Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Commissioner tells her story of family violence

Jackie Blue says she felt liberated after telling how she had suffered domestic abuse. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Jackie Blue says she felt liberated after telling how she had suffered domestic abuse. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A doctor, former MP and now Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Jackie Blue appears to be someone in control of her life. So it was a surprise when she welcomed Sir Owen Glenn's report on family violence last week "as someone who's survived domestic violence".

"If I think about the leafy suburbs of Herne Bay and Remuera and St Heliers, there is domestic violence happening right here and right now," she said.

This week's annual report of the Family Violence Death Review Committee shows that people are most likely to die from family violence in the poorest areas, but that some die right across the decile scale.

Dr Blue's experience began 31 years ago, when she was 27. She had just graduated and was working as a locum in Auckland surgeries.

She had had to repeat two years of her medical degree, partly because she had taken up bridge and was busy playing in tournaments.

"I felt I was the dumbest doctor in New Zealand," she said. "I had low self-esteem, and I was probably overweight too, and I didn't think I was attractive."

She met a small business owner, nine years older, who "totally charmed me".

"He made me feel quite special, put me on a pedestal," she said. "I had never really had a long-term boyfriend at that stage. He was my boyfriend and I could say that, and he was reasonably presentable and reasonably sociable to the outside world, so you know, it was a good match."

He gave her jewellery and other gifts. He moved into her home and gave her a blue sapphire engagement ring.

But his business was struggling.

"If anything, I supported him," Dr Blue said. "I paid the groceries and things like that. He didn't pay any rent."

He took bridge lessons, but he didn't like it and he made her stop playing too.

"So I moved away from the bridge circle of friends that I had," she said. "His friends became my friends."

After a few months they visited Napier to stay with Dr Blue's sister and her husband, a doctor. "They had one of those really big old homes," Dr Blue said. "They had a lot of antique furniture, really nice stuff, so the place looked really opulent.

"We were in bed on one of those evenings and I was talking, and he just bashed me on the side of the head for no reason. He clearly felt really threatened by the surroundings."

It was the first time he had hit her. "I didn't say anything, I was in shock," she said.

He never apologised. "I didn't even bring it up. I think I was pretending it didn't happen."

It happened again "a handful of times, it wasn't every day or every week". There were bruises, but they were hidden, and there was never any need for medical attention.

He pushed a pillow into her face, but backed off before smothering her.

He started putting her down with comments like: "You're fat and ugly and you'll never have children." They tried briefly to have children before Dr Blue realised things were souring and went quickly back on the pill.

"I would say six months into the relationship I knew things weren't right, even though I wasn't admitting it," she said. "By a year I knew that I had to get out of it, but it was like how do I get out because he's actually physically here [in her home]?" She told no one. "It was shame, ashamed of myself," she said. "Here I was a professional woman, helping other people, but couldn't help myself."

He became jealous of her favourite Persian kitten, Harry. "He used to have a bow and arrow and I remember him stalking around the property saying, 'I'm going to kill Harry'."

The breaking point was a barbecue where people asked Dr Blue about her job. "They were just asking about the work I did and they were quite interested, interested in me," she said.

"On the way home we were driving into the carport, he picked a fight, I was driving, and he just bashed me on the side of my face quite a few times.

"I walked in and told him to clear out, bugger off. I phoned the police."

He left. Police came promptly, but she decided not to lay charges. "I just wanted the whole thing finished."

He tried to revive it, ringing her and sending flowers to the Herne Bay surgery where she had become a partner. But he got nowhere and eventually moved to Australia.

Just weeks after the relationship ended, Dr Blue met the man who is now her husband. For almost 30 years she hardly spoke to anyone about what had happened. "I was just so angry with myself for letting it happen."

She told her story to a women's magazine three years ago to help Shine promote its new domestic violence helpline, and felt free at last.

"It was liberating," she said. "I had kept it to myself and I thought: 'Let it go now, absolutely let it go'."

Where to get help

Shine helpline: 0508 744 633
Women's Refuge: 0800 REFUGE (0800 733 843)

- NZ Herald

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