Woman’s 20 years of relationship hell
Cracked ribs, black eyes, broken fingers and permanent nerve damage. A shattered soul and a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Her story sounds like something akin to a veteran of war.
But the litany of physical and psychological pain that she endured was borne out of a 20-year battle waged within the four walls of her home.
The woman, whom Stuff has agreed not to name to protect her privacy and safety, is a survivor of domestic abuse.
Her case was one of the 118,910 incidents of family violence investigated by New Zealand’s police in 2016.
She is just grateful she didn’t end up part of an even darker statistic – on the list of 28 people who die, on average, in New Zealand every year at the hands of someone they love.
‘‘I could have easily been killed,’’ she says.
She first met her abuser when she was just 21.
‘‘Initially, it was like a love bomb. It was just complete awesomeness. Passion. It was unlike any relationship I had before. He got me hooked early on.’’
A year into their love affair, the violence started. Looking back on it, she says his response after he hurt her the first time was textbook behaviour.
‘‘Initially, his reaction was really remorseful,’’ she says.
He was full of apologies and promises that it would never happen again. But it did, and it got worse.
She knows the abuse escalated but she finds it hard to remember if the beatings
‘‘You just make excuses, you hide out as much as you can. It’s amazing how society ignores it.’’
got more serious or she just got used to them. ‘‘I don’t know if you get so beat down and that’s how you see it,’’ she says.
The punches and kicks were accompanied by crippling servings of ‘‘psychological warfare’’ – bullying and taunting behaviour, including a technique known as gaslighting, when someone is manipulated to the point that they question their own sanity.
‘‘There was all that side of the abuse. I think that, as much as anything, got me stuck in the relationship.’’
During the years they were together, she missed days at work or resorted to covering the fading bruises with makeup. ‘‘You just make excuses, you hide out as much as you can.’’
Sometimes she couldn’t hide her injuries but still ended up feeling invisible. People never asked her what happened and she felt others looked at her with contempt, not compassion.
‘‘It’s amazing how society ignores it,’’ she says.
Last year, her abuser was jailed for nine months for an attack that left her with a split lip and bruising over her body.
Before this, he also appeared in court in 2000, when he was convicted of assault. He had laid into her during a party at their home, delivering a heavy blow to her head and jaw.
Police ended up being called by concerned partygoers. But instead of getting any help all those years ago, her partner was ordered to pay a donation to Women’s Refuge New Zealand.
Even now, she doesn’t know if he has completed counselling or programmes to address his violent behaviour. ‘‘No-one has made him get any help.’’
Her own experience of the criminal justice system has led her to the conclusion that it needs to change.
She feels it’s set up to favour offenders, while the victims of violence are disempowered and often left in the dark about what is happening.
‘‘Looking back, there was no support for me whatsoever but yet he had legal aid and all of that.’’
Now free from the relationship, she no longer has any contact with her ex and is trying to re-build her life. ‘‘It’s been about re-establishing the truth about what happened to me.’’
In 2016, New Zealand police investigated 118,910 incidents of family violence. Each year, 28 people die, on average, at the hands of a loved one.