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A Royal Commission into industry scandals
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What women want - July 2013

02 Jul 2013

This is a very hard piece to write.

I have in fact, been thinking about whether or not to write this for several days. And the more nervous I feel about putting pen to paper over this, and the more I question whether I want to go ahead with this, and the more I feel that it’s just a lot easier to forget about it and instead write a (hopefully!) easy-reading fun piece that makes you smile, the more I realise that I should write this.

Let me tell you why I feel like I should write it now, so many years later. There was a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend. A well-known celebrity, who appears on TV regularly, appearing to have it all with a husband and two small children, requested that SMH withhold her identity so that she could share her story of domestic violence. She did not want to be the “poster girl” for domestic violence, but she bravely did want to say that what happened to Nigella Lawson was not a “lovers tiff”. It is unacceptable.

In football there are incredible, high-profile, successful “tough” men who let us know that they have struggled with depression. There are incredible role models and ambassadors to highlight the fight against breast cancer, all cancer, many illnesses. There are young people with initiative – Bondi Rescue lifeguard Maxi Maxwell jetskiing with his lifeguard buddy to Cairns to raise awareness of suicide in kids. Incredible efforts from so many to support those who are struggling with a wide range of situations and issues. But with domestic violence, it is all too often something we don’t talk about. The victims hide their heads, make excuses when it’s raised, and live in silence.

I don’t want to be the poster girl for domestic violence either.  I understand why we don’t know who wrote the article in the SMH.  She wanted to remain anonymous for fear of judgement, of it affecting her reputation and her offers for future work. I applaud her for finding a way to show support and wanting to bring a very real social issue to the front.  

Domestic violence is a social epidemic and it is unacceptable. I have been a victim of domestic violence. I am telling you this, because I know how complex this issue is. It’s so easy for people to ask why you didn’t “just leave”, or just tell the guy it’s not to happen again. Oh gee, I didn’t think of that.  Or they wonder what you might have done or said to get someone’s temper so riled up. Some people think that you must have been seeking drama, asking for trouble. Been addicted to the passion that so often comes with the apology days later. They ask why you stayed.

My reality was that I was more scared of leaving than I was of staying. Not only was my life threatened, regularly, but so were my family and friend’s lives – even their children. When you have a clear window into just how terrifying a grown man can be, you don’t risk not believing them anymore.

After black eyes, broken nose, fractured bones, concussions, several hospital stays and finally a strangulation that was very nearly the end – the police took over. I begged them not to, I was more scared of how I would be punished, of what would happen next. He got six months, and I got a fantastic counsellor who helped me find myself again.

My point is, that it’s not always obvious that someone has the propensity to commit these horrible things. When you meet them, you don’t think “yep, there’s a risk he’s going to bash me, but I’m going to put up with it”. They are often charming, intelligent, successful, good looking – and then out of nowhere a fist comes flying.

Let me assure you, it is quite a shock. There is no understanding or logic to an illogical situation. No matter which way you look at it, it just doesn’t make sense. You can even begin to doubt if it actually happened – if it wasn’t for the pain of course. Unfortunately, what they say in the counselling guides is all too often true – once it starts, it quickly escalates. Like a child having a tantrum, they need to increase the levels to get the reactions. And so a cycle of domestic violence very rarely stops on its own, and mostly, it just gets worse.   

So, why did I want to write this column? Because I know how hard it is to put a stop to it by yourself. I also know, that the man in the street at Port Melbourne who did step in to tell off the guy that pushed me to the ground outside the shops for buying the wrong coffee, was then punched too.

I was dragged to the car, and had my face pushed into the window until blood covered it. It’s not easy to step into a domestic violence situation in public, particularly when you don’t know the people, without making it worse. So what can we do?

In my opinion, the only ones these guys listen to are their mates. The people who are on “their side” – not the victims, not the police, not the people pressing charges. We need to encourage all men to address their mates if they see any sign that this might be happening. They need to set the standard, and say that real men don’t hit and they don’t emotionally abuse either.

And I think we need to recognise that domestic violence is happening throughout our society, to women of all ages, all backgrounds, all levels of professionalism, all levels of education, to poor women and rich women, to plain women and beautiful women, to women who were happy, trusting, giving and generous. It’s a problem that victims of domestic violence can’t talk about it without feeling that their story is their shame.

I found this very hard to write. It’s been many years of recovery for me, but I have forgiven, healed and moved on to live a magnificent and extremely happy life. If there is one thing you can do, it’s to know that domestic violence exists for so many people, let your friends know they can talk to you, they need help and understanding from you to make it stop. And domestic violence must stop.

I promise to write a happy column next month.

Abby xx

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