Two women who were tyrannised, raped and almost killed by the same man have united to support a joint campaign by Anglicare and New Idea magazine to give emergency survival packs to women escaping from domestic violence.
Kay Schubach and Kim Gentle, who became best friends after being abused by convicted Sydney rapist Simon Lowe, have teamed up in support of the We Care Pack campaign, launched this week.
The We Care Pack contains a pre-paid phone card and toiletry essentials to provide a lifeline to women who flee from abusive partners in a hurry, often taking nothing with them. New Idea has pledged to distribute 365 packs this year to women who seek assistance from Anglicare Australia.
The packs have been created with donations by Sunsilk, Dove, White Glo, Cancer Council, Banana Boat, Vaseline, Schick, Telstra and Clearasil, but New Idea is raising funds to create further packs and says as little as $5 can help deliver this much-needed service to more women across the country.
Both Kim Gentle and Kay Shubach say their friendship is one of the wonderful things that has come out of their shared experience as victims of the so-called “playboy rapist” Simon Lowe, who seduced, manipulated and abused a string of beautiful women.
Gentle tracked down Schubach after reading her memoir, A Perfect Stranger, documenting her hellish relationship with Lowe which ended with a mention of Gentle’s case without naming her.
Gentle met Lowe in 2001 when she was working as a model and publisher. Over six months, he forced her to quit her job, stalked her and threw her dog over a cliff to its death.
She says he dragged her along a beach by her hair, threw an iron at her and regularly raped and bashed her. Finally, on her birthday, he tried to smother her with a pillow, prompting her to flee for her life.
“When I was faced with that most dangerous time of leaving, the only thing I left with was my wallet, which was empty anyway, but there was my ID and that was all,” she told Eternity.
“And you think ‘There goes my entire life, everything I own, everything that’s near and dear to me that’s survived is there and I’ve just got to walk away and leave it all behind.’”
Gentle says that while a gift of a phone card and toiletries may not seem like much in such a crisis, it represents kindness, the quality that has been most lacking.
“It just makes you feel that there are people that care out there,” she says.
“And at that time, that is really important. It also makes you feel you are not alone, and especially the phone card – you can make a phone call to a family member or friend saying ‘Hey, this is what’s going on’. Isolation is another significant impact of domestic violence.”
Gentle, who is now based in the Northern Territory, is setting up an equine therapy business, using horses to help people, especially Aboriginal people, reconnect with themselves after trauma.
“Spending time with horses got me to a level that no one else did because I know what it’s like to be a preyed-upon animal living in survival and flight mode for three or four hours a day and it’s horrible.
“Now I’m trying to help Aboriginal youth through horses and that has all come about because of that trauma.”
Schubach, a former art dealer who now works as a legal consultant for victims of domestic violence in Sydney’s wealthy eastern suburbs, says the violation of trust was the most shocking thing about her experience with Lowe.
“It went through the classic cycle of surveillance and criticism and isolation through to a lot of very scary situations, like trying to smash my car when we’re driving and driving it very fast, squeezing on the handbrake in the middle of a very busy road at midnight and leaving me in the car without the keys.
“And then he was hitting me and the violence got worse and worse and then he raped me in my own apartment. I was so in love with him, and it’s so shocking that someone you love can do that to you.
“One morning he threw a big jug of ice-cold water over me and I scrambled out from under him to call the police and he pulled the landline out of the wall, and then knocked me to the ground and sat on my back and tried to smother me with his hand over my nose and mouth.”
At that moment Shubach thought she was going to die, but at the last moment Lowe took his hand away and she screamed.
“I really thought that the neighbours would come or I’d hear a siren, and no one did anything, and that was when I realised that I had to do this on my own and get out, seek help and go to the police, I couldn’t rely on anyone else.”
Janine Jones, public affairs manager for Anglicare in Sydney, says Anglicare in every state is taking part in the We Care campaign.
She sees the We Care campaign as an opportunity to highlight the counselling and workshops Anglicare runs for women in their transition from an abusive relationship to reframing a healthy relationship and sense of self-worth.
“It is highlighting a really important issue, a really critical issue that more and more people are becoming aware of,” she says.
“However, it is still amazing that … people still have their preconceptions and their prejudices and women still feel the shame and that it’s still a bit of a dirty secret and [they] still feel judged by other people. So we still have a way to go in the community taking this on board.”
She says Anglicare has also started offering a men’s behavioural change programme called STOP and a father’s peer support programme to help men become better dads.
Anglicare does not have any community housing but women who come seeking help can be referred to a refuge.