Stacy Jane had just turned 30 when she found herself bloodied and bruised, thousands of kilometres from home with no passport and no money and only the clothes on her back. Two years ago Stacy – a UK national – was on a cruise when her violent ex-partner viciously assaulted her the night before the boat was due to disembark in Sydney.
The people in the cabin next door heard the assault and alerted the ship’s security. Stacy had been in the abusive relationship for three years, but this was the first time reporting the abuse had been taken out of her hands.
“I was always too frightened to report it,” said Stacy. “Back home over those three years I had a tracker on my car and software on my mobile phone. So any kind of bank transaction, text message, phone call that I made was monitored. He would lock me in the house every day. I couldn’t speak to my family or friends about it because I would be punished as a result because he was monitoring everything I was saying.”
That is the crux of coercive control where victims of domestic violence are isolated from those closest to them and made to feel helpless and hopeless. They often feel there is no way out. But Stacy found one and now her goal is to make it easier for others in the same position to have escape plan. Stacy is the founder of Australian Charity Escabags, distributing hand-sewn ‘Escape Bags’ that are filled with necessities that a victim of abuse and his/her children may need when initially escaping a dangerous or abusive situation.
After Stacy was attacked on the cruise ship, she had no belongings. The perpetrator had changed the pin to the safe where her passport and bank card were stored.
“All I had were the clothes I was standing in,” said Stacy. And so the seed was planted for the young woman’s burgeoning Escabags charity, where victims of domestic violence are able to access a “grab-and-go” bag to get them through the first few days of fleeing a violent relationship.
But first Stacy, alone in a foreign country, had to find a safe harbour.
“Fortunately, I’d met a really amazing Australian family on the cruise and security had notified them the next morning and told them what had happened to me,” said Stacy. “When we were due to disembark they knocked on my door and were horrified when they saw what I looked like. They said to me ‘this is the first day of your new life and you’re coming home with us’. So I did.”
For the next week – the duration of her Australia holiday – Stacy stayed with the woman she has dubbed Maussie (My Aussie Mum) and her family. That single act of kindness changed Stacy’s life, in fact it probably saved it.
“I really don’t know where I found the courage to leave, but I think I realised that this was my last chance to get away from this person,” said Stacy. “I went back to their home for the remaining week of my holiday and then had to return to the UK.”
Back in the UK Stacy moved into a women’s shelter, where she spent the next four months living in fear, barely leaving her room and living on noodles and porridge. Depression set in and Stacy had moments where she considered returning to live with the perpetrator because sometimes it felt like “it’s better the devil you know”.
But frequent phone calls from her Australian rescuer helped Stacy stay strong and recognise she deserved so much better. “One day she called and I was really upset. My ex had sent me a video of the location of the safe house I was staying in. Maussie just said to me ‘come home Bub’.”
So, in August 2019 Stacy sold everything she owned on eBay and bought a one-way ticket to Australia.
In the short time she has lived in Australia she has carved out a new life. She has started a charity, has a loving new partner who treats her with the love and respect she deserves and has an adoring 11-year-old stepson, who with Stacy’s gentle guidance, is now the ‘Deputy CEO’ of Escabags and is learning the story behind the business in an age-appropriate way.
Five months after moving to Australia Stacy – who was living with Maussie – began having panic attacks and nightmares. She was constantly terrified and anxious; concerned the perpetrator had followed her to Australia. Stacy was diagnosed with PTSD and in a bid to manage her anxiety Maussie suggested a hobby.
While in the UK women’s shelter Stacy had attended a sewing class and made a cotton tote bag. It currently hangs on the wall of her Escabags office to remind her how far she has come.
She began making tote bags in earnest, it was a form of therapy.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to use them for, I thought my Nan might be able to give them to her church pals in the UK.”
Then Hannah Clark and her three children were murdered in Brisbane in an horrific incident of domestic violence. It broke Stacy’s heart and spurred her into action. She recalled a particularly violent episode with her perpetrator back in the UK. Stacy, who kept a spare car key in her bra at all times – managed to flee to a nearby male friend’s house with nothing but the clothes on her back.
Her friend took Stacy to the supermarket to get necessities the day after the vicious attack and Stacy, visibly bruised, felt the eyes of other shoppers on them.
“They thought he was the perpetrator,” said Stacy.
That’s when the seed was planted for an escape bag; something a woman or a man could access when fleeing a violent relationship. The day after Hannah Clark’s murder Stacy stayed up all night and completed a basic website. The following day Escabags was born.
The simple business plan, as Stacy modestly describes it, started off small. Stacy and a team of dedicated friends would send out a handful of escape bags each week, free of charge, to businesses such as pharmacies, pubs, doctor’s surgeries, and women’s groups. The bags are packed full of toiletries, for both women and men fleeing violence, donated by kind-hearted supporters. There is also a parent/child pack that includes a children’s storybook, teddy bear, nappies, a soother and cuddly blanket.
“It’s a practical solution for people escaping violence just to get them through those first few days,” said Stacy. “It’s not always as easy as calling the police. There has to be a grab-and-go, fast solution so people don’t have to return home to the perpetrator. When the perpetrator knows they no longer have control over that person, that’s when we see loss of life.”
What started as a humble project over a year ago has snowballed into a business with a board of directors who help oversee her registered charity. Volunteers across the country now make escape bags and businesses and individuals across the nation donate their time, products and make in-kind contributions.
“We now have over 200 stockists and we just sent out our 1000th escape bag,” said Stacy. “But it’s such a double-edged sword. On the one hand it makes me so sad, that’s 1000 victims who have gone through the horror of what I did and I know how that feels. But on the other hand that’s the 1000th life that we’ve potentially saved or changed.”
CareSouth will now stock the free escape bags in all of their offices for anyone to access. Stacy’s goal is to have escape bags available in every suburb of Australia.
“Then I found out there were 2800 suburbs!,” she laughed. But unfortunately the need is there and Stacy is determined to fill it.
“We have always said you don’t have to be a particular type of business to be a stockist, just a kind one! The bags don’t cost anything to receive, we do all the hard work, the only thing we ask is you take a box of four bags and pop a poster in the window of your office to let people know it is a safe space where the bags are available, should anyone require them.”
“I’m a great believer in that you can’t change a person’s circumstances but you can change their mindset. The products we put in escape bags are nice products that can help restore a person’s sense of self worth when they have constantly been told they are worthless.”
Stacy even puts a hand-written card in each bag, something she is struggling to keep up with as the business grows.
“That’s something that is so personal to me, you feel so lonely when you are in that situation and I try and do what Maussie did for me,” she said. “If I can be that positive voice in someone’s head in their time of need, that is so important. One small act of kindness changed my life. You have no way of knowing what impact it can have on someone’s life, but it saved mine. Maussie and her family, they could have quite easily got off the boat that day and said ‘it’s not really any of our business’. But they didn’t. Maussie said to me ‘I just did what I hope someone would do for my child in that situation’.
For more information about Escabags and where you can find a stockist near you head to, https://escabags.org/