‘My first love threat­ened to kill me’

Waikato Times - - National News Politics - Gol­riz Ghahra­man

This week I sud­denly found my­self for the first time iden­ti­fy­ing pub­licly as an abuse vic­tim, with all the back­lash, dis­be­lief and be­lit­tle­ment that comes with that.

Iron­i­cally this came about when I spoke about abuse dur­ing film­ing of a doc­u­men­tary com­mem­o­rat­ing women’s suf­frage.

The film is called Women In The House, ex­am­in­ing women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in New Zealand pol­i­tics 125 years af­ter Suf­frage.

Serendip­i­tously, film­ing cov­ered the day Par­lia­ment passed Jan Lo­gie’s ground-break­ing Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Pro­tec­tion of Vic­tims Bill.

The rea­son I felt it was im­por­tant and safe to speak about my ex­pe­ri­ence of abuse when Vice NZ film-mak­ers asked me about it, was that I was in­fin­itely ex­cited about Jan’s achieve­ment.

To me, what we were about to do was the ideal of law­mak­ing ‘‘for the af­fected com­mu­nity, by the af­fected com­mu­nity’’.

But a mo­ment af­ter I de­scribed my ex­pe­ri­ence of abuse, I imag­ined the head­line and hate­ful com­ments. I knew in­stantly that I would be ac­cused of seek­ing un­de­served vic­tim­hood, of ly­ing, or even be told that I de­served what I got. Be­cause, as women, we know that our abuse is of­ten seen as a per­sonal bur­den that we should bear silently.

The sad re­al­i­sa­tion was, that the real-life re­ac­tion to my pub­lic dis­clo­sure would an­swer the cen­tral ques­tion of the film: How far have we re­ally come in em­pow­er­ing women in 125 years of for­mal equal­ity?

I also knew that I would be us­ing this plat­form to high­light the mis­nomers con­tained in that back­lash, which is key to end­ing vi­o­lence against women.

New Zealand will al­ways lead the world with our record of grant­ing women the vote in 1893, which I be­lieve is the rea­son it’s so dif­fi­cult to al­low the re­al­ity of our har­row­ing do­mes­tic and sex­ual vi­o­lence statis­tics to en­ter our na­tional psy­che.

It is in­dis­putable that in­ti­mate part­ner vi­o­lence takes up 41 per cent of the work of front­line po­lice, even though we know only about a quar­ter of abuse is ac­tu­ally re­ported. Those stats speak of mass vi­o­lence, over­whelm­ingly against women.

When I think about my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, the shock­ing thing is that I didn’t recog­nise it as abuse for so long.

I was only 18 years old when the re­la­tion­ship be­gan, and for two years I saw it as in­tense ‘‘first love’’.

He would send hun­dreds of mes­sages all day, turn up to univer­sity and my work­place, so we spent ev­ery free mo­ment to­gether.

If I did go out with­out him, the mes­sages turned ugly. It would be a bar­rage of ‘‘Bitch. Bitch. Bitch’’ and ‘‘Slut. Slut. Slut’’. I jus­ti­fied it as he did: it’s nor­mal for men to be jeal­ous when they love you.

Things got phys­i­cal with shov­ing. I went through the slid­ing door of my wardrobe as it came off its hinges, fell back hard onto some rocks. It got worse when twice he threat­ened to kill me if I left, and choked me hard enough to leave thumb marks.

The apolo­gies came in the usual way: ‘‘I wish you wouldn’t make me an­gry.’’ My grades fell and I couldn’t con­cen­trate well.

Still, there was also a very real sense that love meant stand­ing by this ‘‘bro­ken’’ per­son and ‘‘fix­ing’’ him. I could only re­ally leave when I found an ad­dress he didn’t know and changed my num­ber.

I never talked about it much be­cause to this day I feel a deep sense of fail­ure and re­spon­si­bil­ity for the abuse.

This is pre­cisely why the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Vic­tims Pro­tec­tion Bill gave me, and many sur­vivors, a sense of re­lief.

This law, makes it pos­si­ble for vic­tims and sur­vivors to take 10 days of an­nual leave.

I was shocked at the Op­po­si­tion cry that com­mer­cial busi­nesses should not be re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing work­ers safe from abuse, though of course we’re com­fort­able with the con­cept of sick leave.

What would it say about us as a so­ci­ety, if hav­ing the flu takes prece­dence over the grave men­tal and phys­i­cal harm of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence? That we think safety from vi­o­lence is a priv­i­lege that women should pay for them­selves?

But Jan Lo­gie knew the im­por­tance of this pro­found mea­sure for sur­vivors be­cause she has spent her life at the grass­roots of that sec­tor. She knows that the time im­me­di­ately af­ter leav­ing is the most dan­ger­ous for women.

We need to change our rou­tine. We also need in­come to leave. A sur­vivor should never have to choose be­tween fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence and abuse.

Even if she isn’t ready to leave, she needs time out to seek men­tal health­care, to heal.

This isn’t about dollars and cents be­cause be­ing safe is a fun­da­men­tal hu­man right, which we as a so­ci­ety owe abuse sur­vivors.

Even so, Jan knew what push­back would come and she had the fig­ures ready. It turns out do­mes­tic vi­o­lence costs us far more in com­mer­cial profit than the tiny cost of 10 days’ leave.

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