16 Days, 16 Stories
Funded by the State Library of Western Australia, 16 Days, 16 Stories is a courageous new collection of stories presented in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence, recorded for the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.
As long as he is breathing and is alive, we will never be safe, says Emma* of her abusive ex-husband. Systems designed to protect us don’t do enough and technology abuse is in the too-hard basket. You can’t fix an abuser – but you can support kids and change systems.
*Not her real name.
Content Warning: Please be advised that the following story contains themes of family and domestic violence that some listeners may find distressing. If you have been impacted by family or domestic violence and are in need of support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service.
Copyright © 2019 the Storyteller
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
Production by Rita Saggar and Claudia Mancini. Recording by Terri Bellem.
Photo by Riccardo Bresciani.
View Story Transcript
I am a survivor of domestic violence and narcissistic abuse and I’m here to share my story in hope that it can help other women.
Well, I was 17. Carefree. I met [a] handsome young man who was 18, at a work function. He was charismatic, wonderful; treated me like I was the best thing you’d ever come across. Thought I’d met my soulmate. We had lots in common. Yeah, I guess in being tied up in all of that lovey-dovey, the love bombing, the, the thickness of it all, I missed very key signs in the early days. And I think perhaps if at school red flags had been taught, I would’ve walked pretty much not long after I met him.
We got married about five years into the relationship. Again, throughout my engagement, his behaviour and the control and the jealousy escalated. He tried to isolate me from my sister, my mum, he would pick fights, start fights and things like that, that would then escalate and, you know, he would turn it on my family and try and make me think that my family were the ones causing the problems.
Every one of our homes has been smashed up or destroyed in some manner. The violence varied from strangulation… knives were one of his favourite weapons.
You don’t meet someone, you don’t marry someone thinking that it’s going to become the battle of your life to, to save your life, to stay alive. You don’t expect that.
I actually aborted my first baby, through fear that I could never bring a child into what the relationship already was, and made the choice never to have children ever again. And that was a win for him because I’d always wanted children at a young age and that family. And it wasn’t until eight years later that my son was born. And again, through circumstances that, were forced upon me, knowing that I would never abort another child, I couldn’t go through that again.
I guess I thought I could save him. I thought with my goodness, my empathy, my compassion, that I could love him enough that whatever had caused him to start being the person that he was being, I could fix that. You know, with enough love and support, people can turn their lives around. I just didn’t realise what a monster I was actually dealing with, and he never wanted to be fixed. He never wanted to be changed. His entire purpose for hooking me was to destroy me. And it took until after escape to realise that that was his, his tactic all along. The more intelligent we are, the more loving we are, the more protective we are, the better we are to destroy.
I started living my life basically, with him, managing every mood, every facial expression, every… every, you know, waking aspect of my day was, you know, if I’ve parked the car too far over in the garage, is that going to cause a problem? You know, if the kids are too noisy, is that going to put us in danger?
You know, my son couldn’t sit. We had three couches in our house. But if he sat on a certain seat, he’d have his feet stomped on or poked and pinched and punched until he moved from that seat because, how dare he sit in his father’s seat. Even though there was two or three other couches that could be sat on. You know, if he ate food from the fridge, his father would abuse him for touching his food.
My children would have definitely felt my anxiety, my fear. My kids saw a lot, experienced a lot.
I was probably naive a lot, was it hope that they didn’t see that or hear that, or you know, see what their father did to me… Children can’t not see it. They can’t. One of the biggest things that I worried about my children was, would they know that growing up into adults themselves, what affection is, what are a true relationship should be? Because they never saw that. They never, ever saw that affection from their father to me.
My son has a girlfriend and sometimes I sit there, and I cry because I just think, “You never grew up seeing that. And yet the way I see you interact with your girlfriend just makes me one of the proudest mums to know that escaping and fighting for your right to live a decent life and a good safe life has allowed you to become that person.”
Friends of mine, who was an ex-police officer, and he’d been involved with domestic violence; they had witnessed his behaviours over the years, and he basically said, “If you don’t do something to get out, he will either kill you or he will take your children.”
He first breached the restraining order within a week of it being served. That was the first breach. Basically what he did was he put blocking mechanisms on both of the children’s phones, because the services were his, without telling the children, and those blocking mechanisms were to stop the children ringing out to my number and my mum’s number and to stop incoming text messages and calls coming from me or my mum, which literally was their support. And he didn’t tell them that.
Technology abuse is massive. It’s rife. And more so because yes, we’ve all got phones, we’ve all got emails, internet. For an abuser to get access to your phones, to your emails, it is so easy. It’s stuff they can purchase on the internet. It costs next to nothing. You wouldn’t know, you wouldn’t know that your entire world is being stalked and monitored and ported. And it doesn’t matter how many phones we have or how many handsets we have or how many computers we change or whether we have the security software, they get in.
Cybercrime is “a too hard basket” for frontline police. They’re not trained in it. Even with black and white evidence proving stalking, harassment and technology abuse, we’re considered to be paranoid. So, we’re looked upon as time-wasters. It’s resource. It’s a lack of understanding of the actual true dynamics and personality of an abuser and what they really are capable of.
When I was in my marriage, there was only him that was a threat to my life or my safety or my wellbeing. When we escaped, there became not only him; there was the police force that we had to fight against. There’s the Family Court system that we fight against. There’s the Magistrate’s Court system that we fight against. The Criminal Court system that we fight against. There’s the enablers of the abuses. So that’s the toxic family. It becomes a battle against Goliath. And why do women go back? I know why. Because when you’re in that relationship, at least you have some sense of control over being able to judge the mood. It’s only one person that you’re fighting against. When you’ve escaped, you don’t know where they are. You don’t know who they’ve recruited to know where you are, what your movements are, what you’ll be doing. You’re fighting to stay alive from police who were supposed to protect you. You know, the Family Court who’s supposed to protect you. They enable abusers to use the system to continue their abuse. And that’s on a systemic level. It’s on a financial level. It’s just horrific.
I vowed the night that police removed him from our home that I would never let him hurt my children ever again in their life.
I have spent three of those years in courtrooms fighting for those lifetime protection orders that should be automatic. Two years is not enough. Two years is not enough. As, long as he is breathing and is alive, we will never ever be safe.
Even from behind bars, he’s still been able to use the Family Court system to abuse me. He’s still been able to use the Magistrate’s Court system to abuse me. He uses the appeal processes to continue to intimidate.
There needs to be more lived survivors making the change. Because when you listen to us or you see survivors’ stories, they are showing the same pattern. But nothing is ever done about it.