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.

Shy as a child, Tinashe initially didn’t see her boyfriend’s lavish attention as anything more than romantic. But as his control tightened, she saw his abuse for what it was. Here, she shares her story of navigating spousal visas as an immigrant in Australia, and choosing to vanquish shame for good.

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.

A photograph of Tinashe La

[Transcript]

My name is Tinashe La and I am 34 years of age, happily married, and I am here to share my story as a survivor of domestic violence and abuse, just so I can empower other people who are either going through it, to know that they can come and live their best lives.

I had just arrived in Australia; I was very reserved, very quiet. On Christmas Day, actually, I met this nice, bubbly, very fun-loving guy. And then, I was very reserved, very quiet. I think that’s how the attraction was, because I saw someone who is totally different from me and I just got attracted to that vibrant, joyful person and you know, afterwards, we got into a relationship and for me, I think as a child, being a reserved child, I had never really opened up to people that much, and I had never received a lot of attention because I was so reserved, but to have this bubbly person who is into you so much and the attention was beyond my wildest dreams, I felt like he’s so into me, he can’t get over me. I’m his everything. For me it was a different thing I was experiencing, I was just a girl in love! But what I did not realise that what was happening to me was actually signs of control, signs of abuse because I did not know that that’s not healthy.

As a typical, I suppose, traditional, girl then, I would go to his house, visit him, I would wash his laundry, do the ironing, cook for him, clean his house. That was the dating, I suppose.

For me it was now normal that he gets angry with me when I’m leaving him. But that day, he started assaulting me, beating me in the street because I don’t want to stay over and sleep over for the night. And that was the first time I was ever assaulted. I think for me then, I couldn’t even call the police, it never even occurred to me, I think I was more in shock. I couldn’t believe that this had just actually happened, in broad daylight, basically. And I just continued walking, I went home, I didn’t say anything, I didn’t know where to start from. And since from that day, every time we argued or I disagreed with him, he would always threaten that, “I’ll come and beat you,” I think because I let that go, he started using that and I was so fearful that if I do something, he’s going to come and beat me.

So, I called the police a lot of times during the course of our relationship and most of the times, by the time they came, I had already run away because, for me, it was just, “He’s going to come or something’s going to happen, so, run.” So, I think me allowing him to beat me that first time and not say anything about it or report him to the police, he knew I would never report him. So, for the course of the three years, I was beaten so many times and I never got the courage to… even though I would call the police, I never actually got the courage to stay and tell the police what had happened.

Growing up in Zimbabwe, I had seen so much domestic violence and abuse in my community, in my suburb, in family, relatives. I had seen so many men and women both being beaten in their relationships. And I didn’t see anyone being punished. And because I didn’t see it being condemned, for me, it was like it’s normal.

When I had initially come here, I used to see on the adverts in 2004, it was very in-your-face like, even at the bus stops, there were signs that, “Domestic violence against women–Australia says no!” But I think growing up, people are not getting the people perpetrating this kind of behaviour arrested. For me, it was like, “If I do this, it will make me a bad person.” So, I think I was conflicted; I was confused, I didn’t know what to do.

I started telling the elders in the community what I was going through and I think they didn’t believe me, honestly. I think it was only after I had had an overdose that they actually probably for the first time thought, “Oh, maybe something is not right.” If I said something he would say, “Oh, she’s a drama queen. She just wants a permanent residence.” Why would I do that? And because he comes out in the public eye as this outgoing, bubbly person, I’m sure people couldn’t believe it as well and they are just like, “It can’t be true!”

Especially being a migrant, you come here, the first people you talk to is the community that you are around and if your community, the people you speak to and associate with, they don’t give you the right information, maybe they don’t even know themselves, you find yourself stuck. I was seeking adults. People who were around me to tell me what to do because that’s what I was used to. And because no one actually said, “This is bad, leave,” So for me, I was just there. For me, I was scared, especially now being sponsored on a spouse visa, I had nowhere to go, it was just this relationship.

I knew this white Kenyan lady and we were close friends. She said, “I am taking you to an immigration lawyer.” So, we went and he mentioned to me that the Australian government is very much aware of women who are sponsored on spouse visas, then they find themselves in abusive relationships and because they don’t want to go probably to where they have come from. For me it was like a lightbulb, just knowing that I don’t have to be in this relationship and it’s OK to leave, it’s not the end of the world and the government… just because I’m on a spouse visa, it doesn’t mean that I needed to stay with this person. From that day, I started preparing myself on how I could escape this, how I could be in a safe place.

