Today is the day that we highlight domestic abuse and violence against women – it is White Ribbon Day.
Violence and abuse can happen to women of any age, either by someone she knows or by a stranger. Often, women are too scared to speak up for fear of more abuse, or even their life. It is a volatile situation and a sensitive subject, but for 11 years in Australia, White Ribbon Day has opened up the conversation about violence against women, for both women and men.
According to the WHO, 30 per cent of women worldwide have experienced some type of violence by an intimate partner…that’s over 1 billion women. It is a serious problem in Australia and one woman is killed every single week as a result.
Awareness campaigns such as White Ribbon Day have turned perceptions around and more and more people are feeling more confident to say ‘no’ to violence against women, including this brave Starts at 60 writer who shared her story with us earlier this year.
“We come from a generation of women who were often told to suck it up if their husband hurt them physically…if you didn’t have bruises or showed signs of abuse, it wasn’t something that needed addressing. We hid behind doors and were afraid – afraid to tell someone about what was happening and what might happen if we did.
That’s why I’m here today: I want there to be more of a focus on what is still occurring in homes around Australia and the world every single day. It could be your friend, your sister, your brother, your neighbour or the girl on the train. I am a survivor of domestic abuse at the hands of my husband and this is my story.
He was charming and charismatic, he was in the air force and had the world at his feet. I took such a liking to him straight away when a mutual friend introduced us. I felt he loved me but not once did he ever say it, even on our wedding day. I guess that should have been my red flag. In fact, there were a few red flags throughout our relationship, the first being when we went out to a dance while we were dating and I noticed something peculiar: he had put screwed-up paper in his ears. I jokingly pulled one of the wads out and he clutched me by the wrist and gruffly told me to stop it. He had the wads in to stop the loud music from damaging his ears. He then proceeded to dump the entire contents of my bag onto the floor, in full view of everyone. I gathered my things and walked out, shocked. He ran after me and apologised. But his apologies were never what you would call normal…he would always minimise my feelings by saying “I’m sorry that you feel like that” or “I apologise that you are upset by what I said”. He never took the blame and after that incident I was more cautious but something about him kept me interested and in love. He had scared me into submission by this point.
My friends would see me with him and would always talk amongst themselves, “why is she with him?”. He was overweight and I was slender and attractive – the odd couple. We dated for a few months more and I fluctuated between loving him and feeling sorry for him. He had a toy train set and when he played with it, he turned into a child. He had this eccentric mask he would put on in front of his friends, but behind closed doors, he was vulnerable and lost. One night he was lying down and blatantly refused to speak to me because I didn’t cook him his meal properly, “You can’t put mince a cold pan!”. I went to roll him over and apologise and that was the first time he struck me. He whipped me across the face and went back to his position, facing the wall, as if nothing had happened. I held my face and ran into our backyard, crying loudly. My neighbour heard me (and no doubt heard the shouting), walked across her back porch to look at me, shook her head and walked back into her house, locking the door behind her. I felt helpless and alone.
I walked back inside and told him to leave. I lived with my parents (not home at the time) so I felt I had every right to. I felt strong as I stood up to him, but instantly weak when he pushed me over as he walked out the door. I fell to my knees and wailed.
The next day, he bought me flowers and wrote me a letter about how he needed to appreciate me more. Looking back, it seemed like he hadn’t even written it from his heart…he could not feel empathy and so just did what he had seen in movies and prayed that it would work. It did and, although I felt defeated, I accepted his apology. That night, we went to dinner (which I had to pay for despite his pay cheque) and he produced a ring. He didn’t propose so much as gave me the ring and asked if I liked it. I said that I did and smiled, confused. He asked if I would marry him and I said yes. Not a word was said after that and we went home.
We were married for 3 months before I experienced the scariest moment of my life. We woke up one morning and my mother’s car was parked in our driveway, blocking my husband’s car from driving out. We didn’t have mobile phones then but I assumed that my mum had come around to drop over some extra milk and was just next door talking to our neighbour. This was not good enough and my husband launched into a tirade. He slammed the front door as he marched out the front of the house… he wanted to go to the pub and he couldn’t. Outraged, he screamed at me to tell my mother to move her car. I couldn’t believe what was happening – he was just parked in. I tried to get him to calm down and he began to walk next door to confront my mum. I ran after him, begging him not to when it happened: he grabbed me by the throat so hard I was winded and told me to shut up. He dragged me by the arm into our house and locked the door, shoving me to the ground, before bellowing at me for alerting the neighbours. All I could do was sit on the floor, crying and nursing my bruised throat and arm. My mum heard the commotion from next door and came in to see me collapsed on the floor. My husband ran out the door but it wasn’t long before the police found him. He didn’t get a conviction but we did officially divorce a few months later. I haven’t seen him since and I thank my lucky stars every day for my mum – I believe she saved my life. She always maintains she had no idea I was suffering until that day.
It was a lesson for me that I have carried throughout my life since. No matter how much someone says they care about you, it is never okay if they lay a hand on you or make you feel unloved or unworthy. It is no less serious if it is verbal abuse than physical abuse: they hurt your heart the same way. I was one of the lucky ones but there are plenty more who do not have the strength. To them I say: there is help all around you. And to those of you like my neighbour who choose to turn a blind eye: please don’t. Please reach out in any way you can, even if it is to let someone know you are there. I just think to those cases of Lisa Harnum and Alison Baden-Clay and wondered what we have learnt. Don’t allowed them to have died in vain, let’s stand up and make domestic violence an issue that is important to all of us“.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, contact Lifeline on 131 144.