Woman’s 20 years of re­la­tion­ship hell

The Dominion Post - - News -

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.

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