Inspiring CQU graduate shares escape from violence to encourage others to speak up

06 June 2022

CONTENT WARNING: This story includes references to domestic violence and thoughts of self-harm. If you need resources or support around these issues' help is available – call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

When Chamika left her home in Sri Lanka to study in Melbourne' she arrived with big plans to grow her career in accounting.

She didn't know the change would nearly end her life.

Now' the determined graduate is sharing her story' in the hope of helping other international students to escape domestic violence.

Chamika moved to Melbourne to study her Master of Professional Accounting with CQUniversity in 2018' travelling from the southern city of Galle in Sri Lanka with her partner of seven years.

It was her first time leaving the country and being away from her close-knit family.

"I was nervous' as I didn't know anybody in Melbourne – but I had my partner with me' and I had that cultural belief that you had to rely on a man to look after you'" Chamika explained.

"But within a week I found him changing – I'd expected him to protect me' but now I needed protection from him."

Early on in her studies' Chamika's partner broke her phone and refused to let her buy another one' so she had to rely on his to communicate.

While she continued to attend lectures and work in part-time jobs' Chamika had little contact with the outside world – and only revealed her situation when a fellow student asked if she was okay.

"This student' an Indian girl named Chandni' told me to come and meet her' she gave me a phone – without her help' I would have been too afraid to speak to anyone'" Chamika said.

Chamika also began taking photos of her injuries and sending them to her sister in Sri Lanka' but was still fearful of going to the police.

"I told her to keep them in case something happened to me' as evidence – and that is a terrible situation to be in' knowing that I may die'" she said.

"But he was telling me that if I tell anyone it will affect my family' it will affect my life – and I still loved him' and still hoped he would change."

Chamika eventually left in 2019' and said the decision was overwhelming.

"That first day I left the house' I went to catch a train at 10 o'clock at night with nowhere to go and nothing to eat' it was very frightening'" she said.

"Then I had exams two or three days later' and I was just so determined to prove I could still do what I came to Australia to do' I passed them all'" she said.

Chamika finished her studies in Term 3 2020' and due to pandemic impacts' was only able to graduate in March 2022.

After crossing the stage' she took to LinkedIn' and shared how much the degree meant to her' and what she'd faced to achieve it.

"Because of the violence' and going through the divorce' and then involving the police to get a protection order' I had breakdowns' I was very low and wanted to end my own life – because I just wanted to escape' but then I pictured my mother's face and I knew thinking like that is wrong." Chamika said.

"It feels like I lost years of my life living with this violence' and unable to live my own life."

"Now I don't want to waste another minute!"

CQUniversity Chief Wellbeing Officer Dr Bethany Mackay said every student has the right to be safe at campus and at home' and that support services are available for students experiencing abuse and/or violence in relationships.

"Help is available and having the courage to tell someone you trust is the first step. Students often say that it's helpful to talk to a person who is professionally trained and who understands how trauma and violence impacts studies and personal circumstances'" Dr Mackay said.

"The student counsellors at CQU provide a confidential' supportive and non-judgmental space for students to talk about their experiences and concerns. Counsellors will also provide students with information about specialised local community services who are well equipped to help whatever stage the student is at.

"It's also really important to remember that if you are in need of immediate assistance to contact 000 or go to the nearest police station to make sure you are safe."

Chamika recently began a graduate position as an accountant in Melbourne and hopes to travel home to see her family in December for the first time since leaving Sri Lanka.

"Once I'm more settled and making money' I really hope I can help people who are experiencing what I experienced too'" she said.

"People need to know how much these things are happening' without anyone realising – and men and women need help and support to leave those situations."

Chamika said her LinkedIn post attracted many messages of support' and questions from other men and women facing violence.

"They ask' 'how have you survived' how can we live after we leave?' – and I tell them that life keeps going' it can be done'" she said.

"It is not easy' but it is better to be alive and safe."

If you're a CQUniversity student in need of support' visit to connect with counselling and other services.

CQUniversity staff and their family members can seek support via CQUniversity's Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Call to make an appointment on 1800 816 152.