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So here goes my small piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the very dark and dismal life of domestic violence.

Clearly, if you are reading this, you will be surfing the RAW website. Whether it be with intrigue or trepidation, here you are. The journey you have taken to get here has been a long and painful one, trust me I know.

I am one of the blessed people who is currently being supported by the RAW team. So, I’d like to say hello to you and ask that you continue reading. I’ve been pondering for a while about how to begin the first few sentences of my post. Once you’re into the body of a text it’s always fairly easy for thoughts to flow and a conclusion isn’t that challenging, but for me the start is always a bit of a marathon. However, today it came to me so here are my shared thoughts.

I have been invited by the RAW team to say something about my experience, my demographic, a wee piece for their website in the hope it will reach out to someone in need. I feel privileged to do so because I’ve been silenced for so long. Speaking out is scary yet so important in order to reach that someone who desperately needs it and I’ve been given a platform to do just that. Throughout my post I will say what I feel and quote some others who said it better than I could have.

You may recall as a woman who has been pregnant, given birth, raised children or suffered the sadness of a lost pregnancy, child or anything else that has challenged your existence, that when you start to talk to others you can more often than not find you are not alone in this world of your experience. For those women who haven’t had pregnancies or children there will be some other topic you can relate this to, for example, health issues, deaths in the family, employment problems… When you talk you find out you’re not alone.

Well, domestic violence is just the same. Sadly it’s the dark side of life but the statistics of those who have walked in your shoes and mine are staggeringly high in NZ and globally. For the purposes of safety I will endeavour to give enough information which I hope will interest or relate to you but not enough to endanger me.

The RAW team are well aware that domestic violence doesn’t discriminate a particular person or group. They know domestic violence can affect couples of every social stratum, even seemingly confident, successful, intelligent women who have the means to leave. So what’s my demographic? Demographic information at it’s basic level is age, gender and ethnicity. It can be many other things for example, single, middle-class, tertiary educated (or not), home ownership, employment status, disability… I am going to keep it simple.

Age: Currently 35-45 (my experience of violence ranged 25-45)

Gender: Female

Ethnicity: I’m a Kiwi, I’m non-Maori, non-Chinese, non-Indian… So call me what you like. White/Pakeha/European.

Skin Colour: Shades of pink, a little freckled in places. In the past it’s been hues of purple, crimson and red mixed in with blotches of black and grey. So I guess it doesn’t matter what ethnicity is, sometimes my skin colour has been just the same as any other woman in a violent relationshipno matter what our ethnic heritage. Just for the record I prefer the word complexion over skin colour.

Domestic violence is one of the most unreported misunderstood crimes. Imagine what the figures would show for our little old NZ if in the census section there was a tick box under “ethnicity” for skin colour/complexion that had beside it “please tick if you have ever been crimson, purple, red, black, grey”. I wonder what the true figures would be?

Class: Middle class

Education: I have a Bachelors Degree. Education is much more than academia but we’re trying to stick to the basics here just so you can get an idea of my demographic and get to grips with the fact that domestic violence cuts across class and social background and is not limited to the uneducated and inarticulate.

My Former Husband: A white collared boy. For my own safety I will give you few to choose from – Accountant, Lawyer, Doctor, CEO. He thinks he’s untouchable.

Who is affected by domestic violence? We all are!!!! Three single words say it all.

Domestic violence is NOT a private matter, it is a public one and the social misconceptions about it being private is what your abuser is relying on to take you into another day of hair pulling, mental mind games and locking you out of the house just to torment you. Because who would believe you! Your abuser is the pillar of the community. He’s educated, intelligent, a smooth talker and captivating to his chosen audience. I believe you and so will the police. The police are well aware of how cunning the educated abusers are and how common it is. One officer said to me “the educated ones are the worst, they are cunning, manipulative and they will lower themselves to whatever level necessary to keep you there with them”.

The following is taken from an article written by Selina Trigg who wrote a piece about domestic violence after the Nigella Lawson incident. Some words hit home for me so I will write the bits I like, if you wish to read it all, google it.

Headed DOMESTIC VIOLENCE NOT JUST CRIME OF POOR. “Being intelligent and successful does not make a woman immune to domestic violence”.

“Despite 17 years of working with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence from all walks of life, I had to acknowledge that at some base level, I too suffer under a conditioned misapprehension about “who” the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence are and, more importantly, who they are not” “The uncomfortable truth that this story confronts us with is the destruction of the widely held idea that domestic violence is the dirty problem of the underclasses, the uneducated, the inarticulate”

“The photos of Ms Lawson starkly jolt us to the reality that domestic violence occurs not only in the homes of the uneducated, the brown skinned or the indigent of South Auckland, but also in the manicured Remuera homes of successful, white, financially secure professionals and business leaders”.

How did you/I end up in a violent relationship? I read somewhere that a person believed there is a fine line between healthy, constructive disagreements and destructive rows full of character assassination and blame. I disagree. There is no fine line.

There is a very clear boundary that must not be tested and even in the most stressful of times in a relationship there are certain places you just don’t go. In healthy relationships, anger and the expression of it is important and how that is done can be managed by both parties. The argument in a healthy relationship eventually plateaus and genuine apologies may emerge after a cooling off period. That’s healthy.

A child focused health professional once told me it is very important for children to see how their parents deal with conflict and their anger so they know how to do this themselves. It is always important for children to know from previous arguments that it never goes beyond a certain level of aggression and they always feel safe. Children are pretty good radars for when arguing needs to stop.

