New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world. Eighty per cent of incidents go unreported — so what we know of family violence in our community is barely the tip of the iceberg. Today is part four 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.

Key Points:

We asked readers to share their stories for our family violence series. This is what they told us. These accounts have been abridged, and some information removed to protect the victim.


"Words are just as damaging"

Even after fifteen and a half years after I left the memories can still come back and overwhelm me. He came from a dysfunctional family, had low self-esteem and was a heavy drinker. He never hit me but words and threats can be just as damaging. He used to own a gun but he sold it once to pay our rates - that was a relief but there were still knives in the house - so the fear was always there. There were some nights I didn't sleep. I know why these women don't leave but by the time they realise something is wrong they are on their way to being broken. I don't know what the answer is but I think it is getting worse as the youngsters growing up in these families see it as normal behaviour and will continue the cycle.

"I screamed for him to stop"

I was with one guy for about a month before I moved down town with him. Once I moved changed fast. He would elbow me in the face while I slept, twist my wrist until I screamed for him to stop while he and others watched, laughing about it. He wasn't working at the time so I ended up supporting him - until the money dried up. He told me I had to move out. I had nowhere to go. One of his friends offered me a couch to crash on for a couple of days. He was coming into the house demanding things from me. I was so scared and alone. I called Women's Refuge when he arrived at the house banging on the door. He said "they won't help you as I have had to deal with them before". I ended up out on the street as I couldn't pay any rent.

"He pinned me to the wall"

I had always blamed the P but now in writing this I can see it was already there, the P just made it worse. Because I blamed the P I stayed. I told myself that this wasn't him and that it was the drugs. It broke my heart to see what it was doing to him and I wanted to help. I couldn't leave him that way. Over the next year I would experience things I never thought I would. We weren't living together so I thought I had some freedom. I didn't actually notice all the things he was doing and how controlling some were for a while... I didn't see the pattern that was forming. He was convinced I was cheating on him and became verbally abusive, calling me a slut and causing me of sleeping around. I can't remember the exact events but during that year he left bruises on my arm that family and friends saw, it was from his grip and it was obvious finger prints on my arm. I brushed off the questions. There was a time that he pinned me by the throat to the wall. I called the cops. He got off the drugs - I forgave him - I thought it was behind us. We were lucky to go three days without a huge argument where he was accusing me of cheating on him. He would call me at work constantly, he would check receipts to see what time I had been on lunch and try to catch me out lying to him. He was verbally abusive and controlling. He called me a slut and a whore more often than I can count. They were the hardest two years of my life. I have recovered and six years later I married the kindest man you could ever meet. Getting out and staying out is the first step but it's harder than people think. The controlling behaviour happens slowly and your self-worth deteriorates until you believe what they tell you. If you hear it enough it becomes the truth. This is happening to someone everyone knows. We need to stop pretending like it's just a small section of people. Domestic violence does not discriminate.

"Please don't go to the doctor"

After six months of marriage I received a very hard slap across my face. I still do not know why. After building our home the violence began. Regular belts and punches but always saying 'I'm sorry... I won't do it again' and 'please don't go to the doctor'. With four young children. I was too scared to tell people. I do admit I fought back even throwing a knife at him one night. Thank god he ducked. He used to pin me to the bed and punch me. The last straw was when he punched me giving me a huge black eye and loads of bruising. I rang the lawyer and he received a trespass notice. He got off scot-free. I am still very bitter and only wished I had had him charged.

"Kill him, or kill myself"

Reading the "warning signs" in the Herald's article made me start to sweat and made my mouth go dry - A little throwback to my 10 year hell called marriage. My husband liked to keep me all to himself. Two days after we were married he moved me to his home country. He would make us move countries every 6 -18 months which kept me from making stable friends. I started to think that it was normal. I wasn't allowed to have a bank account. I was allowed a credit card for emergencies but had to call and explain the reason before using it. He would ask me where I had been that day and then check the mileage on the car to verify. He would go through the dishwasher searching for evidence that someone else had been there. He'd go through the phone bill and call any numbers he didn't recognise. My family weren't allowed to contact me after 6pm or on the weekends as that was the time I was supposed to be devoting to him. I could only wear clothes he chose for me. Any conversation with another male was branded as flirting and part of my punishment would be endless days of the silent treatment. There is so much more. So dark, so warped, such narcissistic aggression. One day when my mum rang, I told her to be prepared - by the end of the week I would either be dead or in jail. The only way I could see myself getting away from him was to kill him, or kill myself. No one knew. I kept it all so secret. It was embarrassing. My biggest fear is that my daughters will somehow end up in a similar situation and they will hide it from me as well as I did. This conversation needs to be had. Thank you to Herald, for opening this door. Some of the brave ones might make it out.

"If you ever leave me I will cut your head off"

At first it was like a romantic Hollywood movie... He was so attentive, texting all the time, turning up to my house unannounced. "How romantic," I thought. How wrong I was. The texting became constant wanting to know where I was what I was doing. If I didn't answer within a few minutes he would ring or text insisting on a reply. This became obsessive, him never believing where I was, wanting proof of where I was and who I was with. The first physical event was in the garden we were digging with spades having a conversation. Something I mentioned caused an instant change in his demeanour. He flipped. He held my throat, put the spade to my neck and said if you ever leave me I will cut your head off. And so it began... I want to mention something very important. I want to call it the little voice. We all have it. Some call it a gut feeling or intuition. It starts off just as a whisper inside of you, like a feeling of this is not right, and eventually it becomes louder and louder. I urge anyone to listen to that voice. The spade incident for me I heard that whisper saying to me "this is not ok or normal" I chose to ignore it and so my journey of being trapped in a violent relationship for four years.

