My most vivid memory of the domestic violence in my early life is as a ten or eleven year old child sitting under a stretcher in the emergency ward with my younger brothers urging them to “be quiet and stay still” as they stitched mum’s lip and gum up inside and out. She had just had a tooth knocked out and her lip split open by the fist of a man in her life while we three children were sleeping in our beds. She had to wake us up for the trip to hospital. She lost the tooth.
It was after 11 o’clock at night, and my six and eight year old brothers didn’t understand why they couldn’t be running around in the aisles of the brightly lit hospital ward full of activity. It was a time in life that in all honesty I try my hardest to forget ever happened. But it did, so better to use its power in my life for good than evil. I don’t tell you this because I want any pity for me or my family. The days of violence are well and truly a distant and healed memory for us all. A lesson learned perhaps. I tell you this because today is White Ribbon Day, a day we all need to keep an eye out for those who need help and to reach out to them properly and offer it. We need to talk about violence to make people see that it is not just something they should accept in life, and we need to stand up and put in place ways that women can get out of difficult situations.
It’s the only day that this wretched time in my life comes back to me and whilst I would rather bury the memories, I would also like to stop and draw attention to them, knowing it might help someone who can’t or doesn’t know how to help themselves. I know many out there in the Starts at 60 community will have grappled like my mum did with abusive partners or parents. And it is confronting to look at the statistics on just how many women have died at the hands of a man in Australia this year.
One of the most marked memories of the years when this violence was occurring (and it was years) was just how well it was hidden. Mum didn’t have many friends, preferring social acquaintances that didn’t judge her on her choices and obligations to stay in a relationship with such challenges. We didn’t ever talk about it, even amongst ourselves, except to discuss the ramifications of someone outside of the four of us finding out that our rosy looking home wasn’t really that rosy.
Years of tears were shed at home in the mornings and evenings but when we went off to school and work, everything had to look rosy. As a 10, 11, 12 year old girl I couldn’t figure out why it went on so darned long and worse than that, why my mother didn’t call it to a stop. There must have been outside signs for our loved ones or community to see and help us? But we didn’t let them in to. And that is the reality of many domestic violence situations – that their own circumstances are part of the inability to leave and the invisible nature of the pain means people can’t or don’t know to help you.
For me, looking back, the most traumatic part is how long my mum put up with being smacked around, mistreated and disrespected while her kids watched and felt the overspill. But then you remember the other side too. For many years she was lavished with the apologies, the pleas for forgiveness, and the devotion that sits at the polar opposite of domestic violence yet so often comes with it. She really did have no way out with three kids in tow, and feeling like she was in true love on an adrenalin rollercoaster kept her hooked. The emotional relationship itself was like a drug, incredibly addictive.
When I go back in nostalgia, I go to the happy memories of that era… the ones of school and of more stable times at my father’s house on weekends. I go to the memories of playing at my grandparents house after school where life was safe and rosy. The fact is though that domestic violence is something I remember vividly and I know I will never tolerate in my life again. Others don’t have that resolve, nor the strength learned from seeing it in action.
Our family’s battle with domestic violence was small when you compare it with others in the media today and probably quite common I think in the 80s, although at the time I cannot point to others with similar issues in my social circles. It was the first years that people spoke about or offered support to women struggling with violent partners. It was the first time TV advertising focussed on support or shelters were set up for domestic violence against women in particular.
Today though, we are decades into the movement and the situation is looking no better. More Australian women have died at the hands of men than ever before in 2015 and our newspapers have become filled with horror stories of women battling abusive relationships to their death, without enough help to free themselves. That saddens me enormously. The latest data on violence is ten years old so hardly representative of how people feel today. But 33% of women in 2005 said they had suffered from domestic violence and 19.1% of women had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
The only improvement lay with a report by women that fewer children had witnessed partner-related violence either from a current or ex-partner than in 1996. I guess that is something.
So on this White Ribbon day, I ask you to tell a story and make it ok to talk about domestic violence impacting your life. People need to know that domestic violence is never ok, and that you can find your way out of a tough situation and into a better one, with help.
For more information or to donate go to White Ribbon Day