25 November 2014

A tale of domestic violence

Nearly twenty years ago, I had a girlfriend who was regularly beaten by her partner.  She'd turn up in the middle of the night looking for somewhere to crash, she'd call asking to be collected from the hospital or occasionally ring me in the middle of the day - determined that this was going to be the day she left him and could I come and help her move.

He'd ring and demand she come home or turn up on the doorstep refusing to leave. Call me all manner of delightful names. I'd call the police, he'd leave and around and around and around it went.

I never turned her down.  Even when I found it hard to believe initially because he seemed like such a nice guy.  But I saw the bruises. I saw the x-rays.  I cried with her when he aborted her baby with a punch to the stomach.  I tried to get her to report him to the police or at least go to a counsellor so she had some professional support behind her but she always refused.

I was completely out of my depth.  I felt that I really did not have the experience to help her in any meaningful way. I  was flying blind and keeping a secret that was big and brutal.  But she was adamant.  She was worried about what people would think of her.  She said she knew that she just had to be a better wife and accept that sometimes she made him so mad he couldn't think straight.

And then she got pregnant again. And she was determined that this was it. She told him that if she ever touched her while she was pregnant she'd report him. He slapped her for the insolence. She reported him.  He got a slap on the wrist and advised to stop mixing his booze and his bongs and focus on 'the missus'. It gave him a fright though and while he was an arse to her verbally, he didn't hit her again until she was about 6 months pregnant.

I collected her from the hospital. Broke her nose and her cheek bone slipping on the stairs she told the nurses and due to her bulk she'd fallen awkwardly against the stair rail.  The nurses didn't believe her.  She didn't even bother lying to me.  I took her to her sister's house and her sister held her tight as she begged her to leave him.  She didn't.

What she did do is make a deal with him.  If he never touched her or the baby again, she'd pretend the last few years didn't happen and she'd cut off contact with everybody that knew.  Provided he promised to turn over a new leaf and never hit her, never drink and never do drugs again.

He agreed.  He swore that he was a changed man and that he would do anything he could to make sure that she and their daughter were safe.  That day I saw her at her sister's house was the last I saw her.  The last her sister saw her. She changed phone numbers and moved house and the one time I saw her in the street she refused to look at or talk to me.

I saw him plenty of times boozing it on in town, often in the embrace of women that weren't her.

Take the oath
I heard later that his friends knew about it, but were of the opinion that it wasn't their business and that they'd always said she was a bit of a handful.

Victim blaming. Victim shaming.  The most powerful weapon in the domestic violence armoury.

The fact is the only person to blame for violence is the person committing the act of violence.

Things have changed a lot since then.  There are more support services. You can report domestic violence and the police will act even if the victim doesn't want to file a complaint. Hospitals have more reporting responsibilities.  And people know now that domestic violence happens at all levels of society - it's not something 'other people do'.

I still wish, particularly with almost twenty years more life experience under my belt, that I had done more. That I had been somehow able to change her view that she was responsible for his behaviour. That I'd broken my promise to keep her secret from our circle of friends.

Domestic violence still kills one woman a week.  One in three women will suffer sexual or physical violence at the hands of somebody close to them.  One in four children are exposed to domestic violence.

Speak up. Speak out.

If you need somebody to talk to - always remember Lifeline are there to help you 13 11 14.

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