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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.

Witnessing her mother’s abusive relationship didn’t stop Sheree from finding herself in one at 16. Here, she shares her deeply personal story of healing from violence, and working to help teenagers–like her daughter–recognise relationship red flags for themselves.

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.

Photograph of Sheree Lucas Neto

[Transcript]

Hello, my name is Sheree Lucas Neto and I am a survivor of domestic violence.

I got into a relationship when I was 16 years old and I stayed for 16 years. During that time, I was physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally abused. I also had two children when I was in that relationship; my daughter is now 14 and my son is 11.

So, before I got into this relationship, my mum was actually in an abusive relationship. So, by the time I was 10 I knew how to cook, how to clean, and basically be an adult and a mum to my siblings. I had to protect them from the abuse. As I said to you, when I was about nine or 10, I almost tried to kill my mother’s abuser by pulling out a knife on him because he was hurting my mum.

She eventually left that relationship, and that’s when I met my ex. Even though I was still a young, teenage girl, I think inside me I felt like I’d grown up, that I was an adult as such already because I’d had to grow up so quickly in my childhood. So, when he came along, and I was at the centre of his world, it was something that was so new to me because I’d always had to be the protector. So, I fell I think really deeply in love with that, because I thought that he had loved me.

So, when I started dating him, the abuse started pretty quickly and you know, he promised me, the first time he hit me, “I won’t do it again.” And being 16 and naive and in love I was like, “OK, he won’t do it again.” And then the abuse just kept going, and I think I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment that I had gotten into the same sort of relationship that my mum had been in and that I had been trying to protect my siblings from. That’s kind of one of the reasons I think I stayed, because I didn’t want to be like, “Oh, I’ve just followed in my mum’s footsteps in getting into something that I knew was so wrong.”

And then I had our daughter five years into the relationship and then again thinking, Well, my parents split up when I was two and I don’t want that for my daughter. And he would always say to me, “I don’t want my daughter to not have both parents, both parents have to be together.” So, then there was that pressure from him saying, “You can’t leave me.” And threats always came if I wanted to leave him. And then three years later, I had our son and again it was like, “The children need both parents.”

He always said to me, “If you leave me, I will kill you. Or I will go after your family.” And he knew where every single family member lived. So, having that feeling… But my biggest shame was I knew it was wrong, and I still stayed, even after my mum being in her relationship and what I had to see and what I had to do and I then I just still did the same thing. That was my biggest shame of anything.

I think a lot of friends and family are too scared to ask the question, “Is everything OK, is he abusing you, do you need my help?” Because the perpetrators I believe are very, very smart, they’re great manipulators, they put on a whole front so that when you see them, they look charming and amazing and then they play everybody.

It wasn’t until my son, who I think was four or five at that time, turned around and said to me, “Is Daddy a drug addict?” and I was just like, “What four-year-old knows those words? What four-year-old knows what that even means?” And, in that sense, I blamed myself because I know that I used to yell that out to his father. And I was just like, “No, I can’t have my son grow up in this environment.” When I was younger all I did was try and protect my siblings and this is my son, my real flesh and blood and I can’t let him go through that.

So yeah, it took that. I was lucky enough to be one of the women who was able to go out and work. And I think the reason he let me do that was because he didn’t always work. So, as long as Sheree’s working, there’s some form of money coming in. And then when he did work, he would gamble away his money, or use drugs. So, I had to be very financially smart. I always had a secret bank account and I used to put money away, so when I left, I had a couple of thousand dollars.

