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Domestic violence victims in Canberra's 'missing middle' falling through cracks

Once Anne* fled the years of drunken abuse, her second battle began.

She wanted to stay safe from the ex-partner who harmed her, provide and care for her three children, keep a roof over their heads, hold down her job and maintain some control of her finances.

But even with a full-time job she'd held down for a decade and decent salary, she battled to rebuild her life after domestic violence.

She spent 75 per cent of her income on rent, couldn't afford insurance, and spent the past seven years repaying $30,000 debt, which stemmed from her ex-partner's financial abuse, without any financial support.

She got just 50 cents a day in child support for her two youngest children; faced court alone for months and relied on public transport after her car was re-possessed.

"The kids lost their house, they lost their family, they lost their pets. They stayed at the same school, but it cost me a fortune in child care. I was working full-time, paying full rent, paying all the bills."

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She's among Canberra's "missing middle" - working class women, men and children who escape domestic violence but suffer from a lack of long-term support - highlighted in a Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT and Women's Centre For Health Matters report launched today.

It showed very little help was available for victims who were in the gap between crisis and having fully re-established their lives; and between services available for low-income earners and being able to pay for services themselves.

The majority who fled domestic violence in the ACT stayed in their homes post-crisis, and did not access the crisis system, the report said.

"We know that many of these women and men are middle-income earners, employed full-time, who are not able to access financial assistance and support and who do not qualify for hardship provisions or loans."

Those women risked tipping back into homelessness or financial hardship six to 12 months later if they couldn't sustain tenancies, mortgage payments and jobs, as well as care for their children and pets.

"We know particularly that women consider returning to violent relationships because it is too hard to keep themselves, their children and their pets safe."

The problems highlighted in the report inspired the groups' Beyond Crisis project, made up of seven industry forums to look at ways Canberra's business sector could support victims long-term in ways community groups and government could not.

The project focused on areas victims said were the most common barriers and challenges they faced as they tried to get back on their feet after violence: housing, legal services, childcare, pets, insurance and finance.

DVCS chief executive Mirjana Wilson said big businesses needed to acknowledge the impacts of domestic violence on the community both as employers, and also as part of their corporate responsibility.

"Domestic violence is a whole of community problem and it's a whole of community issue, so I think it's a whole of community response that's needed - the three sectors need to come together."

Among the fresh partnerships sparked by the project was Assistance Beyond Crisis, a micro-finance facility that began operating with pro-bono support from financial services company Deloitte in July.

Deloitte Canberra managing partner Lynne Pezzullo said the service offered interest-free loans up to $5000 to Canberrans who were unable to access other financial help to meet immediate costs for housing, school fees, household goods and cars.

"There are things the private sector can do here which can really make a difference," she said.

*Name has been changed

If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic or family violence, call the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service 24-hour crisis line on 6280 0900. In an emergency, call 000.