Domestic violence isn’t even close to that so it’s not a fine line. It is more like a deep, wide valley. At the risk of sounding cliché, domestic violence is about power and control not overheated arguments where a man steps over a fine line – it runs deeper than that.

I don’t think any woman expects they will become an addition to the staggering domestic violence statistics, it never occurred to me I would. One in three New Zealand women experience psychological or physical abuse from their partner in their lifetime. I think I made the assumption that domestic violence is easy to recognise. Well it is if you end up with multi coloured bruises, small or large scratches or broken bones but other abuse is invisible to the naked eye.

My view is there are two groups of women who end up in abusive relationships. Those who had no idea what was coming and those who noticed a few red flags but ignored them. Sadly I fall into the second lot. There were red flags, but I always thought it was circumstantial. He’s tired, he has a stressful job, his parents are being difficult and he has a lot on his mind. I really believed that too, I really did think his job was stressful so they weren’t excuses – it was true. Note that’s all about him though! Now I recognise either I missed the signs or justified why I was being violated when simply trying to care for my husband. Either way they were red flags that needed to be acknowledged.

From the red flags of name calling and the slight nudge as he walked past me at home, the domestic abuse grew into full blown bullying, intimidation, threats, unwanted sex and using the children to blackmail me and that horrible, horrible feeling of hearing the garage door open and him getting out of the car. Shit, he’s home. Most domestic abuse is emotional and/or psychological long before it becomes physical. That is how it creeps up on you and how it crept up on me. It erodes your self-worth, confidence, trust in your own judgement and one of the worst kinds of abuse for me was when he turned everything around on me. He made subtle suggestions that perhaps I wasn’t coping with being a mother, that it was me imagining all this horrible violence that was going on.

He would tell others, friends and family, that he worried I wasn’t coping and that I’d become violent towards him, shouting and arguing or worse still, I was pre-menstrual. He claimed I controlled our children and yes the subtle suggestions turned into firm accusations and he insisted I was mentally ill. The willingness of other people to believe him was frightening and my world felt like it was slowly closing in on me.

I’m not ill, I am a great mother. I could cope very well with the children and our pets for that matter. What I couldn’t cope with was him. It all evolved into a daily experience. I got the “nobody else could possibly want you”, “nobody loves you like I do”. I would attend dinner parties and be humiliated by him at the table, my heart sinking, my face flushing from embarrassment and feeling like I couldn’t possibly leave and make a spectacle of him. After all he’s at this dinner party schmoozing for his career. To jeopardise that would be unthinkable. So I just held back the tears. To begin with I use to try to talk about it on the way home in the car but I learnt very quickly it’s safer not to.

When he wanted to hold a dinner party at “his” house. I cleaned in preparation, shopped, cooked, entertained and tidied up. I remember once thinking the more educated the insult the more humiliated I felt. Making fun of me, anyone can do, but an educated man can do so much more than that in one dinner party. At the end of it all I was expected to leap into bed joyfully wanting to pleasure him!

If I tried to tell him how he made me feel he would simply minimize it, make light of it and say that was all part of the schmoozing and entertaining guests, blaming me for being oversensitive. If I gave examples of the humiliation it would identify his profession and I’m not ready for that yet.

Another reason domestic violence is hard to spot sometimes is because nowadays it comes in lots of different forms than it did a generation before us. We now have email bullying, text message bullying, facebook and twitter bullying to contend with. This has been labelled cyber bullying. I’ve experienced this kind of abuse. Cyber attacks are a frightening new vehicle for bullying, intimidation, scare mongering and often threats to one’s life. Parents of this generation and the next have a huge challenge in protecting their children from such abuse. The blessing with cyber bullying is it’s admissible in court.

So getting back to how did I end up in a violent relationship? I got there because I am a caring, loving, thoughtful, kind and loyal woman. Of course at the beginning we were like any other relationship where it’s happy, fun and loving. But then all my best qualities were exploited by him and he knew I believe in what marriage actually means in terms of loyalty and sticking with it through thick and thin.

Also try saying out loud to yourself “I’m in a domestically violent relationship”. It’s bloody hard and scary and for a while some deny it. Denial and shame are often associated with victims of violent relationships but I never experienced either. Not everyone ends up in denial. I knew it happened to me and tried to talk to someone I trusted. That was the first person I had ever told and they went straight to my husband and told him what I had said. I was gutted. I have learnt to talk to professionals about my experiences now.

I have never felt shame either. I am an educated woman and I know I am not responsible for his behaviour so shame was never a part of my experience and still isn’t. By the time I realised domestic violence had crept up on me I almost felt paralysed by fear and was overwhelmed by the enormity of “how am I going to get out of this”. I know I share that feeling with many others.

Why do men abuse women?

To inflict violence upon women, a man at even the most basic level has grown to believe he has the right to dominate, humiliate or physically assault his girlfriend or wife. Where would they get this idea? Many professionals have detailed factual and research based answers to this question. But essentially, boys who witness violence at home are more likely to approve it. That does not mean that all children who come from violent homes grow up to be perpetrators. Nor does it mean that a violent man has seen violence at home as a child but perhaps suffered bullying or violence at school, university or other social arenas and therefore been a victim themselves.