The breaking point, I would say, was when I was pretty much held hostage in a way for about 48hours. Being at his beck and call. Having to pack the kids up in the car at 2am to go sit in a lounge room at his friend’s house because he was paranoid that I was having an affair when I was asleep, or just being hit and everything, just constantly, being sexually abused constantly. Even physically abused whilst being sexually abused at the same time. It was just too much and it was just, “No, I’m done.” I called my mum before and I packed up all of our stuff and while I was packing he was like, “You’re not going anywhere, you’re not going anywhere,” and he was still abusing me and yelling and being physically abusive as I was packing. And then my mum pulled up and he just flipped and became a totally different person. He broke down crying and screaming, like sobbing and he was like, “Why is she leaving me? I don’t understand! I’ve done nothing wrong!” And then he wouldn’t let me leave the gate, because we lived in a house that had a security gate that you had to use a remote to open, he wouldn’t open the remote until I agreed to give him money. So, I had to give him money. And then he wouldn’t let me take the car, so I had to leave the car.

And then I just went to my sister’s house and stayed on her floor for a few months with the kids and we had to get up at 5:30 in the morning to catch two buses and a train to get to work and school because even though I had left, I sort of still needed my children to have something that was still normal, so going to school. But, yeah, just trying to keep it as normal as possible, but instead of a five minute drive, we’re now doing two-and-a-half hours to get to school and they would fall asleep on the bus or the train coming home from school because they had to get up so early.

And so, having all of that, sort of cycle, and then my phone going off at all hours of the night. The text messages and the phone calls that came, I was bombarded with them. To the point where I ended up in hospital because I couldn’t deal with what was happening. I had to stay in hospital for a little bit.

I think that when you are in your crisis point, you’re at the leaving, you do get a bit of help but then, sort of, after that point, I don’t think there’s enough support. Like going to the courts as I said, you can have a man who will breach a VRO eleven times and not be in prison, and then you’ll have a female survivor, I’m going to say, who has to go to court, who gets summoned to court. And I’ve been summoned to court before and the feeling that you get from that is just… you know, you get your anxiety and everything comes back to you, where he will just not show up and then nothing happens.

I think you should have somebody who can meet you at the door and walk with you up to the courtroom because I was always petrified when the lift doors opened if he was standing there, because he was free to roam around in the courts. One day I was in there and he would walk past me, up and down, just up and down because he could see that I was sitting there. There is a room you can go into, but it’s a glass door so they can still see you. And you kind of feel like, “Why do I have to hide around the corner when I’m the innocent one, when I didn’t do anything wrong? Why do I have to hide, why can’t they put him in a separate section?” So, I think the courts do have to change a little bit to protect the victim who is suffering inside and still trying to heal as such, then having the perpetrator walking up and down, trying to intimidate the person.

So, fifteen months ago, my girlfriend held an event and it was for White Ribbon and I’d come out and I’d done my healing and I was feeling a little bit better and I was like, “OK, maybe now I’ll just share my experience.” And I spoke for an hour. I just fully talked, no ‘um’s, nothing -it just all came out. And then at the end of my speech, women that I didn’t know came up to me and they were like, “Thank you, thank you for sharing your story. I was in an abusive relationship but I’m not ready to share, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to share.” And then there were other women who said, “Oh, that’s happening to me, I didn’t realise it’s a form of abuse, I just thought it was normal.”

I think we need to speak out about domestic violence and family violence a lot more than what we do. I find that it seems to be a very taboo subject, nobody wants to talk about it even though we know the statistics and we know how often it’s happening.

Because my daughter is fourteen years old, she is only a couple of years younger than what I was when I got into that relationship so because of that it’s really made me want to raise awareness to the next generation and teenage girls about abusive relationships. So, I’m actually about to roll out a high school program which I will be delivering to young women about how to identify, I guess, the bad side of relationships. Because in schools now, we have ‘how to have a healthy relationship’, but nobody’s really delivering the bad side -how to look for the red flags, how to say no, how to get out.

And you know, obviously boys and men do get into abusive relationships as well. I think definitely, the next generation needs to know and be aware of what abuse is in all forms. Abuse isn’t just physical, which a lot of people think. I always say physical scars fade but emotional scars last forever, and I’ve got deep and big scars still from that.

Copyright © 2019 Sheree Lucas Neto

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by Sheree Lucas Neto. 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 Claudia Mancini.


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