‘My husband abused me for 16 years’

 

AT THE beginning of this year, Amanda* was the victim in a vicious attack at the hands of a man she knew.

He grabbed her wrist with a vice grip, violently shook her and then shoved her to the ground as he told her he would kill her and her brother.

Her children watched the entire attack.

She was left defenceless, and as the man moved towards her again, her children stood in front of her, forming a human barricade to stop him from touching her again.

The perpetrator was her husband of 16 years.

Queensland Courts defines domestic violence as "one person behaving in a way that controls or dominates another person and causes fear for their safety and wellbeing."

It affects men and women in physical, psychological, emotional, and financial capacities.

One woman dies at the hands of their partner every week.

Domestic violence contributes to more deaths and illnesses in women between the ages of 15 and 44 than any other preventable risks.

In the southwest, between January 1 and March 9 police have attended 276 domestic violence incidents, 64 of which were recorded as breaches of domestic violence orders.

1100 hours - or 1.5 months - of police time has been spent on domestic violence offences this year.

Amanda's assault at the beginning of the year didn't mark the beginning of an abusive relationship; rather it was the latest attack in a relationship of emotional and psychological abuse.

It was over a decade before this attack that Amanda became a victim of domestic violence for the first time.

The abuse begins

ALL Amanda ever wanted was a family of her own - a father for her kids, and a happy, functional family unit.

Like one in four women and one in 16 men across the country, Amanda had those dreams shattered when her husband of 16 years turned against her, and she became a victim of domestic violence.

Amanda and her husband married in 2003.

It was after the birth of their second child that things began to change.

After her husband experienced conflict with Amanda's family, they made the move hundreds of kilometres away from her family to start a new life together, at his instruction.

Amanda was then entirely isolated from her family, a move masterminded by her husband.

She would see some family members just twice a year, and lost her relationship with others.

"I chose him over my family, and all of my family stopped talking to me," she said.

"He wouldn't let me go out anywhere. He accused me of cheating on him many, many times.

"I was the main breadwinner in the family because he chose not to work for a number of years we were together."

When her husband turned to alcohol the emotional abuse only began to worsen.

"In the last two years of our marriage his drinking became really quite bad to the point where he would tell people around us what he thought I did over the years, and it was very embarrassing … every time that happened and we would walk away he was very apologetic, but he would let no one else know that he apologised to me."

Her husband used Amanda's pre-existing health condition to convince her to stay, using it against her to keep her in his grasp.

This was just one way he exercised control over her.

"He would say he was the one who helps me because I can't drive," she said.

"It wasn't an easy escape because of that, I couldn't get myself away."

It felt like an inescapable situation - all Amanda wanted was a happy family.

"For some reason I didn't escape all of his psychological and emotional abuse," she said.

"I said I never wanted a stepfather for my children, that's why I stayed around for so long.

"I wanted a marriage. And I wanted my children to have two parents who didn't separate."

The abuse Amanda faced during her marriage was only ever emotional and psychological.

The first instance of physical violence wouldn't happen until months after their separation.

"He would hit something else around me to take his anger out, but I knew and he knew that he would have liked to," she said.

Amanda's children witnessed every outburst, and watched their parents' relationship crumble before them.

"I didn't fear for the kids because I knew in my heart that he wouldn't hurt them," she said. "He would hurt me over them."

It was her children who kept her going, even when the abuse was at its worst.

"When they would see their father be verbally abusive towards me, it was normally in a drunken stupor, and they just wanted to be in their rooms, and they wanted to be away," she said.

"They heard a lot of things, and saw a lot of things."

There were times where Amanda began to wonder if she would make it out alive.

As the psychological abuse only worsened, and their relationship continued to deteriorate, she began to assess how she could leave the relationship.

One option was suicide.

"My worst fear was that I wasn't going to come out of the relationship alive," she said.

"There was a couple of times that I actually contemplated taking my own life because I hated the confrontation with him … But my children always pulled me out of that. I knew I couldn't leave them with him."

The breaking point

DURING their 16 year relationship, her husband never laid a hand on her.

For over a decade she endured psychological abuse from the man she married, the father of her children.