My former husband was not physically assaulted by his parents or anyone else at home. In many ways he was an overindulged child in a material sense but emotionally he was severely neglected. He was emotionally and psychologically violated and abused by his parents and was a victim of threats and intimidation from others outside the home and bullied in several social environments. So what did he learn? He learnt that the way to resolve conflict was through violence, all forms of violence. If you can’t punch them with your fists, punch them with your tongue to get your own way.

The cause of domestic violence lie in models of masculinity that emphasise physical superiority over women, outdated ideas of the family unit as a space ruled by men with women and children as their property, and from women’s economic dependence on men. Boy do I relate to that! I was his property for sure and totally economically dependent when we had children but I trusted him. Of course I did, that’s what I said I would do when we made our vows. I would never control someone so why would he?

The notion in a man’s head that he has the right to dominate and demand what he wishes in everyday life, eventually creeps in to the bedroom and sadly for many women the reality of intimate violence is a reality they live with daily or at least weekly.

To me it was important to write a bit about the “why” men do it but frankly it’s a dangerous part of this whole topic to focus on. What I know about wondering why he does it, is that this often keeps you in a violent relationship for longer because you find yourself thinking. “It’s not fair he grew up in that environment, or he was bullied at school, it’s not really his fault if you think about it. I love him and want to support him………….blah blah blah”

It may not be his fault but it is his responsibility. In today’s society there is enough advertising, discussion and press that says this behaviour is “not ok”. So from my perspective, if he continues to do to you what he’s always done in order to keep you there to take yet one more mental beating, one more emotional blackmail, one more slap or grab of the arm. It is his fault.

What is the difference between aggression and assertion? Aggression is assertion with anger. Assertion therefore, is aggression without the anger. There is nothing wrong with your partner asserting how he feels and asking you to meet his needs if he requires understanding and love. But this has to be reciprocal. Aggression is hostile, belligerent and a destructive mental attitude and behaviour. Assertiveness is confident and direct in claiming one’s rights or putting forward one’s views without any anger present. Both of you are entitled to assert yourself within a relationship. It is sometimes needed and certainly healthy.

Enough of the why. Let’s move on to the more important things to talk about. I think what we can agree on is that gender inequality lies at the root of domestic violence. So how do you recognise domestic violence?

Recognizing Domestic Abuse: How domestic violence is manifested is complex. Some behaviours are generally shared amongst the victims but some are not immediately obvious and to the average person, incomprehensible. If you want a full list of the signs of domestic violence or descriptions of how power and control is executed you can look beyond this post. There are plenty of resources available. The list is too long for me to place here and I want to share on a more personal level. A bruise or broken bone is blatantly obvious to almost every bystander but what does it look like when a woman is receiving bruises to her heart and brain? This is what I suffered for many years prior to my first hit. From my experience I don’t think it’s possible to separate emotional and psychological abuse. Some would disagree with me and that’s fine but for me, the two were intertwined.

Emotional & Psychological Abuse

For me it began with putting me down and trying to make me feel bad about myself. He would criticise the way I pronounced a word or according to him, how I used the word was incorrect. He would say that I was jealous because I wasn’t as intelligent as him. Playing mind games amused him and he tried to make me question my own judgement. That’s scary, if you’ve lived it, you’ll know what I mean. You will know it’s scary not being sure of your own mind. I know what happened between us but his gift for words and his ability to manipulate my thoughts and blatantly lie that none of it happened, that made me question my mind. Then immediately after questioning myself I realised what he’d done and that’s terrifying.

Using Isolation

I really can’t say too much here because it will identify me but yes I was very isolated and my communication with other people initially was not directly under his control, but he always knew exactly where I was, who I was with or who I was talking to. Jealousy and third parties were never an issue in our relationship but I am informed that affairs, too, are often a form of abuse. I read a piece somewhere and jotted down the words because I know people who have had this done to them. “The abuser taunts their spouse with evidence but denying that anything is going on. Instead accusations of paranoia are hurled back at the victim, dismantling their psyche still further”.

Minimizing, Denying and Blaming

Making light of the abuse and not taking my concerns seriously were huge for me and that made me even more upset, hurt and I cried much more over that than having my hair pulled. How could he possibly love me as he claims if he doesn’t care about my feelings. Eventually to keep me in the relationship he’d say sorry, kiss me while I was crying, hold my head exactly where he wanted it, wipe my tears away and apologise. “I didn’t mean it, I just said it in jest”, “I was having a laugh, I’m sorry I didn’t mean it to be at your expense” all said with a slight smirk on his face. Why do they try to keep you in the relationship? They have a need to control. Their need for control is so strong that they use you as a vehicle to bolster their own self-worth. This is why the abuse continues in the long exhausting cycle while you are still in the relationship. He would also shift t e responsibility onto me and say I was oversensitive, boring or not intellectually stimulating enough for him and that’s why I didn’t get his jokes. My former husband had and still has not one ounce of empathy in his body. Even now sadly with our children he lacks empathy and compassion and it is very hard to watch when they just need their Dad to not make light of their feelings and how intense those feelings can be at their age.

Using Children

I was threatened he would take the children away when we were still together. That was massive for me. Post separation he used and still does use the children to find out information about my life. He uses them to relay messages and as far as I am concerned all that kind of behaviour is child abuse. We share the children and that in itself presents all sorts of questions for people. If he’s so horrible then why does he get to share the children? Because the Care of the Children Act in this country is dangerously blind to the vulnerability of children, that’s why. The ambulance is at the bottom of the cliff. My advice, get smart and gather evidence. Courts cannot deny evidence.