"I knew my ex was going to kill me"

After making the decision to leave an ugly, abusive relationship after 15 years and three beautiful children, the next two years turned out to be harder than living in the ugly relationship. The constant threats to my life, breaches of protection orders, being removed from our home to the safety of refuge and motels until police arrested my ex for yet another breach, threatening to kill me - the list goes on. I only want women to know that there is nothing the police and refuge won't do to keep us and our children safe. I knew my ex was going to kill me. I wrote a goodbye letter to my family in case he got to me and I fought as hard as I could to do it alone. I was ashamed and embarrassed about my situation but with police and refuge came to the realisation that this wasn't my shame. I hadn't done anything wrong and this was his shame, not mine. I sympathise with police when they get constantly criticised about what they don't do. The public don't see these officers that give out their phone numbers so women like myself can contact them no matter the time of day, who work long after their shifts end, who work on their days off, who are there long after they are ever expected to be. They don't get thanked for saving lives. Nobody understands the extremes they go to keep us safe. I know I was lucky... and we all know I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them and their commitment to helping me break free. Take the chance. It's scary and it's the hardest thing ever to break free but oh so worth it. Living is so much better than existing.

"I did not think I was being abused"

Mine is the story of not-quite-abuse; there was no broken bones, no knives, no battered woman. The warning signs started soon after I moved in with him: I was not allowed to have other friends. Any friend I did have, he would be insanely jealous of, throw tantrums, punch walls, destroy his own property, get into fits of rage and storm off into the rain and hurt himself. I was worried for him, and he was always the target of his own anger, and so did everything I could to ensure there was nothing he could be angry about. I cut ties with my friends, sending them emails saying that my partner thought their behaviour was inappropriate and that we were getting too close - friends who all we had done was have coffee together. I was isolated. I did not think I was being abused. I could not stay out late because I had to make sure that dinner was ready when he came home from work. We lived walking distance from where he worked, and so often I would have lunch prepared so that he could come home during the day and have a home cooked meal. I did not think I was being abused. He once hit me in the head while out in public out of anger, because I dared to shush him when he was yelling. I was shocked. And yet, the fear that I felt strongest was that someone might notice and see what a mess I'd let my life become. I did not think I was being abused. He would violently hit himself, threatening to hit me, to hurt me, to stab me. He was so angry and I had no idea what to do. I was no longer worried for him and the things he would do to himself - I was scared of him and the things he was going to do to me. I suddenly realised that I was terrified of the man I was with. But I had no idea what to do. I was in a position where I could not work and so relied on his financial support. I felt trapped, and did not even see leaving as an option. Where would I go? I had family who looked down on me and openly condemned me for allowing the relationship to have broken down, who - after witnessing my ex-partner verbally berate me, took me aside and offered motherly advice of "Be nicer. He's really stressed from work. It's your job to make him happy." Looking back now, I wish I knew then what I know now: you are not trapped. You can get out. There are other options. Things can be different. But when you're in that situation you can't think straight, you can't see the options that are so clear to other people.

"Being pregnant didn't stop the violence"

I met my future husband at 17, he was my first love and I thought he was the one. I never noticed the controlling ways in the beginning as I was young, naive and thought that's how it was meant to be. I stayed for nine years, ended up getting married and having a child. The violence was few and far between in the beginning, pushes, shoves, verbal and emotional abuse. Then it escalated to punching, biting, strangling, driving recklessly whilst I was in the car - all to scare me. Being pregnant didn't stop the violence, he only got smart about where he hit me. No one had any idea, I lived a double life, had a professional job, went to work in a suit, smiling but often wincing with pain from numerous injuries I hid under my clothes. He worked too, but then got heavily into the drug scene - and things got increasingly worse. Our child was born and he got jealous, would attack me whilst I held baby in my arms, then he would be nice, but not for long. The apologies disappeared and he blamed me, if only I was skinnier, prettier or nicer he would not have to hurt me to make him feel better about being "stuck with me" He broke my jaw. I stayed. Then one day he threatened our child, who was still only a toddler, and something inside me snapped, I had clarity and knew I would end up dead if I did not leave. I told my boss, and once it was out, I had to take action. I visited a lawyer on my lunch breaks, got protection and parenting orders underway and one Sunday, while he was out we escaped, my boss helped, he saved my life. The aftermath was awful to begin with, but my god I am glad I left when I did. Many years down the track, I have a beautiful 12 year old, and a new partner and a new baby. I never knew a relationship could be so wonderful, my partner is kind, loving, genuine and would never hurt me or my children. I hope I have shown my older child what is acceptable and what isn't. Family violence effects all walks of life, it nearly killed me, if you know someone who needs help, just do it, help them, you could be saving their lives.

If you're in danger NOW:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you • Run outside and head for where there are other people • Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you • Take the children with you • Don't stop to get anything else • If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisisline operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 • Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 • It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 • Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisisline 24/7 0800 742 584 • Ministry of Justice: • National Network of Stopping Violence: • White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent.

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