You know the help is out there. But I think probably we need to even raise awareness and educate elders in society, in communities about domestic violence and abuse because most people, if they are made aware, if they are educated on it, they will be able to help people properly rather than just listen and leave it like that, because that’s where you find people dying.

I went to Zimbabwe, back home; it was, in three years, first time to go and see my family. And when I went home, I felt like I was living a lie. Because you know, when you’ve come from overseas and you’ve gone back to your place, everyone looks at you differently. And just seeing that, it made me feel I wasn’t happy with myself, I was like, “This is a lie! This is a pretence!” All these people think I’m coming from overseas, they think I’m living my best life in Australia, but they don’t actually realise I am living in hell. For me it was hell.

I was told by the elders that, “We don’t want to know what happened in Australia.” So, for me, it was like, if the people who are closest to me can’t even hear my real me, then what else? And that was another a-ha! moment for me. Because that was the day that I actually realised that I come first.

Shame is a big thing because people who are in relationships, especially those who are married, most people they think you are in marriage until death. So, many people don’t encourage separation or divorce. So, people are ashamed that, “Oh, if I leave this marriage, if I leave this relationship, I’m going to be single, I’m going to be taken as the bad person.” So, we need to tell people that there is nothing to be ashamed of. The person who should be ashamed is someone who is violating or abusing you because their behaviour is not right. But why is it the other way around?

I think the moment you speak out, that shame that we were talking about, it goes because you’ve found a voice and that empowers you as a person to be able to know that you are actually in control of your life.

The man who abused me and my husband now, because after I left that relationship, the second man I was involved with, who is my husband now, my husband is an angel. That’s what I can say from the rooftops. Not just for people to be able to just see or to hear. You know what people say, the grass looks greener on social media. But he is an angel. He is not perfect, like everyone else, but I can’t even compare him to my ex, the guy that I had before. Because this man, he empowers me, he allows me to be who I am.

So this idea that women attract a certain kind of people, no, these men who abuse are the ones who attract a certain kind of woman. They attract women who are hard-working, because if you look at the women who are being abused, they are women who are working hard, they are women who love these men, who love their families but these perpetrators, they’re the ones who isolate these women because they know what kind of strong women they have, so they know, “If I can isolate this person so that they don’t speak to their family, they don’t speak to their friends, she won’t be able to say these things. If I tell her that, ‘you can’t do these kinds of jobs, you can’t work here,’ then she won’t be able to work and I’m the breadwinner.” So, these men are the ones who look out for a particular type of woman or girls because they know that, “Oh, this one I can manipulate.” Because when you’re starting a relationship everyone is vulnerable; you talk about your family, you talk about who you are as a person, your weaknesses. So, they know, “Oh, OK, she’s like this, so she’s quiet, so she’s reserved, so she’s not even very close to her family.” And they know how to manipulate you. It’s not the other way round that women attract a certain kind of man because for me, as an example, I can’t compare my ex to my current. There is no comparison whatsoever.

Two years ago, I was talking to my cousin sister in America and she just said, you know, “Tinashe, I think you need to write your story, just put it to pen and paper and write a book.” And I was like, “A book? Me? No way!” She said, “Here in America, there are so many immigrants, so many immigrants. Where I walk, the people I meet, everyone is an immigrant, basically.” And most of the women she said she had met, they were all in some form of abuse, because abuse is not just beating and violence, no abuse is psychological, it’s emotional, there are so many different types of abuses. And she said, “I have heard and seen what you go through what you went through, you have gone on to go back to school,” because when I was in this relationship, I actually stopped studying because I realised there is no way I was going to study, it was impossible. So, when I left the relationship, I studied, and I went back to do my degree; it took me six years because I was studying part-time and I was working full-time. So, I studied, I was working full-time and I found my passions of singing, so I empowered myself and I went on to live my life. What I had envisioned myself, what wanted to achieve, I went on to achieve those things.

She said, “People will be able to realise that, yes, you can go through something in life, but you can come out at the end of the day and still live your best life.” And that’s how it came about for me to write my book and share my story. The people I have sat with and talked, they’ve shared their stories, they’ve read my book and they’re like, “You’re actually writing my own story,” and people who have never spoken about their abuse getting that courage to begin to talk, which is the most powerful thing, because they were still struggling, because they’ve never talked about it, so you’re dying in silence and then here they’ve found someone who is like, “You know what, don’t care about anyone else, just share it! Speak out!” and they’re like, “It frees!” Sharing that thing that secret that is inside you to be able to pour it out, it’s freeing. And it’s been so amazing, I can’t even explain it.

Copyright © 2019 Tinashe La

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by Tinashe La. 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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