Using Male Privilege

He treated me like a slave at home, not an equal party. We never had a joint bank account, I had no say in property, I never got to choose furniture and there are so many other things I was banned from doing. Normal daily living stuff. I was sexually assaulted and forced to do things when he wanted to in the bedroom. I was also sexually assaulted when pregnant. Marital rape is very common and I don’t wish it on anyone. It’s the worst kind of assault.

Economic Abuse

I was never prevented from getting a job but my career was certainly destroyed by him. When we had children he made me ask for money and I was given an allowance. I was not allowed to know about or have access to his income. In a de-facto relationship I didn’t think I had a right to know about his income or have access to it and to be frank these days if you know what your partner does for a job it’s easy to find out what bracket he’s sitting in. My belief is, when you marry that should all change and he led me to believe he thought the same. He didn’t, he became more secretive and more controlling. I gave up an income to grow children inside my body, raise them and allow him to have children, a career and a social life (women are not afforded the same luxury to the same extent). Of course we can have it all, but our choices are certainly different to the choices men have. When I was giving birth and raising our children we should have had a joint bank account and I should have had access to not “his” but OUR income. Once you marry the law states it is relationship property money so it’s not his, that’s the irony of him controlling it.

Using Threats and Intimidation

I didn’t suffer the common threats he was going to leave me. Nor was I bullied to do illegal things which can happen. I was terrified by horrendous looks, actions and gestures to scare me. He’d smash things or hurt my feelings by tearing up a photo and threaten to do it again.

He would pull his arm up and back and clench his fist and say he was going to smash me. I’ve had wine thrown in my face. I’ve been spat at and he shrunk my favourite clothes in the wash. He threatened to hurt my family if they supported me and in the end running up to my departure from him he told me he was going to kill me. He had threatened to kill me several times and on a couple of occasions I really worried he meant it but just before I left him I knew he meant it. He was very angry and very scary.

Sleep Deprivation

This is a normal part of life sometimes but pretty much a given if you have children. However, my former husband would deliberately interrupt my sleep with an intention of breaking down my defences when at my weakest. He knew how exhausted I was when we had newborns and toddlers. At night or during the day when the baby (and eventually babies) were sleeping, I would lie down to try and rest.

This was advice I was given by Plunket. Sleep when the baby sleeps. We slept in separate rooms. My ex would come into my room on the pretence he wanted to talk about our relationship. I would have been more than happy to talk about our relationship and work through issues at a time when I felt more receptive, more rested and we planned that time to talk. But that wasn’t really what he wanted, he had an agenda and that was to abuse me. The deliberateness of choosing a moment when I was less receptive rather than choosing a time that would suit us both was meanness at it’s best. I could have slapped him and one day I did. Wow! In the moment that felt good. A volcano of feelings of disappointment, betrayal, hurt, anger and sadness had eventually erupted and it all went into one big slap. I felt so satisfied but that feeling lasted all of a split second. I was immediately terrified of the repercussions. I was right to be terrified, I got such a beating of emotional blackmail, threats of him taking photos of the evidence and the worst threat of all, he was going to take our children away because “I was abusive”. He made me feel so bad about that slap that I questioned myself. Maybe it was me who was violent?

I had a terrible sleep that night. I locked my bedroom door because I feared him. I tossed and turned worrying about him taking the children away. After all he had the social standing that would convince others about me. He had the gift of articulation that would make others sympathise with him and the money to pay top lawyers to fight his cause. But hang on a minute! He had hit me, pushed me, bruised me, pulled my hair, sexually assaulted me, threatened and intimidated me, bullied me, humiliated me and punched me so many times before I slapped him. One slap and none of what he did to receive that mattered according to him. I was in it deep, very deep. Men with social power, money, education and their willing pals around them can be the most scary and intimidating of all. I slapped him. Weighing that against all he had done was something he simply wouldn’t consider. He wanted me to question myself. He wanted me to feel bad about what I did. That is part of the abuse.

I felt guilty that I had slapped him. I was raised by good parents who taught me well in terms of how to treat others and how to conduct myself in life so of course I felt guilty. I slapped him and was laden with guilt, he did so much more than that and had not one ounce of guilt in him. He relied on my kind nature and decent upbringing to make me feel guilty. I now know how very dangerous he was to my mental health. Looking back on how cunning he was still gives me a chilling feeling.

What are the ties that bind you and stop you leaving?

I once read on a domestic violence website something that really resonated with me. I think it is a very simple but effective way of articulating what can inhibit a woman from leaving a domestically violent relationship. “LOVE – for the partner, most relationships have their good points” “HOPE – the relationship will change. The relationship obviously didn’t begin with abuse, and the abuser often keeps promising to change” “FEAR – that the abusers threats will become reality” Obviously the ties that bind you and stop you leaving a toxic relationship are much more complex than this but it is a good starting point. My response to the above three reasons for not leaving is this.

LOVE – out of the 3 reasons this is the one that was least likely to keep me tied to him. I can love someone but not live with them and be in a relationship with them. Loving him is not a reason for staying. This may come as a surprise to you but the most loving thing you can do for a domestically violent man is leave him. I ask that you take some time to think that over and digest it. I don’t need you to agree with me I just ask that you think about what it really means to love someone. You will never be shown that kind of love from him but you can role model good behaviour and show him you love yourself enough not to be abused any more. If you live in a violent relationship even if it is emotional, psychological and not physical you have the right to get out of it and show some love to yourself. I still love my former husband. I don’t love him as a man, I don’t love him as a husband, I don’t love his parenting of our children but I do love him as a human being who has been let down by his parents, his friends and his colleagues. What he has lived through while growing up is tragic and he is like a scared little boy in a big man’s body.

