I wish I could say I had trouble finding women to interview for the feature I wrote this week about domestic violence. I wish I could say I don't personally know anyone who's suffered physical, emotional, or financial abuse at the hands of a partner. I wish I could tell you I've never witnessed domestic abuse.
I can't tell you any of those things. Neither can most women I know.
According to the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, one in three (35 per cent) New Zealand women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime. When psychological/emotional abuse is included, 55 per cent have experienced IPV.
• Domestic-violence murder: Accused describes lifetime of violent abuse, battered women's syndrome
• Domestic violence trial: Abused woman Karen Anne Ruddelle not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter
• Domestic violence expert urges murder trial jury to view 'panoramic perspective', not single moment
You don't have to be a super sleuth to uncover stories of domestic violence and abuse. To get interviews for my article, I reached out to two women, one a friend, the other, a friend of a Facebook friend, to ask if they knew survivors of family violence who'd talk to me. Within minutes, both said yes, reached out to their contacts, and put me in touch with women whose stories it hurt my heart to hear.
One woman's abuser broke her leg and beat her for an hour. Another woman's estranged partner poured petrol into her home and tried to set it on fire with her son inside. She cried recounting the story. The woman has diagnosed herself with post-traumatic stress disorder because she dreads returning to her home each day. She hasn't taken time to get counselling. She's in survival mode, afraid to contact police because she knows it could set off her abuser.
One woman is a highly educated professional. The other, a struggling alcoholic who's been in and out of rehab.
As many stories as I've read and written about domestic violence, I know, intellectually, it has no favourites - it spans socio-economic levels, ethnicity, age, race … Yet there's still a primitive part of my brain that wants to place survivors in the "other" category - to make them different - less educated, from another culture, economic standing, etc … It's BS. Accountants, lawyers and doctors get beaten and emotionally manipulated alongside retail employees, cafe workers and mums on a benefit. We want to think: "It can't happen to me." Of course it can.
One common thread among many abusers is they're charming at first. Your family and friends think they're swell. So do you. You start living together, maybe get married, and then - he's got you. He starts tracking your movements, controlling your finances, putting his fist into the wall behind you or blocking your windpipe with his forearm. Maybe he stops just short of your face because he wants to save his own. But he's struck fear. You worry about yourself and your children. You try to make it work for a while because dammit, you committed to marriage or partnership or bought a house together and wasn't there a reason you connected in the first place? Was it love, karma, destiny - or in the end, bad luck?
Wait, you say - men get abused, too. Sure, they do.
But police statistics and academic studies show the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women, and when females get physical, it's usually self-defence. Dr Neville Robertson, of Waikato University, who's studied family violence for four decades, asks men who tell him a woman has pushed or hit them whether he's afraid of her "... and they say, 'Nah, I could take her out like this' [snaps fingers]".
Robertson says domestic violence isn't just about physical harm, but about a pattern of control and manipulation which become crimes against women's human rights.
The Hannah Clarke case proves we still have much myth-busting to do around domestic violence. When a Queensland police officer says authorities are looking at whether Clarke's estranged husband "was driven too far to have done this" we know something is wrong. At least that cop has been kicked off the case.
• Car-fire murders: Rowan Baxter plotted to kill ex-partner and son
• Car-fire murders: Killer who torched his family was a 'master manipulator', victim's parents say
• Car-fire murders: Disturbing reason why Rowan Baxter quit rugby
• Car-fire murders: Hero's attempt to save Baxter children, mother
When someone commits such evil as murdering his family, he can only ever be on the wrong side. The criminal side. Abusers aren't triggered or pushed by their partners to violent acts, they choose violence. In most cases, these same people aren't punching up bosses, co-workers or mates - they whack a bull's eye on family members when targeting their rage.
We must do a better job of dismantling masculinity that prevents men from sharing any other emotion beyond anger. If you're not man enough to cry, can you at least tell me what's hurting you before you hurt me or someone I love? A society that reinforces the notion men must act tough and that women who strive for equality are threats is a dangerous place to live.
As Robertson told me: "A culture that encourages men to be tough, strong and dominant and expects women to be submissive- that's a recipe for domestic violence."
Domestic violence: Do you need help?
If you're in danger now:
• Phone for police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside to 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:
• Shine, free national helpline 9am-11pm every day - 0508 744 633; 2shine.org.nz
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843; womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450; areyouok.org.nz