By Tracie Aylmer
There are wonderful benefits to the recent conversation about domestic violence. It’s now out in the open that it happens, and it is quite extensive within the community. While Rosie Batty’s experience has been unique, what she has done with it has been extraordinary. The conversation is now out in the open, not tucked away in hushed tones as if it never happens. Seeing Victoria act upon recommendations about domestic violence has made my heart sing. I have also noticed that the police force in Western Australia is trying, which is a relief, even though there is still a long way to go within the WA community.
Social media has also been a godsend when it comes to domestic violence. People are willing to talk about it, and become outraged over how prevalent it is. Those that haven’t been through it are now bonding with those that have. Survivors are now believed, rather than treated as if nothing had happened. Communities now understand that domestic violence isn’t just physical – it’s emotional, mental, and financial as well.
In addition, women aren’t the only victims. Men, children, the disabled, the elderly, refugees and the Indigenous can also become victims. The rich, as well as the poor, can become victims. In fact, domestic violence doesn’t distinguish between victims. Nor does it distinguish between perpetrators.
While it is now known that women go through domestic violence, what I like to say is that there is an uneven balance between the perpetrator and the victim. The perpetrator acts in a manner for which they are trusted within the community or hold down trusted positions. They can be seen as a type of guiding light to all who meet them. More often than not, a perpetrator can be known as someone others can depend upon.
This leaves the victim with the inability to go anywhere to seek help. People don’t believe the victim. The victim is left with very little, and they have to fight even to gain acknowledgement that they are being abused. This is particularly so if the acts are psychological rather than physical. For those being physically abused, the wounds can be seen by others. The psychological wounds are deeper, but aren’t noticeable to the wider community. Psychological wounds take much longer to heal than physical abuse. While the physical wounds have healed, the psychological wounds are left in the open for a much longer period of time. It’s even harder when one isn’t believed.
I have been through domestic violence – twice. I will now share my story, as I believe there is a pattern between my story and many others who have been through it. Whenever I speak to someone who has survived domestic violence, there are many similarities. By telling our stories, we can make the problem prevalent, and can hopefully find solutions to help others in need.
The first time I was with the guy for 5 years. He waited more than 12 months before he started psychologically abusing me. At first, he bought me flowers and acted as if I was the only one in the world. He made me breakfast every day. He waited upon me all the time.
When he knew he had me, he then started telling me that I couldn’t communicate with others, and I needed him to communicate for me. He then did other little things. He had to drive my car – I wasn’t allowed to drive, even though it was registered in my name and I was paying all the bills for it. I would give him my eftpos card to buy shopping while I worked, and he would spend money on the pokies rather than shopping. He would then do burnouts in his anger because more often than not, he would lose. At one stage, he lost all our rent money down a pokie. For the pokies, according to him I could never hit the button right. He would get angry and call me names. I knew all the swear words in Greek, because that’s what he would call me (he was Greek). I still swear in Greek!
He would then throw things around the room. He once put his hand through the windscreen of my car. I can’t even remember why! He would belittle me at every opportunity he could, but only within the residence we both lived in. Outside of the residence, I became quieter and quieter, but no one noticed any difference as the friends we had were all his friends.
Some work colleagues had noticed, and offered me sanctuary. I turned them down as I thought I wasn’t going through any level of domestic violence as I wasn’t being hit at all. That was how prevalent the thought of physical violence was within the media at the time, compared to psychological violence.
At the end, I couldn’t even buy a pizza with my own money. I had to ask him first. I couldn’t speak to anyone about it. He didn’t allow me to speak to anyone, other than who he told me I could be friends with (there weren’t many – only 2 people). I wasn’t allowed to speak to Lifeline – that was “telling our dirty laundry to strangers”.
He was addicted to marijuana. He needed 6 cones in the morning to wake up before he could wash his face. He told me repeatedly that if I went to the police he would make me an accomplice to his drug taking, even though I didn’t touch the stuff.