But as I have said before, it is his responsibility to ask for help and make change and if he chooses not to, I am not going to hang around and be his scapegoat. Even now I still tell him I love him but not his behaviour. When he behaves badly I simply tell him I love him and he doesn’t know what to do with that. I don’t take his bait, I don’t engage in the fight, I don’t argue or debate with him and I don’t try to gain any acknowledgement from him about what he’s done. If you engage it’s synonymous with trying to put out a fire with gasoline. He will love it because that’s sadly what he thrives off. Never let an abusive person trash your ability to love, you can love from a distance and keep yourself safe at the same time.

HOPE – This was a big trap for me. Of course my relationship didn’t begin with abuse or I wouldn’t have entered into it. The beginning of our relationship was lovely so when he promised he would change and promise he wouldn’t hurt me again I clung onto the hope that it would be just as it was before all the abuse started. I don’t mean back to the first honeymoon period, I mean just back to how healthy and seemingly normal it was once we had settled into being a couple before the abuse started. Hope is a powerful motivator and you abuser knows this. My former husband was clever. He would finely tune his apologies, say all the right things and even appear to admit to some people he’d bullied me. Eventually I recognised that when discussing it with the Plunket nurse or GP that my former husband would talk about bullying only, not all the other abuse that was going on and he would talk about the bullying in past tense as though it was over. A pattern of behaviour emerged that alerted me to let go of any hope. But the journey to get to that point was a long one. So let me help you shorten your experience of that journey and understand that promises and words mean nothing.

The old cliché of actions speak louder apply here. Strong, forthcoming acknowledgement to a third party is the only way a violent individual is going to make any change. They have to stop the denial process, the manipulation and admit it to themselves, then make the decision to ask for professional help. They will not change if you give them an ultimatum or if you give them the push to get help. It has to come from him and be his decision. He needs to force himself to be accountable to another person outside the relationship.

FEAR – fear that the abusers threats will become a reality. That’s a big tie that binds people to staying and I have lived it. There are people who threaten to harm and mean it and there are people who threaten who are full of hot air and will not harm, and those who do not intend on harming but cannot control their impulsive rage and bursts of anger. There’s no mucking around here, no wasting time wondering if he will hurt, kill or seriously harm. There are no second chances. You must assume he will harm you.

Your abuser is banking on the prospect that he’s scared you enough into staying with him but there is a way out. I have been advised bullies do one of three things when their partners leave them. They collapse into a heap and feel sorry for themselves, they lose interest in you and seek out another victim or they attack. If they attack their anger is fuelled and gains momentum. Don’t take the risk of finding out without support behind you.

It is not my role to tell you how to do this, that is what the Women’s Refuge team are for. WINZ work with the Refuge should you need to set up financial support and the Family Safety Team in the Police Force are a real strength. You will need to get smart and set up a safety plan. There are pamphlets in public toilets at the hospital, in WINZ and in GP surgeries. If you don’t know what a safety plan is, ask the right people who you can trust.

The man that changed my life

I want to share with you some simple but powerful words that changed my life and kept me alive. While still living with my husband I was invited to meet the Family Safety Team, the Refuge and WINZ. They were all there in one room just for me. They asked me to tell them what I was living with and I did. At the end the senior officer said: “I can tell you what I know, things will either get better or they will get worse, they will not stay the same” I thought I knew the meaning of what he said and I did, intellectually at least. I stayed in our marriage for weeks and months after that meeting and what the officer said was etched in my brain, I kept hearing his voice, I still hear it. Then I experienced on a physical level the depth of what he was trying to get across to me. He’s right. It does not stay the same. It got worse, much worse. The abusive email threats I got from my husband who was sitting in his office typing them while I was putting our children to bed, were horrifying.

The stares, the pushes, the throwing of shoes, the threat to hurt my family and the threat to kill me. There were no bruises or evidence I could use to prove the abuse at this stage, he had wised up to that a long time ago. Boy it was a hard pill to swallow that the officer knew well before I did, that because I clearly hadn’t made the decision to leave during our meeting, I was going to receive one more round of violence before realising I had to leave. Fear is a real physiological response. Listen to your poor old body, it’s been through enough. If fear is a tie that binds you into staying isn’t that an oxymoron? Note: If you fear he will know you have been on this website because he’s so controlling he checks up on you, delete your browser history. If you don’t know how to do that ask someone who does.

The list of reasons for not leaving a violent relationship is long and I simply can’t list them all but I will comment on a couple more and move on to the final part of my post. There is the worry of how to survive the enormity of it all. You’ll cope, I did and I’m doing well. My advice, don’t try to do it on your own. Grab all the support that is available to you with both hands and hold on tight until you’re on your own feet and independent. The length of that journey will be unique to each and every woman who chooses to leave their partner.

Money– There is worry about loss of money. Frankly that’s just not an excuse. Do you value your personal comforts more than your right to be safe and loved, come on! If you have financial resources of your own, you can leave him and still have all those comforts. If you don’t then one day when you are financially flush you can enjoy those privileges with a sense of achievement that you earned that right.

Also once you’ve left him, relationship property comes knocking on your door. You may get a little bit or you may get a lot but you will never have nothing.

