Afraid to stay but terrified to leave

Add a comment
Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Today is the latest instalment of We're Better Than This, a week-long series on family violence. Our aim is to raise awareness, to educate, to give an insight into the victims and perpetrators. We want to encourage victims to have the strength to speak out, and abusers the courage to change their behaviour.

The victim

It took her 10 years to leave him. Ten years of being hit, kicked, choked, strangled.
Ten years of hiding the abuse from the outside world.

But the night he almost killed her, that was the night she left. It was her son's seventh birthday.

"The children were in the living room ... he pushed me on to the ground and he put his hands around my neck and he started strangling me. Then he let go again.

"I thought, 'I'm going to die'. I was telling myself, 'Just hold on, just hold on'."

Her husband, with their young children just metres away, sat on top of her and repeatedly strangled her and let her go. When he finally stopped, she had marks on her neck, she was in pain, her voice was damaged and she was gasping for breath.

"He looked at me and he said, 'I almost killed you'," she remembered. "He said, 'If you go to a refuge, Child, Youth and Family will take our kids away.' There were lots of threats like that."

A month later, the final straw came. He was checking her cellphone for evidence of an affair. For most of their marriage he was convinced she was cheating. He was constantly checking her messages and calls, smashing her cellphone, buying her new ones.

On this particular night, he was more agitated about her "cheating" than ever. He kept her up until 5am demanding she confess.

Then he decided it was time they slept. She said no, she had to take their son to school.
He said, "No school today." She did not put up a fight.

"The moment he fell asleep, I got up. I went into my son's room and started to pack. My son looked up at me and said, 'Are we leaving now'?"

She put the children in the car and, staying outside the house, called 111. "I need to leave. Now," she told the police. "That was the last time I left."

When the couple had first met, he was "normal". But as their relationship grew, his paranoia and jealousy issues emerged. He didn't like her speaking to anyone - men or women. He eventually convinced her not to contact her family.

The abuse started with words. He would call her names, put her down. He would always say sorry later, though, and she thought he meant it.

When he was angry he'd smash things - plates usually. The emotional abuse got worse, more frequent and he was more controlling.

Her mother, who lives overseas, came to stay. She ended up flying home much earlier than planned because even she was fearful of him. Then the physical abuse started. The first time, it was a kick to her leg. She never imagined then how bad it would get. Soon, they were spending every waking hour together. "He totally controlled me. I was so, so scared," she said.

She can't remember how many times he punched, kicked, hit or strangled her.
He even attacked her when she was pregnant, hitting her belly and putting his hands around her neck.

He would eventually use their son as a weapon. "When my son was 4, he was asleep in bed ... My husband stood over him with a knife. He said, 'If you don't tell me the truth about your affair I will stab this knife into the bed'."

She tried to calm him, but he carried out his threat.

"He started stabbing the pillow right beside my son's head. There were feathers coming out. Afterwards there were holes all through the pillow. That really freaked me out."
She left that time, but couldn't make a clean break.

Things got worse. "He locked me in a room and got a chainsaw out. He held it above my neck and said he would cut my head off. The chainsaw was going ..."

One Easter, he kept his wife, son and baby daughter in their home for seven days. During that time no one ate or slept unless he said so.

"He even escorted me to the toilet. My children couldn't eat when they were hungry."
Leaving was easier said than done. "I left six times. Six times I went back and forth. I don't know why.

"My self-esteem was so low," she said. "And really, I had no idea what domestic violence was really about. He was sick, he had mental health issues and he was on medication. I wanted to protect him."

It has been two-and-a-half years since she called 111 for the last time. She is now living with her kids, working, volunteering for a domestic violence prevention group, and has great relationships with friends and family. "I will never go back there. When I went back to him the other times, I don't know why I did. Now, though, enough is enough. I am really happy now.

"There's no more intimidation, no more anticipation of when I will be hurt. There is just the freedom of living."

She spoke out hoping other women could learn from her experience - and leave earlier.

Men victims too

When you think of family violence, chances are you imagine the abuser as a male.

In most cases, you'd be right. In most cases the victim of intimate partner violence is a woman.

In most cases her children see her being physically, sexually or psychologically abused by her husband, partner or ex.

But we must not forget that men are also abused in their homes. According to the Ministry of Justice, men's experiences as victims of family violence are often different from women.

In a public discussion document published to support Justice Minister Amy Adams' review of family violence laws, the difference between the genders was explained.

