Don't stay in a bad relationship because of the children - leave for them.
That's the message of an Auckland woman who endured years of physical, sexual and psychological abuse from male partners.
The best thing she did, she says, was to finally choose to live without a man in her life.
The 38-year-old Waitakere mother of two teenage children told the Herald yesterday how she finally extricated herself from a string of abusive partners after reaching rock bottom.
Reality hit when her children were removed from her care by social services.
A drug addict on the edge of suicide the woman, who did not want to be named, said she then knew she finally had to make some tough decisions.
She got counselling, weaned herself off drugs, got rid of bad men and unsuitable friends, and finally got her children back. "I had to get honest with myself."
Now on her fridge she has a large sign surrounded by kisses.
It reads: "This is an abuse-free house. We will communicate with respect at all times."
This victim's message to others in abusive relationships is simply to get out, and stay out. She does not want her children to repeat her mistakes.
"If you want to break the cycle, leave for the kids and yourself."
The woman has been without a partner for three years now, and feels much happier. "They [the children] don't see any abuse with me in our home."
She hopes other women can realise their potential for change.
Her message echoed that of Jude Simpson, a domestic violence prevention advocate, who had also broken free of abusive relationships.
Ms Simpson yesterday told her life story to a group of domestic violence victims at the Henderson Police Station. Core to her problems was her faulty belief system, instilled from when she was a child.
"I thought I was an unlovable worthless piece of trash."
The victim of poor parenting, including an abusive stepmother who used to spit in her food, Ms Simpson became involved in the Taranaki gang scene. She was nearly murdered and went on to have relationships with other violent criminals.
Ms Simpson had four children to different fathers, including a bank robber and murderer, and admits she was a hopeless mother who made poor choices.
She ended up angry, bitter and resentful, and thought the world a horrible and unfair place until someone looked past her behaviour and showed her kindness and understanding.
Ms Simpson urged the women to get support and be mindful of their children.
"We've got to be careful of people we bring into our babies' lives ... be careful of new relationships and follow your gut instinct."
Senior Sergeant Dave Ryan, district family violence manager for the North Shore, Waitakere and Rodney, said it was important for women to get out of abusive relationships for the sake of themselves and their children.
He said the early years of a child's life were crucial to its later development.
Mr Ryan said in Waitakere police dealt with about 380 domestic violence incidents a month, 180 on the North Shore and 90 in Rodney.
"Given only one in five are reported, you can imagine the actual size of the problem."
Murray Edridge, chief executive Barnardos, said domestic violence was occurring daily throughout New Zealand.
Mr Edridge said in the year ended June 2008, the Footsteps to Feeling Safe programme worked with 228 children who had been victims of, or witnesses to domestic violence.
"Many children who witness domestic violence are constantly in a state of heightened anxiety. They may have trouble sleeping, have low self-esteem and behave in ways that are challenging both at school and at home."
* White Ribbon Day information