Her breaking point, the night she made the brave decision to escape the abuse that had plagued her for years, was when her husband pushed a close family friend in a drunken rage.

In a heated argument after a night of drinking, as Amanda's friend rose to leave their family house, he pushed her out the door.

As the friend was leaving, she said something that broke Amanda's heart.

"She said to me, 'I love you so much, I don't think we'll see each other again'," she said.

It was at that moment Amanda decided it was over.

She remembers the conversation like it was yesterday.

"I said to him … I'm splitting with you because I have tolerated so much inappropriateness from you over the years that this is our breaking point," she said.
"That you put your hands on another woman and you've just destroyed another friendship."

It was a situation that had happened before. Her husband had threatened to leave before, and packed his bags multiple times only to come home again, unpack his belongingss, and begin the cycle of abuse again.

This time was different.

"He went home and he packed his stuff … but the next day he unpacked everything," Amanda said.

"He thought I was going to make up and I didn't.

"I rang mum and I said 'I've done it … this is my escape.'"

But the worst of the abuse was about to begin.

The worst time

FOR months after Amanda made the decision to leave her husband, they were forced to live under the same roof until they could make other living arrangement and finalise the separation.

It was in the final eight weeks of their time together that the abuse would move from emotional to sexual.

Amanda lost 10kg, began taking antidepressants, and started seeing a counsellor.

The psychological abuse continued as they began to negotiate parenting as separate individuals.

"He would come to the house of a morning and I'd go to work and he'd sneak in to see the kids," she said.

"He'd come to the house and say 'can I use your toilet', and I know that trick.

"It worried me that he would be planting a camera - that was the mindset he put on me.

"He would call me and say 'stop slutting around town', he called me a slut in front of my children.

"He would call five times while I was at work, and send an unbelievable amount of text messages while I was at work.

"He would tell the kids very rude things and accuse me of doing terrible things in front of them."

It was then that Amanda was advised to take out a domestic violence order against him. A five year DVO was granted weeks later.

Under the conditions of the DVO, her husband was instructed to have good behaviour around her and her children.

This didn't stop him.

On the same night that he breached the DVO, he assaulted Amanda for the first time.

The physical abuse

AFTER months of separation Amanda's ex-husband physically abused her for the first time.

He appeared before Dalby Magistrates Court this year, charged with common assault and contravention of a DVO when he pushed her, grabbed her wrist, shook her, and threatened to kill her as her children watched on.

He pleaded guilty and was fined $600 for the offence. A conviction was not recorded.

The fear that he will strike again stays with her every day.

"The police have been great, they've been wonderful," she said.

"They've been very supportive

"My worry is that something else will happen. I just have a gut feeling that this isn't the end of it.

"There's still four and half years on my DVO, and I don't think he's going to keep it clean. I just have to wait it out."

To other survivors

AMANDA has become financially independent since leaving the relationship and taking out her DVO.

She has custody of her children, and is slowly but gradually putting together the pieces that were ripped apart over 16 years of emotional abuse.

To other survivors, or men and women who are finding themselves in similar positions, she has just one piece of advice: "Get out".

Amanda said her biggest regret was staying as long as she did.

"I left it too late, I had two kids before he started doing anything silly so I felt obligated to stay," she said.

"I believe that if I didn't have children and he was doing it I would have left straight away.

"My advice would be to leave as soon as you see or are exposed to it, I don't doubt it in any way."

* A pseudonym has been used to protect the privacy of the interviewee.

If you or anyone you know has been impacted by domestic violence, please don't hesitate to contact the following numbers, or triple-0 if you are in immediate danger:

DV Connect Womensline: 1800 811 811

DV Connect Mensline: 1800 600 636

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Sexual Assault Helpline: 1800 010 120

Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Domestic Violence Action Centre: 4642 1354

Sexual Assault Support Service (Toowoomba): 4616 6950

Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service: 1800 88 77 00

Dalby Crisis Support Association: 4669 8499

Centacare Safer Families Support Service (Roma, St George, Cunnamulla, Charleville): 1300 477 433

Domestic Violence Regional Service (South West): 4639 3605

Domestic Violence Service (Far South West): 4622 5230

Working Against Abuse Service (Roma, St George and Mitchell Courts): 4622 5230