Public Image and Social Status – You will be utterly shocked at the enormous amount of respect you gain from others when they learn you’ve left a dangerous relationship. Some will have always known it was going on and never said, and for those who didn’t, the majority will embrace your decision and many times I have been told “well done, so many women stay”.

You have no status if it is only because you’re attached to him. It’s his status not yours and if you leave him you will be so empowered you will earn status by yourself and that is much more valuable and liberating. Reputation – It’s nothing if you’re living a lie.

A Home – People worry about not having a home. You have three choices here. Get legal advice, gather your evidence, wait till he leaves for work and get an urgent trespass order and you will get to stay in the family home, so too will your children if you have any. He will have to bunk up with a friend or fork out for a hotel. This is less disruptive to your children. The second option is find a rental, somewhere clean, dry and safe to live in while you plough your way through relationship property proceedings. If you are in serious danger and need to leave now, there are safe houses available.

Children – Wow! There is no better reason to leave than the children. It’s simply not an option to use children as an excuse. You have a responsibility as a mother to keep your children safe. They are the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence and if you stay in a violent relationship with children involved then you are violating the children too. Seeing, hearing and feeling violence changes the way your child’s brain grows. Look at www.brainwave.org.nz

During the 6th World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights, Judge Peter Boshier our Law Commissioner and Jennifer Wademan, a Barrister and Solicitor, delivered a speech on “Domestic Violence and the Impact on Children’s Lives”. It is a heart-rending read. I recommend reading the whole thing. New Zealand has a staggering 80,000 domestic violence cases a year. Those are only the reported events. It further states “…at least 65,000 children were affected by domestic violence, in one year…”

Further on in the speech is something I feel compelled to share with you. A study has found : “witnessing physical or emotional violence against others had an even more profound impact on children than experiencing that violence themselves”. Note that it said physical or emotional violence. I really want to get it out there that the stereotype of black eyes and broken bones is paralysing our society of women and children who are suffering emotional violence.

If it is emotional violence you are receiving that is violence. The put downs, the belittling, the sarcasm and the whole aura of you’re just not good enough that oozes out of him every time he’s around you, that is a domestically violent relationship. Your children need you to advocate for them, keep them safe and role model how a woman should be treated and loved. There is a frightening reality you need to be aware of. If you stay and keep your children trapped in this environment, studies have also proven that children will eventually lose their trust in you. Judge Boshier and Jennifer Wademan’s make this clear:

“For children who witness violence involving the adults they suffer the additional problem of not knowing which adult to turn to for help. The protective shield that the parent represents for the child is severely damaged, if not shattered, such that the child loses trust in the parent’s capacity to protect. Paradoxically, research has shown that the child loses trust not only in the parental perpetrator of the violence, but more often than not the parental victim as well. Children will often blame the victim for the departure of the parental perpetrator, leading them to identify with the aggressor, a trait they can often take into their own adult relationships later in life”

From my experience the longer you leave it to exit the relationship the more likely you will damage your children and your own relationship with them. Being blamed by the children for the departure of the parental perpetrator will eventually dissipate as they experience life with you on their own is peaceful, safe and they’re finally able to relax, build trust and spend time with you out of a violent environment.

You will be a completely different Mum.

Animals – Unless others have lived through what you have, they will never understand this heartbreaking dilemma constantly invading your thoughts as to what you should do. My former husband and I had pets prior to having children, it’s not uncommon. Our pets were like surrogate children, sad as it may sound, they were. I think it was a clear sign I wanted to nurture and have children. My biological clock wasn’t ticking but I felt a huge pull towards caring for dependents.

Since my experience with domestic violence I have read many times that apparently one should observe their partners behaviour towards animals which is a strong indicator as to how they will behave towards children. Had I heard about this prior to having pets then children, I would have thought what a load of crap. It’s not. If I trusted my instincts when watching how he managed or mismanaged the pets I would have never bred with him.

When we had pets they were like dependents to me. When I had children that went out the window and I treated them like pets which is what I should have done in the first place. When you live in a domestically violent relationship, pets need to come second to children. Having said that I absolutely understand the emotional pull if your only choice is to leave them behind. You have to!

Very soon after I had left my former husband, one of the women involved with assisting me told me something that still chills me to the bone. She told me that the statistics of women staying in relationships due to their fear that the family pets would be harmed should she leave were staggeringly high. She would know. She has experienced domestic violence in her own life. She now works in a government department to assist women in exiting violent relationships, she sees it all.

This is a very real problem in New Zealand and no doubt globally. Her dream is to set up a safe house scenario for pets. That way women are no longer burdened with worry about what will happen to the animals should she leave a violent relationship. The idea she has, is that it would be a temporary safe place for the pets while the woman is able to secure a safe environment for herself, the children and then the pets could join them. The pets stay would be transitory. After working with many women in crisis situations, this woman believes it would be an incredibly sensible initiative and would remove animals as an excuse not to leave. It would help women take that final, right decision to exiting an abusive relationship.

If you haven’t read any of Annah Stretton’s books or met her, you will not know she has aligned herself with three great charities, one of them being the SPCA. I have no doubt in my mind that Annah will understand your love for the family pets and if you have children, their love for them too.

If you are still in a violent relationship, don’t be shy in letting the RAW team know this is one of your reasons for not leaving a destructive relationship.

The RAW team have an enormous amount of will to stop domestic violence and keep women safe. They will find a way to help you.