Even with all of these behaviours, he still didn’t hit me. There were no physical marks on me, until right at the end, when he smothered me with intent to kill. He did this because – in any matter possible – I wanted to leave him. I told him that, and he told me we would always be together forever. That was in December 2002.
Circumstances arrived shortly after that where I could leave him. I found the slimmest of windows, and took the opportunity and finally, thankfully left him.
For several months he stalked me and kept sending disgusting messages to my mobile. He had another girlfriend, but that didn’t matter. Ownership mattered more. To him, I was a possession that should never have gotten away. I then changed my number and moved around, but he still found me, so I moved interstate in early 2004.
I then spent a few years trying to recover. It wasn’t until 2007 that I finally found a psychologist who told me it wasn’t my fault. Imagine how many before this blamed me for being smothered! At the time, the community liked to blame the victim for the fact that they couldn’t stay in an abusive relationship.
It was around this time (late 2007) that I was embroiled in the second domestic violence relationship. It took me a much shorter period of time to get out of that one – only a year. The guy was a registered nurse. His abuse was financial and emotional. He told me repeatedly he had cancer, in order to make me feel sorry for him. He had debts, and when we started living with each other he left his job, leaving me to wonder how to pay the bills. At the time, I was studying, and receiving Austudy. He then started owing me money.
When I finally left him, he started stalking me. The perception was that I wasn’t a nice person, even though he was the manipulator. He kept making himself out to be a nice person, when in fact he was manipulative. He only became a registered nurse because he heard there were penalty rates. He had told me this during the relationship.
In these two relationships, I have noticed there are many similarities that others have also gone through. The perception the community has of these types of people is that they are wonderful people who can be treated badly by the victim. The victim is treated with suspicion, which makes it difficult to find help.
Post traumatic stress disorder is quite prevalent in the victim. Not being able to seek help makes life that much harder.
Recently I heard a speech about domestic violence from a survivor. She advised the crowd that survivors of domestic violence are extraordinary people that do extraordinary things. They are high achievers. Having been able to leave abusive situations makes them very strong people.
The International White Ribbon day is a godsend to someone like me. However, the conversation needs to widen. Women aren’t the only victims. We need to be aware that victims are the victims, not just women. Domestic violence is a complex issue that involves the whole community. It’s not just in relation to one group of people, even though noting the women have become victims and survivors is a good thing.
Funding is another crucial aspect. We need to find out who the victims actually are and give protection to them at all times while they go through recovery. We need to stop shaming the victims for what the perpetrators do. Lack of funding blames the victims and gives the perpetrators full throttle to do what they wish. Protection includes adequate safe refuges during the most crucial times when the victim is most vulnerable – the moment they leave.
For those that have children, enabling the child to have their rights in court is crucial too. The best interests of the child are considered in family law legislation. Acting appropriately on that could help the victim and the child. Allowing a perpetrator to have access to a child is more often than not damaging to the child, and those effects are long-term.
Courts need desperately to change. The rules of evidence are far too complex to deal with the complexities of domestic violence. The perpetrator understands what those rules are, and they can get away with what they do by their manipulations of the police force and the legal system. Enabling the victim to properly use the legal system for their own protection should be a given.
Judges and lawyers need to be trained in domestic violence. They need to know what a victim looks like, and stop accepting circumstances at face value. The apprehended violence orders need to be properly enforced. They shouldn’t be considered just a piece of paper. They need to be something that can protect the victim so they can recover to become survivors.
Enforcing psychological help on the perpetrator is something I am in full agreement with. Perhaps it will show the perpetrator that stalking is a big no-no. It could mean that the perpetrator starts looking at people as people, rather than objects of possession.
However, talking about the major issue of domestic violence, and comparing it to terrorism, has made great strides in everyone’s perception of domestic violence. Showing that domestic violence is much worse than Tony Abbott’s ‘war on terrorism’ has helped to open what really matters in today’s society.
Once we see the unequal balance of the perpetrator and the victim, and do something about this as a collective community with appropriate funding, then we can move forward. It is costing our economy billions, after all.
Also by Tracie Aylmer:
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