"Male victims of intimate partner violence tend to report that they ar not living in an ongoing state of fear from the perpetrator and experience violence that is far less severe than in male-to-female violence," it said.

NZME spoke to a man who was in a violent relationship and was regularly assaulted by his wife. "I was married for nine years. In hindsight I should never have married her but was naive at the time. We argued a lot and in the last two to three years of the relationship she started to physically assault me," said the man, who NZME has agreed not to identify.

"The arguments and assaults became more frequent when I told her I wanted to leave. From that point it was another 12 months before we separated. Most of the assaults in that time were unprovoked."

The man said his then-wife had been sexually abused as a teenager by a family friend, and as a result was very controlling about how she wanted their lives to be. "It often felt like I was being blamed for the abuse that happened to her," the victim said.

"I tried to be a good husband and was a great father - we had two children and I was actively engaged in their care on a daily basis as much as I was able to be, as well as running a business while she stayed home caring for them."

He did not realise that he was experiencing intimate partner violence until he left. "I did not think about it as domestic abuse. I never hit her or fought back, only defended myself which was mostly to restrain her," he said.

"Only when I left did I have time to reflect on the experience and realised what had happened ... I decided that I was worth more and wanted to be with someone who appreciated me."

He kept the abuse secret for a long time. "I guess I kept it private because it was embarrassing. I eventually talked to a few close friends around the time we separated. They were shocked."

He spoke out in a bid to highlight the fact that while it was mostly women represented in the family violence statistics, men were not immune to abuse.

"Abuse towards men happens as well, it's not okay - just as it's not okay for men to hit women," he said.

He wanted to let other men know that asking for help was not shameful nor did it make them less of a man.

Why don't they just leave?

Many New Zealanders, thankfully, will never experience domestic violence.

Most of us cannot fathom being in such a situation. "Why doesn't she just leave?' is a common question posed from those who have never experienced abuse, violence and living in fear on a daily basis.

On average, when a woman leaves a violent home she will make between four and seven attempts before she is successful. There are many reasons these women, and men, don't "just leave".

According to the Women's Refuge, the main reason victims don't leave violent partners is because they simply do not feel safe enough to go.

Other factors include embarrassment, shame, financial dependence on their abuser, fear of what will happen to their children and a lack of support.

Also, ongoing torture erodes victims' self-esteem and confidence, and they do not feel capable of leaving.

Escaping a violent relationship takes planning, support and courage. It is not a case of packing a bag and walking out the front door.

More going to women's refuges

Tauranga Women's Refuge manager Angela Warren-Clark. Photo / Andrew Warner
Tauranga Women's Refuge manager Angela Warren-Clark. Photo / Andrew Warner

Women's refuges in the Bay of Plenty region experienced an influx of women and children needing help over the weekend.

Tauranga Women's Refuge manager Angela Warren-Clark said the refuges in the region were all full over the weekend.

"We think it's something to do with the [NZME] campaign that is happening at the moment. We're not sure, but it's very busy."

Mrs Warren-Clark said many women who sought help from the refuge were experiencing psychological as well as physical abuse.

"We often hear, people say, 'oh she bruises easily, it wasn't that bad, or actually it didn't happen, you're not remembering it right'," she said.

"The old classic is 'if you didn't behave this way, I wouldn't have to do this to you' or, we hear it all the time 'it's not me it's the drink, it's not me I'm stressed at work, I'm sorry we're not doing well financially'. We basically say, it's a choice to use violence, it's a behaviour."

Living Without Violence general manager Mary Beresford-Jones said they often saw women who blamed themselves, rather than their abuser.

"It's partly loyalty, this is the man they love, or have loved, and often it's the father of their children. Some of them will still be hopeful they can make the relationship work and for many women there is a certain amount of shame, and embarrassment of 'why was I so stupid to fall for someone who does this for me'."

Dealing with psychological abuse was probably a bigger part of their work. "That's the stuff where women end up feeling like they're going crazy," she said. "It's the most prevalent, we hear it everyday, from every single client."

- Anna Whyte

Can you help?

To help the Tauranga Women's Refuge, go to: givealittle.co.nz/org/taurangarefuge, or for more information on Tauranga Living Without Violence, call 07 577 9297 or email tga.lwv@xtra.co.nz

- Bay of Plenty Times

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 06 Dec 2016 02:50:53 Processing Time: 567ms