OE romance: Kiwi beaten, starved

By Abby Gillies

Sharon Churchill. Photo / Supplied
Sharon Churchill. Photo / Supplied

Beaten with a slave whip, starved and scared, Kiwi Sharon Churchill believes she would still be a hostage of her Egyptian husband if it wasn't for a team of New Zealand diplomats who helped her to escape.

The 41-year-old from Tirau in Waikato suffered emotional abuse and beatings from her husband of five months - a man she once called the love of her life - and started sleeping with a steel pipe for protection.

But on February 14, she escaped, with the help of embassy staff in Cairo, and is now warning other women about the dangers of holiday romances.

In letters she has sent to the Prime Minister and other ministers, Ms Churchill credits the diplomats with saving her life by working with Egyptian authorities to get her out of the house and on a flight home.

However, her ex-husband denies the claims, saying he never assaulted her and that problems in their relationship were her fault.

"In other countries the man feel the woman she don't respect him and I find that in her.

It's not my fault."

Speaking out for the first time since arriving home, she said she was still recovering from an ordeal that had left her with physical and emotional scars and $30,000 out of pocket.

Ms Churchill said there was no hint of what was to come when she met her future husband, a restaurant owner, in the popular diving village of Dahab in Egypt's South Sinai 10 months ago.

A former Carter Holt Harvey manager, she was on a "dream trip" with a friend after taking a year out from work.

Ms Churchill met the "bubbly, funny, witty" man on her second-to-last night in Dahab and they had a brief romance. "I don't usually do that sort of thing but I thought it would be a nice little fling."

She didn't think any more about it until she returned to New Zealand and he continued to contact her. Soon, they were talking for hours every day.

When he suggested she return to Egypt in July, "I thought, why not?"

For seven weeks, the couple spent every moment together and quickly fell in love. "We were besotted."

Speaking from Egypt, her ex-husband said he had felt the same way and she was his "dream woman".

Ms Churchill had to cut the trip short because her mother fell ill, but before leaving, the couple signed a handwritten marriage contract.

She returned home briefly and then - in a decision "completely" out of character - packed up her life and flew back to Egypt to her husband.

Three weeks later, they had an argument. "He just came after me and he grabbed me and gave me a backhander around the face. He punched my arms and I ended up on the ground and he smashed my head into the ground about three times."

Ms Churchill packed her bags to leave but while seeing a friend that night, broke her leg.

She spent the next four weeks in a cast and was reliant on her husband to take care of her. "He had me completely under his control."

She said he also expected her to pay for everything, including the household expenses and $20,000 to buy a car.

She contacted the embassy to say she might need help to leave.

One of those who assisted her is Barbara Welton, the same diplomat who has been helping a Northland woman locked in a child custody battle with her husband in Algeria.

The relationship between Ms Churchill and her husband worsened and eventually it was one of hostage and captor, she said.

"There were a couple of days I didn't have water or food. I lost 12kg in six weeks. It was semi-starvation."

One hellish night in February, fearing for her safety, Ms Churchill slept on the roof with a steel pipe.

"He came up with an Egyptian slave whip and beat me with it. It cut my arms open and my legs were severely bruised. I was screaming, 'Help me', and he said, 'No one's going to help you'. I knew he would kill me before he would let me out."

Unbeknown to her husband, Ms Churchill had dialled the embassy for help. When staff picked up the phone, they heard the commotion.

She knew it would be seven hours before they could reach her in Dahab.

Two diplomats and 12 police arrived the following day.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed embassy staff from Cairo helped Ms Churchill.

"The Embassy provided advice and offered to enlist local police to assist her. Embassy staff also worked with the Egyptian authorities to ensure her safe departure from the country,'' said a spokesman.

She was taken to a police station, where she divorced her husband.

Ms Churchill has words of advice for any woman considering a holiday romance in the Middle East: "Have a fling with them, [but] don't get into a relationship. Once you enter into any contract of marriage, you become their property."

- APNZ

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