I am out of my relationship and have the support around me now to spread my wings and evolve as a woman. When I have the resources and hopefully some money to put towards the pet safe house concept, I would love to give my time to one woman who has thought of a brilliant initiative to help keep women, children and animals safe from violence. I really hope this dream becomes a reality.

A Job – Some women are bound to dangerous relationships because they fear losing a job or fear they have deskilled so much while running the home and raising children that they decide to remain in their current situation. The Stretton Foundation has that covered so it is no longer a concern.

Should you wish to leave and have this fear, contact someone from RAW, sign up and you will get a personal mentor to guide you along the way to independence. Start thinking about what you really want to do in terms of work or a career because the minute you make contact, they will be on it straight away and they will want to choose the perfect mentor match for you.

Your Family – Are you worried about what your family will think? Will they support you or won’t they. Again, not a reason to stay in your current existence. My family knew nothing about my situation, I never told them but when I did they were right behind me. If you think you may not have family support, the RAW team will fulfil that role. They will make you feel a sense of belonging beyond what you can possibly imagine. Your family may come around or they may not but this is not a reason to stay put and be unhappy and unsafe.

Being Alone – Do you worry about being alone as a woman?

I have some pretty strong feelings about that. Fear of being alone suggests to me you probably should be for a while until you have gone through the process of grieving for loss of your relationship and rediscovering yourself.

My view is, you will be more likely to be successful in a loving relationship in the future if you allow yourself time alone.

Once the wounds start healing and you begin to build yourself up again you will show confidence, self worth and integrity. A healthy relationship is interdependent not co-dependent. You will have a lot of old behavioral habits that need changing and work before you could consider a new loving relationship. That’s okay you will get there but you need to be committed.

Do you stay or do you leave?

Has it occurred to you yet that this question lies before you?

Only you know your reality.

Who do you talk to?

As I have said earlier in my post. The first person I told about the abuse I endured betrayed my trust. It took a long time for me to confide in someone after that. I lost trust in my own judgement of character which made me feel laden with hopelessness and silenced me for a lot longer. The best piece of advice I can give is this. If you have any doubt about someone’s reaction to what you need to say, if one cell in your body is restless do not tell that person.

I have learnt the hard way that the safest first point of contact is people who work in the industry of keeping women safe from domestic violence. Women’s Refuge, the Police, WINZ and now RAW are here. What is really difficult to get across to the majority of women from the same demographic as me is that the social stigma attached to women’s refuge is unjust. Women’s refuge is not likely to be what you imagine in your head.

I have had a very good experience with them and they know how to support women from all demographics. You do not need to go into a safe house, you do not need to be bruised or have broken bones to prove to them you are being abused. They understand your bruised heart and your aching head. They can’t see it but they know it’s there.

If you do need a safe house during a crisis it’s there but if you don’t, they are still willing and able to help you get out and now RAW is available to hold your hand, enable you and support you until you are on your feet again. Women in the past have not had this available to them so they’ve done it hard and sadly some have felt so lost and hopeless, they have returned to their violent partner. RAW is in it for the long haul.

Annah

Annah Stretton recently said to me that RAW is your “significant other, there are plenty of mentors out there but no significant other and that’s what RAW is”.

Wow, we are so very lucky to have this opportunity, why wouldn’t you grab it.

She also said she doesn’t want to give us fish. She wants to teach us to fish for ourselves. I love it!

Anonymous writer

After the Nigella Lawson incident an anonymous writer shared her thoughts via the internet. I like her bravery and want to share a couple of paragraphs that I think may resonate with you.

“Even now I feel like a fraud classifying myself as an abuse survivor. While some abusers commit ‘Once Were Warriors’ type criminal assaults on their partners, for many of us the question of whether or not abuse is taking place isn’t actually as easy to determine.

I don’t have a medical record of broken bones or a photo of a black eye to show you. I never had enough evidence to go to the cops either. Bullies don’t actually need to do much to you to make you afraid of them, and they don’t tend to do it when anyone else is around. When it’s over and your partner acts like it never happened, the momentum to leave dissipates.

It takes resources and optimism to overcome the hurdles of leaving a bad relationship, even when abuse isn’t involved. It can be hard to turn around and ask for help when you’ve been making excuses for your ex for years and distancing yourself from your friends so that it is easier to lead a double life. Not to mention that you no longer have the self esteem to think that you are capable of coping on your own and you can’t ask for help because you are ashamed of having been complicit in your own victimisation.

I can’t even imagine how much harder it must be if you had kids and weren’t in a position to support them financially. Other people blaming and judging sure as hell aren’t going to make starting over any easier.”

The reason I shared this with you is because she too had no hard evidence to prove to anyone what she was living with but one day she made that life changing decision to love herself enough to know that you don’t need to be physically harmed to be abused.

Cut yourself some slack and be real

However you’ve come to be in your situation, cut yourself some slack, take stock and think about what you really want your future look like. If you remain in a domestically violent relationship, all you will achieve is continuing to enable his abusive behaviour.

Have you heard of the “alcoholic’s wife” syndrome. The wife that stays and cleans up his vomit enables him to continue drinking. When she leaves him, he trips, slips and has to clean up his own sick. Only then will he truly be faced with his alcoholism. As I said earlier the most loving thing you can do for an abuser is leave him.

I would like to say forgive yourself, identify warning signs, take back your freedom and stop the cycle.

