestic Violence support service.
“You just need to make one phone call and get out,” she said.
She also encourages women who are in churches to surround their children with a community of support.
“Our children are so resilient,” she said. “Connect them into church and watch what God does. He will bring them through, they will be okay. And you will get through because us women, we actually are strong, we’ve just got to take the bold steps to move forward.”
Join In The Fundraising Dinner
SMS Lighthouse is holding its annual fundraising dinner this Thursday night, March 17, from 6.30pm at the International College of Management in Manly.
The dress code is “Glamorous and Lounge Suits”, celebrity Prinnie Stevens famous for her performances on The Voice, will provide entertainment, SMS clients will share stories of hope and there will be a silent auction.
For details see the SMS Lighthouse website.
If you are struggling or in crisis, Hope 103.2 recommends calling Lifeline on 131114.