Chances are you know someone who is suffering violence in their home. Chances are that they haven’t told you about it, or maybe they don’t even know that what is happening to them is actually abuse. The statistics are astounding: One in three Australian women over the age of 15 report physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives. Yes, report, not suffer. This means that the actual rates are much, much higher.
Today I have the absolute honour of sharing one very courageous woman’s story. Corina and I have been friends since high school. She is a fabulous writer and journalist, and one of the most honest, genuine, crass and loyal cat lovers I know. She is also a tireless campaigner against abuse, especially when it comes to violence against women.
I’m constantly inspired by women who face fear head on and speak out about injustice and hardships. It breaks the silence and stigma around personal struggles, and it gives voice and hope to all those who have been silenced. Thank you Mena for putting in to words what so many women can’t. x
In Australia, one woman is killed every week by a partner or former partner. The sorts of men who commit these crimes pass us every day in the street. Men in suits, men at the gym, the man in front of you at the checkout, the man walking his dog. Domestic violence is woefully under-reported, and it’s a sad fact that these statistics are probably inaccurate; the amount of women who suffer and die from abuse is likely to be much higher.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have not had a boyfriend hit me. I have however, been a victim of domestic abuse. Violence is not always physical. It can’t always be spotted with a black eye or a broken arm. Emotional abuse is even more common though, and it leaves a mark. I want to tell you about my mark, the one I got in my very first relationship.
*Alex was twenty five when I met him, and I had just turned eighteen. Ecstatic to have just come of age, I had the world to conquer, and conquer it I did, with a steady routine of driving my parents’ car, voting, having anonymous sex, and enjoying an almost daily dose of partying all night long with my friends. I was intelligent, attractive and confident. I was also naïve.
Alex had been raised in a violent house himself. His father was a recovering alcoholic and his mother, now living in a different state after abandoning the family, had spent much of his childhood years telling him how useless he was. Alex considered himself a fuck-up. And he wasn’t far wrong.
He fell in love with me on sight. In case you were wondering, this in itself is a massive red flag, but I was too innocent to know it. I believed that Alex’s devotion to me was pure, that I was special to him and that even though he had more experience than I did, he had never loved a woman quite like he had loved me and that we would be together forever.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Like with every other recorded case of domestic abuse, it began slowly. Subtle things, like feelings of insecurity when I went out with my friends, jealousy because another man had looked at me. Gradually though, it became more dominant, and I found myself watching my mouth, careful not to step out of line. If I said something to make him angry, he would drive recklessly, whipping his car around corners and darting in and out of traffic to frighten me into behaving. He refused to wear a condom when we had sex, and he would slyly try to coerce me into doing things that I told him I didn’t want to do. When I talked about returning to study, he forbade me to do it. He would stop speaking to me and refuse to talk to my friends if they interfered with our time together. He talked me out of exercising because if I lost weight, I would “be hot” and not want to be with him anymore. One time when I ventured the idea of overseas travel, he bashed his dog.
So why didn’t I “just leave”?
Because I needed him.
At the time, I was having a lot of trouble with my family. They couldn’t accept that I was in an adult relationship and they made their displeasure very obvious. They were rude to Alex, treating him like a second class citizen, and Alex, with all his hang ups about being a failure, needed half an excuse to fight. Soon they were alienated from my life, along with all the friends who told me that he was bad news. One person after the other was eliminated until I had no one left. I could see what was happening around me, but whenever I would stand up to him he would threaten to leave me, telling me I was too good for him and I deserved better. I was so scared of losing him, I stopped fighting. I gave in to his every tantrum and whim.
It’s true that hindsight is twenty-twenty. Alex picked me for a reason. I was young and foolish, in love for the first time and willing to do anything to keep my man happy. He wasn’t with women his own age, who were more likely to recognise his manipulation for what it was. He chose a silly little eighteen year old who wanted to defy her parents and fall head over heels in love. I was easy to control, easy to trap.
That relationship was not physically violent. Of course, the signs were all there that it would have eventually become so, but I don’t like to think about that. After a few months of lying, cheating and doing drugs behind my back, I became too much trouble to deal with, and Alex left me for someone more easy going. That relationship of course failed as well, and the last I heard of Alex he was living alone, unable to maintain healthy romances and with a fractured relationship with his family. He still does drugs and he is still verbally abusive.
I get asked a lot why I “dwell” on this story. Well, the truth is that most days, it is the furthest thing from my mind. I am grateful to the experience with Alex, it played a huge part in making me who I am today. But I tell this story because it’s important. Domestic abuse is not always a broken nose or fingerprint bruising. It is subtle. It can be sexual, financial, or physical. But most commonly, it is emotional. It bullies and belittles, leaving the victim feeling pathetic and lost, with only their perpetrator as a source of comfort. It happens to both men and women, to teenagers, to the elderly, to same sex couples, to children and even in platonic friendships. I tell you this story because it happens everyday. It is probably happening to someone you know right now.
Never tell her to “just leave.” Do not ask her why she stays. If you or somebody you know needs help, go to www.whiteribbon.org.au or www.wdvcs.org.au for services, counselling and how to provide help. You can stop it before it happens again.
Thank you Corina for sharing this all-too-common story. Your honesty and bravery is inspiring!
To hear more from Corina you should check out either of her two (!) blogs. She reviews films, theatre shows, events and more on ‘In my Humble Opinion‘ and her newest venture is ‘Their own Bells‘, a blog that showcases the lives of inspiring women.