If only you would try stepping over that line in the sand you need to draw and allow yourself to be embraced by the RAW team. You are in a very fortunate position here. RAW is new. Women’s Refuge have limited resources and they wish they could do so much more to not only help women and children in crisis but to then hold their hand while they build their lives up again.

When I left my former husband RAW was not available to me. You have a unique opportunity here. You have the crisis team available and you have a soft place to fall with all the resources you need to put yourself back together again. You will be amazed at what you can achieve and maybe one day when you are standing strong on your own two feet, you might like to pay it forward.

I have shared personal experiences, some insights and opinions. You can take it or leave it. You can agree or disagree. The whole point of this post is to reach out. To let you know you are not alone. Nobody can tell you what to do. I have shared opinions but I would never assume the role of telling you what to do, neither do the refuge, police, WINZ or RAW.

The decision to leave and choose a new path for yourself has to come from within you. It has to be YOUR decision and only yours. You will feel so much more liberated if it is you that decides to get out and stay out.

Court

Be prepared for the very real fact that you may be facing court proceedings. If you can at all avoid it, please do. You and your children, if you have any, do not need to see the inside of a court room. Court proceedings are so harmful to children but sadly it is a must for some families to go through, mine included. If you go to court your children may not see the inside of a court room but they will feel the knock on effect it has on you and your partner.

If you have children, get lawyer for child appointed. You have no say in who gets chosen but the faster you get a lawyer for child appointed the better for the children. Lawyer for child will meet both parents and the children. Sometimes they visit both homes to assess their suitability.

Get yourself a lawyer. Preferably before you leave him but if you don’t have time, find one fast post separation. You need to know the law.

There are two proceedings relevant to separated couples who have children.

  1. Care of the Children proceedings
  2. Relationship property

Do not let your feelings about money bleed into Care of the Children proceedings and blind you about the children’s safety.

If you don’t have children, all you have to concern yourself with is relationship property. Get a good lawyer. Ask around if you don’t know one.

You don’t have to go to court to sort things out. You can try to agree amongst yourselves but I wouldn’t trust that. If he was a reasonable person you wouldn’t have needed to leave him.

You can agree amongst yourselves and get your own lawyers to communicate your agreement and have it documented. This will safeguard you during future troubled waters.

If you simply cannot reason with him, someone will have to fork out for mediation. I believe this can cost anywhere up to $5,000-$10,000. You and your lawyer will be present. He and his lawyer will be present and a third lawyer will mediate the process so there is an unbiased person present. If the mediation is for Care of the Children then lawyer for child should be present.

If none of the above works then you will find yourselves in front of a Judge who will make orders about your children, money and therefore your life. You really don’t want that.

If you are in a relationship with an educated man, it is likely if you leave him, he will want to go to court to “prove his innocence”. If this is how it’s going to play out, take a big breath and get stuck in. If you don’t know what an affidavit is, FIND OUT!!!

My final words

This whole process has not been therapeutic as some might think. It has been a heart-rending experience. It has regurgitated painful memories that I had conveniently tucked away in the back of my mind. It has reminded me of how bad life really was. I am devastated that I am divorced. I am devastated I am an addition to the “divorced” statistics.

I hate ticking that box on surveys and other documents.

I am so very sad for our children that they too have joined the enormous amount of NZ children who come from a broken family. Several people have said to me “don’t worry, it’s so common these days, there are so many children from separated parents they won’t really notice”. That comment always makes me grit my teeth and irritates every cell in my body. What a stupid thing to say! I know they’re trying to be helpful but they clearly don’t read how I’m feeling about it. I always reply “that doesn’t make it ok, in fact because there are so many children from broken families, it makes me feel worse that I added to the problem”

I also know that children who come from broken families can come out okay. That’s not what I’m addressing here. I am addressing how this was a hard post to write and it’s been a hard journey living with abuse, separation and divorce and post divorce. However, this being a hard task for me didn’t stop me doing it and I am glad I did. As I said at the beginning, I feel privileged the RAW team asked me to share my experience and I have been silenced for so long. So from that standpoint this has been very good for me, amazing even!

Even if I reach only one person. If I make a difference to one life. It makes this whole journey of writing my post well worth it.

It took me a long time to finally accept I had no choice but to leave. His behaviour forced me to leave not my lack of trying to work through our marriage. Not through me simply giving up. I worked dam hard not to join the divorce statistics. I hate it and always will, but I made the right choice to leave and I make no apology for it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t mean I don’t get judged by those who are in happy relationships. I feel that judgement often.

I made the right choice in taking the children with me. What caught me by surprise was the enormous guilt I experienced several months after I had left him. I felt so guilty I had taken the children away. Apparently that is very common. Don’t let it trip you up. You have to remember what he did to force you out the door. What he did to you and what he did to your children.

The hidden belief:

If you are married or in a de-facto relationship but still hold the same values as marriage, there may be one hidden tie that binds you to your unhealthy relationship.

“Till death do us part”

The majority of people have this in their vows, some do not but still have a subconscious belief they may not even know about, that this applies to their relationship. Till death do us part doesn’t necessarily mean in a physical body sense. If you have an unhealthy, toxic and violent relationship then death has taken place.

Death of a relationship.

Allow yourself to understand this concept. You are not responsible for his behaviour. He too made vows and if you are being violated by him then he is not honouring his commitment to you and because of that you are well within your rights and free to leave.

I wish you the best of luck in whatever your decision might be.

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